Trapping was always a large portion of my family life. We lived on a farm near Mazon in Grundy County, and during that time everything was harvested and nothing went to waste. We had cattle, hogs and chickens. We also had a large garden. My mother used to can a lot of vegetables and freeze sweet corn. She also helped scrape hides caught during trapping season and sometimes went with us to run traps.
Farming back then was labor intensive, and I never had any trouble gaining weight during that time. The most valuable furs during that time were muskrat and mink. A raccoon only brought about $3, but we skinned them and put them on drying boards. We didn’t target them much during that time because they were a lot of work. The fur buyer wanted all the fat removed from the hides, and just before winter that was a real job.
After moving to town, we had more time and my dad and I ran a trapline that went for 30 miles. Farm country back then had a lot of creeks, and most of them contained muskrat and mink. I learned a lot from dad back in those days. He taught me to read signs and hunt squirrels and ducks. He also taught me how to fish, as much of the small rivers held good populations of catfish and smallmouth bass. The Illinois River back then was highly polluted. The area below the dams contained soap suds from the detergents that washed in from treatment plants. It was fair trapping, though, along that big river.
As I grew up, raccoon pelts became valuable, as Russia was purchasing all we could send them. They used them for warm clothing, as Russian winters are very cold. Those hides finally hit $30 a pelt. I ended up purchasing a raccoon dog that I hunted with for almost 10 years. One year, I put up 82 raccoon hides, and my fur check came close to $500. I thought I had died and went to heaven because that was big money back in the 1970s. Prices stayed good into the 1990s, and then things went bad for raccoons.
Russia invaded the Ukraine, and we put sanctions on them. In retaliation, they quit buying our furs, and that took a big hit on the trappers. China and Japan continued to purchase muskrat and mink for fashion clothing, so we still had a market for them. Since then, the fur market took a big hit, and it wasn’t worth trapping after that. Mink farms went bankrupt, and raccoon fur wasn’t worth much over a dollar. Country roads were cluttered with road kill raccoon, and wild duck and pheasants suffered predation.
The fur market is beginning to see some increases now, but raccoon pelts are still low in price. There is some interest in muskrat now and a keen interest in coyote. Hopefully, things will return to normal some day. Many trappers have made some income during nuisance removal.
The recent rains we have had improved the mushroom harvest. Stump mushrooms have come up over night, and the large hen of the woods are growing.
• Fred Krause is a Shaw Media correspondent.