The fur industry in Kansas is not large, in fact, those who trap or shoot common furbearing mammals in Kansas, such as coyote, raccoon, bobcats, and opossum for their pelts, are considered a rare breed by Myron Graber of Graber Fur Company, near Cheney.
Five Marion County wildlife entrepreneurs met Graber at Johnson’s General Store near Florence on Saturday to sell their recent catches. They ranged in age from 10 to past retirement, but all had a stake in the fur market and similar reasons for carrying on their trade.
Klayton and Kordell Krispense, 10- and 12-year-olds from rural Marion, Zach Goodwin, 18, of Burns, Jared Shipmen of Florence, and Bob McVey of Peabody sold furs to Graber. Several others stopped by to check prices and see the quality of pelts coming in from the area.
“Back in the 1970’s and early ‘80’s this was a big industry,” Graber said. “We were paying $50 to $60 per raccoon pelt and dealing with thousands of raccoon, beaver, mink, muskrats, coyote, and bobcats weekly.”
Graber, a licensed buyer since 1978, made Florence his first purchase stop of 40 on Saturday, and said he planned to purchase about 450 pelts across the state by the end of the day. Prices he offered were considerably lower than 30 years ago, and averaged around $10 each for raccoon and coyote pelts. Variance in amounts paid depend on quality, size, and if the mammal was skinned or not. Bobcats were worth quite a bit more, but Graber did not anticipate seeing many, he said.
Despite lower prices, Marion County fur traders appreciated the opportunity to sell their pelts to Graber. Most of the furs purchased by Graber will find their way to Russia, the Ukraine, and China, where top prices for fur are paid and people still need fur coats to survive in cold climates.
“We started trapping in January 2010,” said Klayton Krispense. “We had a lot of problems with raccoons by the silos and at the feed bunks.”
Krispense and his brother, Kordell, decided to start a trapping business on their own, their father, Todd Krispense, said.
“It was our idea,” Kordell said. “We went online and took a fur harvesters license exam.”
Klayton Krispense said state laws allowed them to trap raccoons from mid-November to the end of February.
“We use a Little Griz trap that they stick their paw into and then don’t let go,” he said.
A friend showed them the best type of bait to use was marshmallows. After they catch the animals, the boys put them in a special freezer, given to them by a neighbor who also supported their efforts to rid the area of the varmints, which soil grain and carry disease.
On Saturday, they brought in five raccoons, two opossums, one coyote, and several skunk stories.
“Our first year, we caught seven skunks and that was it,” Klayton said.
This year he and his brother were very happy to finally be getting some raccoons in their traps.
Graber said he usually did not buy skunk pelts, as they were not worth much. He also said he normally did not buy opossums, but when young trappers like the Krispense boys brought them in, he did not mind supporting their efforts.
Another young trapper, Zach Goodwin of rural Burns, said he enjoyed trapping raccoons and hunting coyotes, but he was not into it necessarily for the money.
“I do it strictly as a hobby,” Goodwin said. “I started this as a 4-H project and also kept some records with it in FFA. I have neighbors that come over and ask me to hunt coyotes on their place just to keep numbers down. The cattlemen do not like them.”
Goodwin brought in seven raccoons and six coyote pelts, several with top quality fur. He said he taught himself how to skin them properly and spent a lot of time practicing on opossums when he was younger.
Skinned carcasses earned a higher premium from Graber, as did the lighter colored, thicker furred pelts.
Graber said coyote numbers in Kansas seemed to be higher than usual this year, and the quality of fur was high as the colder weather set in.
“Some people got started a little too early this year,” he said. “The fur wasn’t ready until after the cold weather set in around Dec. 10. The fur just isn’t as thick and worth as much when it is not cold.”
Graber said there were plenty of raccoons and coyotes out there, though.
“Coyotes are really thick towards Herington,” he said. “The drought didn’t seem to affect them this year. There are a lot of rabbits for them to eat, and they are herbivores, so they eat a lot of berries and other things too.”
Jared Shipman of Florence said he got into trapping because the raccoons were eating too good at his deer feeders.
An avid deer hunter, he said he got tired of looking at game camera pictures of up to 20 raccoons eating at his corn feeders.
He brought in two hefty, thick-furred raccoons and got $17 from Graber for his contribution.
“I pay more for the higher quality fur than I do for the bigger carcass,” Graber said.
Bob McVey of rural Peabody brought in one of the best-looking pelts at the Florence stop, a blue merle raccoon. The former teacher and fur harvest class instructor said he liked to trap raccoons as it gave him something to do in retirement. He also said trapping was a necessary part of wildlife management on his 250-acre ranch.
“If we don’t do this, the balance of nature gets all out of whack,” he said. “I don’t do this for the money.”
Graber agreed and said hunting and trapping was an important animal-control issue.
“It is very important that we take care of our wildlife populations,” he said. “If there get to be too many of them, distemper becomes a real problem.”
He said animal right activists sometimes faxed him hate messages about his chosen profession, but he did not pay too much attention to it.
“We don’t have a problem with people misunderstanding what hunting and trapping is all about here in Marion County,” he said. “It is just in cities where people are so removed from farm life that problems occur.”
Graber’s full-time employee Shawn Casley, also of Cheney, assisted in evaluating pelts on Saturday, and said it was his job to skin full-bodied pelts, purchased in the green.
“I can skin and scrap about 40 a day,” he said.
When Graber has a large group of pelts prepared, he sells them to a dealer “up north” who then sells them to international buyers. Very few pelts stay in the United States and none sell into Europe, because of a fur pelt ban there.