HARRISBURG – Many of the state’s furbearer trapping and hunting seasons are underway and, based on comments from Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers, hunters and trappers should have a good year. The general trapping season – for coyotes, foxes, raccoons, opossums, skunks and weasels – opened Oct. 26 and runs through Feb. 22. The season for mink and muskrats is Nov. 22 to Jan. 11; beavers, Dec. 26 to March 31.
Raccoon hunting season began Oct. 25 and closes Feb. 21, and the season for skunks, possums and weasels runs from July 1 to June 30, except for Sundays. Red and gray foxes hunting season opened Oct. 25 and runs through Feb. 21, including Sundays. Coyotes have a year-round season (July 1-June 30) and can be hunted on Sundays, too.
Pennsylvania also has bobcat hunting and trapping seasons in nine Wildlife Management Units (WMUs 2A, 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D and 4D) for the 1,435 individuals who were selected in the Game Commission’s annual bobcat permit drawing. The bobcat hunting season started Oct. 25 and closes to Feb. 21, except for Sundays. The bobcat trapping season opened Oct. 26 and runs through Feb. 22.
Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe pointed out that the Keystone State is lucky to have trappers, houndsmen and predator callers, who all play an important role of the Commonwealth’s wildlife management program.
“Furbearer trappers and hunters annual efforts afield have helped to reduce Pennsylvania’s susceptibility to wildlife diseases such as rabies and mange, and its problems with crop- and property-damage caused by furbearers,” Roe said. “Many Pennsylvanians benefit directly from the services of trappers, hound-hunters and predator-callers, because these specialized sportsmen and sportswomen manage everything from weasels to coyotes. They rescue farmers and other landowners both directly and indirectly from the damage and costly repairs furbearers can daily to homes and businesses throughout the state.”
Variable fur prices spurred a decline in the ranks of fur-takers nationwide in the 1990s. Trappers had difficulty recovering their expenses, and inflation further compounded the problem. The result was a reduction in furbearer harvest and an increase in conflicts. To get a feel for the drop off in harvest that occurred, consider this: In 1996, more than 200,000 raccoons were taken in Pennsylvania; in 2007, the raccoon harvest totaled about 121,500.
In 2006, there was a noticeable increase in trapping pressure and furbearer harvests corresponded. License sales increased from 23,941 in 2005 to 26,589. Then, last year, license sales rose again to 28,033. But the harvest of most furbearers dropped, excepting red foxes, coyotes and weasels.
“There seems to a general increase in interest among people to trap or hunt furbearers, partly because fur prices have increased somewhat, but mostly because fewer people are doing it and there’s a great deal of excitement associated with trapping and predator hunting,” explained Dr. Matt Lovallo, Game Commission Game Mammals section supervisor. “Both are positive signs for furbearer management in Pennsylvania, because they stimulate an increased harvest of furbearers, something our state, roadways and residents would surely benefit from.
“In 2007, trappers and furbearer hunters removed about 350,000 surplus furbearers from the Commonwealth’s rural and suburban. Maintaining an annual harvest of this size would benefits thousands upon thousands of Pennsylvanians by reducing home, crop or property damages and the number of after-dark roadway obstacles motorists encounter.”
Increased furbearer harvests reduce the damages and encounters that residents – and their pets – will have with these animals.
“Right now, many trappers, and particularly those in southern tier counties, are waiting to set and run their traplines until the pelts on the furbearers they intend to trap become more prime,” explained Lovallo. “Fur primeness for raccoons, foxes and coyotes usually is about right in most areas of the state by the first week of November. It’s always better to start trapping for these furbearers no sooner than early to mid-November to improve their pelt value on the market.
“Pennsylvania’s furbearer populations are doing well and the international market demand for most furs remains relatively strong. Pelt prices can and do fluctuate over the course of a season and from year to year as speculators try to corner markets and unanticipated demands drive prices up for limited pelts. The market is influenced by fashion and the needs of garment-makers internationally.”
Most Pennsylvania trappers and furtakers market their pelts through local fur-buyers and regional auctions held by the Pennsylvania Trappers’ Association, and international auction houses. Some furtakers also process some of their pelts for personal use.
The average prices paid for Pennsylvania furbearers in 2007 were: raccoon, $16.90 ($12.88 in 2006); red fox, $15.65 ($20.84); gray fox, $37.89 ($43.84); coyote, $21.59 ($20.02); muskrat, $3.05 ($3.20); mink, $10.87 (12.88); skunk, $4.77 ($4.04); opossum, $2.60 ($2.45); and beaver, $21.67 ($22.14).
The 2007 Game-Take and Furtaker Surveys estimated that fur-takers took 121,446 raccoons (138,640 in 2006); 121,446 muskrats (121,161); 41,168 opossums (48,102); 52,000 red foxes (45,512); 13,360 coyotes (11,879); 18,613 gray foxes (20,754); 9,818 skunks (10,687); and 10,004 mink (12,680).
The Game-Take Survey also showed that Pennsylvania’s best raccoon harvests came from WMUs 2D and 1A; red fox, WMUs 5A and 5B; gray fox, WMUs 2C and 2D; coyote, WMUs 1B and 2A; muskrat, WMUs 1A and 4C; mink, WMUs 1B and 5B; skunk, 5B and 2E; opossum, WMUs 2D and 5B; and beaver, WMUs 1A and 1B.
“Our furbearer harvests for many species have remained relatively stable over the past few years, although trapping pressure has risen over the past two years,” Lovallo said. “But given the amount of trapping territory available in the state, and the relatively limited number of Pennsylvanians pursuing furbearer hunting or trapping, there’s plenty of places for new and returning veteran trappers.”
Most furbearers – except muskrats – in Pennsylvania and other neighboring states remain underutilized. In fact, hunters and trappers are taking a fraction of the renewable fur resource Pennsylvania historically has provided. It’s a trend that likely will not be reversed because of the difficulties associated land access, increased equipment and transportation costs, and the free-time/commitment complexities that often dominate the lives of many Pennsylvanians.
Over the past 30 years, beavers and coyotes have been expanding their range, primarily from northern counties south. Left unchecked, beavers would cause tremendous property damage and could adversely affect the quality of drinking water for municipalities. Coyotes would cause even more problems for livestock and pets.
“Trappers play a major role in managing Pennsylvania’s beavers and coyotes,” Lovallo noted. “They are our first line of defense in attempting to keep these furbearer species in check locally and they do it for free. Anyone who has suffered from the damages these species can inflict knows what a relief it is to have a trapper remedy the situation.”
Beaver trappers are reminded that they no longer are required to have harvested beavers tagged by Game Commission personnel. There are, however, beaver bag limits for each Wildlife Management Unit.
Licensed trappers may use cable restraints for coyotes and foxes, upon completion of a four-hour certification course provided by agency-certified instructors, from Jan. 1-Feb. 22. The cost of the course is $15. Students receive various educational materials and one legal cable restraint, and a permanent certification card will be mailed following completion of the course.
Trapping is a highly regulated activity in Pennsylvania. A furtaker license – or combination license – is required to trap in the Commonwealth. All traps must have an identification tag that provides the trapper’s name and address or a number issued by the agency. Body-gripping traps must be set within a watercourse. It is unlawful to set a trap with bait visible from the air, or to disturb the traps of another. Traps cannot have a jaw-spread exceeding 6.5 inches. Traps must be visited at least once every 36 hours and each animal removed.