November 1 might as well be a holiday for many of us here in Alaska. It marks the start of trapping season, and although we don’t have a lot of snow yet, most trappers are already out beating the brush and slinging steel. With the onset of winter, predator callers all over the country are no doubt also chomping at the bit. It’s time to dust off the gear, but try to hold off the urge to put down some fur for a few more weeks for two important reasons.
The first reason to wait is that many furbearers, especially fox and coyotes, aren’t prime yet. For those unfamiliar with the term, “prime” means that the animal’s winter coat is fully grown in. Both their skin and fur are thicker, and bring maximum value on the market.
Whether we are hunters or trappers (or both), we have an obligation as stewards of the resource to get the most of the animals we kill. I don’t know any trapper or predator hunter who just tosses the animal they kill in the ditch. In order to maximize (and I’d argue, justify) our activity, we need to use the animal, and predator hunters can put a lot of gas in their pickups if they sell the fur from the coyotes, fox, and other critters they kill.
Part of maximizing the value of fur is waiting on primeness. Whether trapped or shot, early skins bring only a fraction of the money of a prime skin. In many places in the lower 48, furs don’t prime up until late November or early December. When you think the time is right, pay attention when you skin the animal. If the skin still has patches of blue, it’s not quite ready. When a skin is prime, the inside surface will be totally white. The hair is at its fullest, and the thicker skin is easier to flesh and yields a higher-quality leather.
The second reason to wait to start calling is a little less obvious. In many places, food is still abundant, and a full belly makes a fox or coyote less inclined to come to a distress call. In my experience, the ones that do come in are slower and more cautious. If you blow a set on one of these savvy animals, you can easily educate them, making them doubly hard to kill later on. If you wait until it gets cold, you’ll see more action that will result in far fewer schooled predators.
My favorite time to call is right after a big storm or cold snap. From both calling and observing tracks on my trapline, I’ve learned that predators will typically hole up for a few days when the mercury drops, but as soon as it warms up or the storm passes, they are out and hunting hard.
I know you want to get out and start putting fur on the stretchers, but if you can stand it, let those critters enjoy a couple more weeks and then put the hammer on them.