Art Lander’s Outdoors: Furbearer hunting, trapping longstanding tradition
(Reprinted from above link)
They are trapped and hunted for their fur during the late fall and winter. Kentucky’s furbearers are a diverse group of wildlife with interesting life histories.
The river otter, beaver, raccoon, mink and muskrat live in and around rivers, ponds and wetlands. The red and gray fox, coyote, bobcat, weasel, opossum and striped skunk are upland species, living where the landscape is a patchwork of woods and fields.
The hunting and trapping of furbearers is a longstanding tradition in Kentucky. Furbearer seasons vary in length. Generally, the seasons open in late November and continue through the end of February. For bag limits, season dates for specific furbearers and other regulations visit this website.
Night hunting for raccoons with dogs is arguably the state’s most popular form of furbearer hunting. The sporting tradition dates back to 1948, when the Kentucky General Assembly first established a season.
James Caldwell, of Independence, Kentucky, a founder of the Kentucky Houndsmen Association, was once quoted as saying that “there are thousands of raccoon hunters in Kentucky. Raccoon hunters are passionate about their sport and their dogs, and they pump a lot of money into the economy pursuing their sport.”
For information on the Kentucky Houndsmen Association, a group dedicated to the heritage of hunting with dogs, visit their website.
The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is found throughout Kentucky, and is usually associated with mature hardwood stands along creeks and rivers. There are two subspecies in Kentucky, with the smaller, paler, short-haired southern race found in far-western Kentucky. Coloration varies from light to dark gray, with a bushy, furred tail, ringed in black and yellowish markings.
The omnivorous, nocturnal mammal spends most of its time in trees. Intelligent and tough in a fight, the raccoon is both brazen and stealthy. Adults usually weigh between 10 and 25 pounds.
Raccoons prefer to live in hollow den trees but are found in mines, caves, abandoned buildings and barns. Mating occurs from January through March, with a 65-day gestation period. No nest is made. Litters range from two to seven, with young weighing 84 grams. Raccoon babies open their eyes at 20 days and are weaned at 10 to 12 weeks.
Raccoons feed on vegetable matter for most of the year but readily consume frogs, crayfish, turtle eggs, insects, fish and salamanders snatched from under rocks with their hand-like front paws.
Raccoons can become a nuisance when they raid gardens and orchards. They especially love sweet corn. In the wild they feed primarily on berries, nuts and seeds.
Trapping is another tradition of furbearer season. Laura Palmer, Furbearer Biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), said that in recent years there’s been an uptick in participation.
“A lot of people who trapped in their youth are taking the grandkids out, teaching them about trapping,” she said.
Since the 1960s, the number of licensed trappers in Kentucky, and the amount of fur taken, has fluctuated dramatically, since fur prices often have a direct influence on participation. Trapping license sales in Kentucky fell from a high of 7,071 in 1980-81, to a low of 515 sold during the 1993-94 season. A generation ago, rural residents depended on trapping to supplement their income during the winter months.
Persons experiencing depredation of livestock, fish, and crops or property damage by furbearers can get relief from trappers. KDFWR has a page on its website where landowners can get contact information of local trappers. The fur trappers listed are looking for opportunities to trap coyotes, foxes, river otters, beavers, muskrats, mink, raccoons, opossums, weasels, bobcats, and striped skunks.
Through this program, farmers and landowners benefit by solving nuisance problems at no cost, and fur trappers benefit by gaining land access for trapping opportunities.
Annual Fur Auction
Many of the furs taken by Kentucky trappers are sold at the Kentucky Fur Takers auction, held each winter in Elizabethtown at the Pritchard Community Center, 404 South Mulberry Street. For more information, call (270) 765-5551.
This season’s auction will be held on Saturday, March 7, 2015. Admission is free for persons who want to observe the process and learn about trapping.
Native to Kentucky, the river otter (Lontra canadensis) had disappeared from most of the state by the mid 1900s. From 1991-94, 355 otters were released into suitable habitat in Kentucky. At that time Kentucky was one of 21 states that had river otter restoration programs.
Wild-trapped otters from Louisiana were released at 14 sites in central and eastern Kentucky, in the Barren, Kentucky, Licking, Salt, Big Sandy, Nolin, and Green River basins.
The state’s otter population was allowed to grow for 12 years after restoration before any harvests were allowed. A statewide trapping season opened in 2006, after it was determined that sustainable numbers of otters were present in every major watershed in the state.
For the 2012-13 season regulation changes were made to river otter season in Kentucky which included the establishment of two harvest zones and a regional increase in the season bag limit. The season bag limit is now 10 river otters per person, but no more than six may be taken in River Otter Zone 2.
Otter populations continue to grow throughout the state with greater abundance in western and northern Kentucky. Otter predation of fish, especially in farm ponds, was also a factor in increasing the bag limit where populations are the highest. Landowners can lessen otter problems by allowing trappers access to their property during trapping season.
Trappers may take their entire season limit of 10 otters in River Otter Zone 1. The 58 counties in River Otter Zone 1 are: Anderson, Ballard, Bath, Boone, Bourbon, Bracken, Breckinridge, Bullitt, Caldwell, Calloway, Campbell, Carlisle, Carroll, Christian, Crittenden, Daviess, Fayette, Fleming, Franklin, Fulton, Gallatin, Grant, Graves, Grayson, Hancock, Hardin, Harrison, Henderson, Henry, Hickman, Hopkins, Jefferson, Kenton, Larue, Livingston, Lyon, Marshall, Mason, McCracken, McLean, Meade, Muhlenberg, Nelson, Nicholas, Ohio, Oldham, Owen, Pendleton, Robertson, Rowan, Scott, Shelby, Spencer, Trigg, Trimble, Union, Webster and Woodford.
River Otter Zone 2 includes the remaining 62 counties in west central, south central and eastern Kentucky. Hunters and trappers may take no more than six otters (of their season limit of 10) in River Otter Zone 2.
Ralph Riley, a fur buyer in Henderson, Ky., said otter fur is shipped overseas where it is still worn for style and warmth.
“China is our number one market, but demand is dependent on weather conditions and their economy,” Riley. “Right now prices are depressed. Otter fur is only bringing about $70.”
Kentucky has a good population of otters, and they’re not just on the big rivers. You can catch one just about anywhere, said Riley. River otters are usually trapped along stream banks and lake shores, where the otter enters the water.
“Otters are creatures of habit and their sign is easy to find,” said Riley.
The harvest of the river otter is closely monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to ensure that international trade is not detrimental to the survival of wild populations.
The river otter was listed in 1977 in The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Hunters or trappers who intend to sell the raw fur of a river otter must go online to provide their Telecheck confirmation number and request a CITES tag.
The CITES tag, which is free to trappers, must be attached to and remain with the pelt until it is processed.