Called to Trap
The North Dakota furbearer season is nearing the end for most species, and two local trappers, snarers and hunters say it has been a little slower than normal.
The lack of snow made it easier for trappers to get around and they didn’t have to worry about traps getting buried or being hard to maintain, but it also made it easier for their prey to find food and not be forced to be out searching.
Renae Selensky and her nephew, Andrew Oksendahl, who traps with his father Bruce and brother Brandon, have both been trappers since they were
small children. “I come from a trapping family,” Selensky said. “My brothers used to trap fox and when I was little I trapped gophers from my dad’s oats field.” After learning some strategies from her brother-in-law, Gary Harmel, she has been seriously trapping since 2005.
Andrew was eight when he started with gophers, then worked his way up to larger prey. Both now mainly target coyotes, but also take fox, badgers, raccoons and mink or muskrat in years when the price is up.
About three or four years ago Selensky switched from trapping to snaring coyotes, and last year Andrew and his family gave it a try also.
“It’s more effective than trapping,” Andrew said.
The snaring method starts with finding a well-traveled trail where the animals cross under a fenceline. The snare, which consists of heavy wire, rebar, various fittings and an aircraft cable noose, is suspended about ten inches off the ground. As the coyote passes under the fence its head goes in the noose which then closes around the animal’s neck.
“Sometimes we catch a fox in our coyote snares,” Andrew said.
Both Selensky and the Oksendahls buy their snares, but the materials to make them are readily available. “It’s cheaper to buy them than make them,” Andrew said.
Andrew also hunts coyotes with a rifle. He brings the animals within range using an electronic call. In total he has taken nearly 40 this season. He concentrates his efforts south of Rugby and north of Berwick, where there are large sloughs.
“Coyotes love hiding in cattails,” he said.
Selensky mostly traps and snares around her parents’ farm northeast of Rugby.
Both agree trapping is a challenge; pitting their skills against the prey, and trying to position their traps in the best way possible to outwit wily and wary animals.
“You’ve got to have a lot of spare time,” Andrew said, another drawback.
Following graduation from Valley City State University with a degree in wildlife and fisheries science, Andrew took a seasonal job at the J. Clark Salyer Wildlife Refuge. Having winters off gives him time for his hobby.
Renae works at Northern Equipment and squeezes in her passion mornings, evenings and weekends.
“I run my trapline every day, and if it’s muskrats I’m out there two or three times a day, walking sloughs hut to hut,” she said.
Sometimes Selensky’s trapping becomes a neighborhood service.
“I’ve had people call to have me eradicate raccoons,” she said, referring to it as ‘critter control’.
Some trappers and snarers sell whole carcasses to fur buyers who travel a circuit during the season, but Selensky prefers to skin her prey. After skinning, she turns the hide inside out and fleshes it, a process of scraping the fat off the inside of the hide. She then stretches the fur on a frame and allows it to dry. “I believe I get a better price that way,” she said.
Selensky’s pelts are picked up by Rick Tischaefer of Butte, a receiving agent for the North American Fur Auction of Toronto, Ontario. They
are taken to Wisconsin, where they are graded according to thickness of fur, color and any damage, she said. A representative sample of five furs from each grade is taken to the auction in Canada, where buyers from all over the world bid on the pelts. China and Russia are two prominent buyers at the auction, Selensky said.
Bidders buy entire lots of furs based on the five samples they see at auction. “The trapper gets the price at the auction,” Selensky said, but, of course, everyone in the supply chain gets a commission.
The Oksendahls market their animals either as carcasses or pelts. “A lot of the better looking coyotes I skin,” Andrew said. “The ones that go to auction tend to bring more, but not everybody knows how to skin coyotes.”
The rest are sold to Hansen Hide and Fur, of Columbia, S. D., which buys both carcasses and pelts and regularly comes to Rugby.
Fur prices fluctuate, the same as any commodity. Earlier this winter a good whole carcass brought $50 tops, according to Andrew. The range is
between $10 and $50. A few years back muskrats were in the area of $4 to $6, now they bring $1.50, so low he doesn’t go out.
North Dakota pelts compete well with other North American furs, Andrew said. “Renae has had a badger that brought top dollar, and we had a fox one
year that got top dollar,” he added. When that happens, the check for the furs is accompanied by a congratulatory letter and a frameable certificate stating the producer had “a top lot”.
That’s a good feeling, Andrew said. Selensky’s good feeling comes from the whole process. “I take pride in my work,” she said. And when the North America Fur Auction’s magazine comes in the mail and she views pictures of models wearing furs, she gets a kick out of thinking, ‘That could have come from my backyard.’
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