The trapping of furbearing animals, a part of our traditions and once a multimillion-dollar industry in West Virginia, has declined since its last heyday in the late 1970s to early 1980s. At that time, the sale of raw pelts added almost $3 million to the state’s economy each year. By the late 1990s, in part due to a rabies epidemic, that figure had dipped to less than $80,000 in one exceptional year. Rebounding in recent years, the sale of raw fur exceeded $1 million in 2005.
There were several reasons for the decline, the principal one being that the wearing of fur became less fashionable. The trapping tradition has also diminished as society has become less attuned to the land. The generations of farm boys and girls who ran traplines after school, earning pocket money by catching skunks, opossums, mink, raccoons, foxes and muskrats, have largely faded away. But there are reminders throughout West Virginia of our trapping heritage: numerous creeks, knobs, hollows, and ridges are named for furbearing wildlife species, including Coonskin Branch, Big Otter Creek, Otter Hole, Mink Shoals, Beaver Run, Fisher Run and Fox Knob.
The trapping season for furbearing animals begins in early November and runs through February, with the exception of the season for trapping fishers, which ends with January, and the season for trapping beavers, which runs through the final Saturday in March. The state Division of Natural Resources sets trapping regulations, and maintains yearly records of the fur harvest and average pelt prices. For most furbearers, the numbers were down dramatically at the end of the 1990s, but rebounded in the middle of the next decade. In 2004, high numbers of raccoon, bobcat, and coyote were trapped throughout the state. The trapping of both red and grey fox, mink, opossum, and skunk increased, while lower numbers of muskrats were reported.
The price of gray and red fox pelts, once a staple for West Virginia trappers, declined from over $40 in the late 1970s to $10–$12 as the 1990s were drawing to a close. In 2005, fox pelts sold in the $20 range. In the 21st century, raccoon pelts replaced fox as the staple fur for trappers, and the bobcat replaced fox as the top moneymaker at more than $60 per pelt.
This Article was written by Skip Johnson
Last Revised on November 05, 2010
Brown, Cliff. Endangered Tradition. Wonderful West Virginia, (Oct. 1997).