By MIKE CORN
This was no trapper's paradise.
Prices were way down, perhaps the worst they've been in 20 years, and uncooperative weather made it difficult to impossible to catch much of anything for those willing to head out in snow, ice and bitterly cold temperatures.
The scenario was so difficult the Kansas Furharvesters Association canceled two of its three fur auctions.
The only remaining auction, conducted on the fairgrounds in Abilene late last month, only had about a third of what would normally pass through. The sale lasted about 90 minutes, well short of the eight hours a normal auction might take.
Prices turned out better than what was expected, most likely because the supply this year has been so low and it was the last chance to get in on the action.
"It was a very short sale," said Roger Macy, a Portis resident who also serves as vice president of the statewide furharvesting group. "I think everything went good for the year we went through."
And what a year it's been.
One measure has been the number of bobcats that have been tagged by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
Capt. Mel Madorin in Hays said he tagged 18 bobcats on the last day of the trapping season.
"Way down," he said of how that compares to a normal year. And the cats were coming from a much smaller circle of trappers than in previous years.
Game warden Lance Hockett, who monitors Dickinson County and was on hand to tag any bobcats brought in to the sale, agreed the take has been down.
Before the sale, Hockett had tagged 15 bobcats.
Normal would be more than 200, he said, for Dickinson County alone.
"The fur market is just down," Hockett said, "the economy like it is. A lot of fur was held over from last year that never sold."
It's the Russian economy that has devastated the Kansas fur market, according to KDWP's furbearer biologist Matt Peek. Russia, as well as China, hav been the driving force in the fur market. China and Russia were buying almost 75 percent of all furs harvested in the U.S.
"Then we got hit with very difficult trapping weather," Peek said.
"We had about a week at the very first of adequate weather," Macy said of the start of furharvesting season, then rain, sleet, ice and snow started falling. "You name it, we had it."
Snow and other precipitation fell, in addition to the normal freezing and thawing that takes place.
That led to muddy conditions and difficulty setting traps that would work -- in the mud and frozen soil -- the way they're supposed to. The mud just makes it difficult to get around and check traps on a daily basis.
"It's hard work to begin with, but when faced with difficult weather, it can be a chore," Peek said.
How far off the trapping season will be is uncertain, he said. Bobcat tagging results are just now coming in.
"I'm guessing harvest is off 50 percent or more from last year," Peek said of the bobcat harvest.
The bobcat harvest is a hint at how trappers did with other animals.
If Calvin Calp is any indication, it could be lower than that. He runs Calp's Fur and Root in Hoisington, the closest fur buyer to Hays.
"I would say I'm down 70 percent from last year," he said
Prices have been abysmally low as well, he said.
"I still have all the fur I bought last year," he said, perhaps as much as 90 percent of it.
Calp was in a bit of a buying mood at the Abilene auction, leaving with a few strings of raccoon and skunk.
Muskrat and bobcats were the darlings of the sale, Macy said, with at least one bobcat pelt fetching $100. A string of dried and stretched muskrats sold for $8.50 each.
Overall, Macy said, prices were better than what they had been expecting.
"I think everyone was very well satisfied with the way the sale turned out," he said.