Thursday, October 16
HOOSICK, N.Y. — Trapping and the fur trade are alive and well in Rensselaer and Washington counties, said Jim Greeleyof HoosickFalls, president of the Mid-Hudson Valley Fur Harvesters Association.

Greeley said he has never made a profit from trapping, and has been doing it for 32 years. It is possible for a person to turn a profit, but it would have to be a full-time job and market conditions would have to be right, he said.

"It's not something you do to make money," Greeley said, adding, "You don't even have to catch anything to enjoy being out there."

He said that compared to hunting and fishing, trapping has the most rules, ranging from different seasons to trap land and water animals, types of traps used, labeling of the traps and how often a trapper had to check his or her trap line.

"It's probably the most regulated sport there is," he said.

Greeley said there were some misconceptions about the trapping of fur-bearing animals. Most land traps are foothold traps, designed to catch the animal by the foot and hold it, allowing for it to be released if need be.

"Traps with teeth haven't been used in over 100 years," he said, adding that the newest foot-hold traps had rubber padding. He said that if a trapper caught an animal he or she wasn't intending to trap, it could be released.

Greeley said a publication called Best Management Practices releases booklets on how to best trap certain animals. He said wildlife scientists do necropsies on harvested fur bearers to determine how much damage certain traps caused. Traps that caused a high level of pain were not recommended, he said.

He said trapping water fur-bearers, such as mink, beaver and muskrat, was often done using a conibear trap, which unlike a foot-hold trap, snaps shut over the animals neck and dispatches it. The conibear traps, which look like wire squares, are also used to catch fishers.

Greeley said the type of trap and bait used depends on the type of animal, and is the prime method of targeting specific fur-bearers. For fisher, bait is set at the end of a pole or log, leaned at an angle against a tree. Greeley said the fisher walks up the pole after the bait and into the trap.

He said a trapper had to be aware of the trap setup being used so as not to catch domestic dogs or cats. Greeley said the use of a new type of box trap has been developed to cut down on the number of dogs accidentally caught. He said dogs couldn't get into the box after the bait, but target animals can.

Greeley said trapping is necessary to control the population of fur-bearers. He said often farmers would have problems with beaver building dams and flooding their farmland. He said that when possible, it was best to trap the animals during trapping season, because nuisance trapping done out of season resulted in the animal having to be destroyed by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

He said that once a trapper has skinned the animal, he or she had a few choices regarding what to do with the pelt. The fastest way to get paid is to take it to a country fur buyer.

The other option is to take the pelts up to Canada to an international fur auction. He said a trapper could make more money at the international auctions, but would have to wait a few months to receive their money.

Greeley said he normally took his pelts to the larger auctions, but this past year took it to a local country fur buyer, like the Lewis Hollow Trading Co. in Petersburgh. The small business is run by Ron Alund, and avid trapper himself.

Alund said he began trapping in 1970 after learning that his friend was taking up the sport. He asked his friend's grandfather about it and was given his first three muskrat traps.

He said he grew up in North Colonie during a time where a cultural shift was taking place. He said the area had been predominantly rural but was becoming more and more urban. Alund said he had little use for the urban culture and preferred being outside in all seasons, hunting, fishing, trapping, camping and hiking.

He said that during his youth, when the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement dominated the news: "I found a lot of peace in the woods," he said.

When he began trapping, the minimum wage was $1.65. He said muskrat trapping could make him as much money as a normal job, and he was able to purchase his first car with the profits from muskrat trapping.

Alund said he moved to Petersburgh 15 years ago, and has been running the Lewis Hollow Trading Co. for the past seven years. He said experiences in his youth made him want to someday become a trap line supplier. He opened the business after he retired from being a structural steel iron worker for 28 years.

He said being retired has left him more time for trapping, and he is able to turn a small profit from his supply business. "Country fur buyers never got wealthy, that's for certain," he said. "It's a passion; it's the people."

The trading company is out on the Lewis Hollow Road and doesn't have a Web site, which is how Alund prefers it. "I choose to do business the way it was done in the old days," he said, adding that most of his customers came through by word of mouth and referrals.

Alund said one of the main reasons he is in the business is nostalgia. He said he had fond memories of going to see Ed Feathers, a local fur buyer in the 1970s, to sell pelts and buy supplies. He also enjoyed learning from Feathers and making friends with landowners and other trappers.

For beginning trappers, Alund said the main thing was to find an experienced trapper to learn from. He also recommended joining a trapping association and reading up on new educational material, as well as watching educational DVDs and tapes.

He recommends trapping mink for first-timers, and to start small. "A dozen traps is plenty for a new trapper," he said.

For equipment, he said wooden or wire stretching boards were needed to prepare a hide, along with a skinning knife and a fleshing tool. Having a basket to carry the pelts in is nice, but he said a bucket would do. Alund also recommended a pair of rubber gloves for reaching into cold streams and rivers.

Alund said the major market for fur is in China, Russia and Eastern Europe. He said in North America, people were used to being in heated malls, heated cars and heated public buildings. He said open air markets were common in Eastern Europe and there was a demand for natural warm clothing.

He said he had never encountered much hostility from people who are anti-fur. He said most of his encounters with people involved curiosity, not animosity.

Alund said trapping was a better alternative to fur-bearer population control than some other methods, such as poisoning. He said if there were no trappers, the government would have to either pay trappers to control the populations, or find some other method of keeping them down.

He said loss of habitat and pollution did more damage to the environment than trappers.

Contact Keith Whitcomb at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com.