Fur prices taking a downward turn can have an upside.
Just ask Chris Tischaefer, whose muskrat coat is a product of her husband Rick's trap line.
"Prices were down, and Rick said he wasn't selling," she said Saturday. "He sent the fur off and had this coat made."
The Tischaefers, of Butte, were among an estimated 75 to 80 people who attended Saturday's North Dakota Fur Hunters and Trappers Association winter meet in Bismarck. Rick Tischaefer not only is the president of the NDFHTA, but he and Chris also are receiving agents for North American Fur Auctions. In that latter capacity Saturday, they were receiving furs for the NAFA's May sale in Toronto.
In the 21st century, he is one of the few involved full-time in the fur business.
Wayne Schmautz, of Mandan, is more typical of today's fur trapper.
"It's just recreation. I started in 1978 and have been doing it every year since," he said. "It's a pastime, something to get me out of the house."
He primarily traps for coyotes and fox, and "if it's nice, I will set out coon traps," he said.
In today's market, prices for coyote pelts can range from $5 to $70, and the price depends on how each pelt grades out, he said.
"I don't know anyone making a living at it," he added.
The bobcat market may be the best-paying, with the highest quality furs pulling down prices ranging from $350 to $400.
Schmautz was visiting the show and helping a friend, Joe Mittelsteadt, also of Mandan, sell an assortment of his late father's traps.
Although mid-November to mid-February is the season to trap prime pelts, Schmautz prefers trapping beaver in the fall and the spring, when he doesn't have to punch a hole in the ice first.
Helping farmers keep beavers under control also is good public relations work, he said.
"Trees are near and dear to farmers," he explained, and then added that an appreciative landowner often will allow him to expand his trapping activities to include coyotes as well.
Either a furbearer license or a combination license is needed to trap. That hunters also need those licenses makes it difficult to put a number on how many North Dakotans actively trap. The best estimate is between 1,600 and 2,500, said Paul Schadewald, administrative services chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
NDFHTA membership numbers about 115 to 120. In addition to its annual winter meet, the group also holds a summer meeting. The next one is planned for Aug. 26 in the Jamestown area.
NDGFD does set seasons for trapping and snaring of furbearers. The details are outlined in its furbearer guide.
Between giving demonstrations on various fur-related topics, Rick Tischaefer also was accepting furs turned in by trappers. He does the paperwork for shipping the pelts to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where they will be graded. Then the pelts will go to Toronto, where the NAFA holds four auctions a year.
In addition to running his trap lines, which often can be an all-day affair, Rick Tischaefer also drives a regularly scheduled route to receive furs.
He estimates he annually takes in 3,000 muskrats, 2,000 coyotes, 1,500 raccoons, 1,200 beavers, 600 mink, 200 red foxes and fewer than 100 each of bobcats and badgers.
Which species are available to trap depends on what part of the state you live in.
"For folks west of Bismarck, it's only coyotes and maybe a few beavers," Rick Tischaefer said. "Along the Red River, there's more to choose from. Having that diversity is one of the neat things about North Dakota."
Trapping has changed, and in his demonstrations, he tries to teach trappers how to maximize and be more efficient.
Whether they are still involved with trapping or not, Rick Tischaefer guesses that a lot of folks who are pushing age 40 got through college fees with the help of a trap line.
For today's trapper, however, it's "something they have a passion for," he said. "The average trapper probably doesn't make fuel money."
(Reach outdoor writer Richard Hinton at 250-8256 or richard.hinton@;bismarcktribune.com.)