Old Job, New World
The entire fur industry continues to change as well. Trapping is losing ground to ranches that raise some furbearers in captivity. “The wild fur business is such a small part,” Veirs said. “Nine hundred out of 1,000 mink coats are made from ranch-raised minks.”
As a Missouri fur dealer, Veirs can buy, sell, possess, process, transport and ship pelts and carcasses of furbearers throughout the year, according to The Wildlife Code. “Fur dealers and buyers were required to purchase permits clear back in 1936 when the Department of Conservation came into existence,” said Dave Hamilton, a Department resource scientist.
The merchants and consumers that hand-selected their furs are also dwindling. “Dad and Granddad, most of their fur trading was done out of garages and homes,” Veirs said. “Grandpa never sold anything in the big markets.” Veirs sends all of his furs through a broker and an auction house. “I’d rather go through a broker,” he said. “The companies have confidence in the broker and the brokers know what they are looking for in the pelts.”
The inconspicuous building in Unionville is a stopping point for thousands of pelts each year. Veirs limits deer hides to one tractor-trailer load, usually buying 3,500 to 4,000 for $5 each. Deer hides are often used for shoes and gloves according to Veirs. As many as 35,000 of the more desirable raccoon pelts pass through the house before reaching destinations in Russia, China and the Middle East.
Those large numbers do little to offset the long hours and low pay Veirs associates with fur trading. “Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the fur business supported the farm. Now it is the other way around,” he said. “About one out of every three years we make money.”
The Department of Conservation issued 95 permits to Missouri fur traders in 1970, according to Hamilton. “The fur traders increased with the increasing fur values during the 1970s and 1980s when over 300 traders were involved.” Those numbers reflect the fluctuations that plague the fur industry. “We issued a high of 2,220 [permits] in 1938,” Hamilton said. However, in the late 1940s and 1950s fewer than 200 permits were issued per year.
The Missouri fur industry dipped much lower than any of those numbers in the last decade. “Today, we have only 23 fur dealers and 23 fur buyers, a total of 38 individual companies,” Hamilton said. However, the financial impact remains large. In the 1980s the fur value reached a high of $9 million for just the Missouri harvest.
Veirs also maintains a 150-head crossbred cow-calf operation outside Unionville and bales hay during the summer season. His father and grandfather cut timber to round out the family finances during their years in the fur business. “I couldn’t buy fur if I didn’t do something else,” Veirs said.
While Veirs has no intention of giving up his fur trading or cattle, he admits to letting a bit of relaxation slip into his routine. He now spends a little more time supervising hired help and at home with his wife. Veirs hopes his family will stay in the fur industry, but due to the unpredictable nature of the business, he leaves that decision to his sons.
Trapping as a Tool
Trapping is more than an enjoyable and profitable outdoor activity—it is also an important wildlife management tool.
Trapping in Missouri is carefully regulated by the Department of Conservation. Regulations are established by considering population levels, harvest pressure and market demands. Wildlife laws only allow people to trap mammals that are common or abundant, which helps attain desired furbearer population levels.
If you are interested in learning more about trapping for fun, profit, management or to remove nuisance animals from your property, contact your local conservation office, visit the Department’s trapping page or check out our Calendar of Events for upcoming training and educational activities.