By Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer

The Tennessee Fur Harvesters Association held its annual sale last week in Crossville, with trappers from across the state bringing in their pelts to reap the rewards of a long winter of cold, back-breaking work.

Buyers representing companies from across the country were on hand to bid on the thousands of pelts, and as the auctioneer barked, the fur flew.

Long tables were loaded with bundles of pelts – mink, otter, beaver, bobcat, fox, muskrat, coyote, raccoon and an occasional possum – and as soon as one stack was sold, more were brought in.

Submitted photo
Watertown’s Bruce Carr, left, inspects a coyote pelt with retired TWRA officer Jerry Hedgecoth during a fur sale in Crossville.

Some of the pelts are bound for Europe and Asia and will end up on fashionable hats and coats. Some will go to U.S. furrier markets, and some will be tanned for use as home displays.

“That’s becoming more and more popular,” said Kelly Mills, who buys pelts exclusively for tanning and sale on the internet. “The furs are beautiful, and people like to hang them in their dens.”

One of the furriers on hand was Bruce Carr of Watertown. In addition to trapping, he collects pelts from other trappers and hunters. He collected the coyotes and bobcats killed during last month’s predator hunt at the Wilson County Coon Hunter’s Club.

Fur prices fluctuate annually, depending to a great extent on foreign markets where many of the pelts are purchased. A prime otter pelt that once brought $150 might now sell for $20.

The value of each pelt is based on size, fur quality, condition and coloring. For example, a bright-orange fox pelt is more valuable than a pale-orange one, and the more white on the belly of a bobcat pelt, the more it’s worth.

How the pelts are prepared also affects their price. It starts with the skinning, from nose to toes. One nick can devalue a pelt.

The hides have to be stretched, scraped and dried. Skinning a beaver, stretching the hide on a circular drying frame and fleshing (scraping off excess tissue) takes one to two hours, depending on the skill of the skinner. The pelt usually brings $10-15.

“If you add up the time spent setting traps, running the line, skinning the animal and preparing the hide, it wouldn’t come to minimum wage,” says Lebanon’s Clarence Dies, who with wife Laura are Tennessee Fur Harvesters officials, and assisted with last week’s sale.

“We don’t trap for the money,” adds Clarence, a volunteer instructor for the TWRA’s annual trapping classes. “We do it for the challenge and the enjoyment of trapping. It’s a great tradition and we hope future generations will keep it going.”

One of the sale’s most valuable pelts was a bobcat hide that brought $65. It was trapped by Matthew Rothwell, 11, of Pikeville.

Veteran trapper Donnie Glover sold 28 otters pelts. He trapped the otters in public wildlife areas around Percy Priest Lake. They brought from $15 to $35.

Every year sees more coyote pelts, with prime ones bringing $30-$40.

The market has dropped out of racoon pelts, some selling for as little as $1.25.

“We had a good turnout and, overall, the fur sold pretty well,” Dies said. “We’ll hang up our traps, thaw out, and get ready for next season.”