As customers perused through his finished product, Kenny Cook stitched together a teddy bear made of red fox fur. By the middle of Thursday afternoon, the first day of the National Trappers Association’s 45th Annual Convention, Cook had finished five bears made from raccoon, coyote and red fox.
Cook, who lives in California, Mo., has been sewing fur accessories for more than 22 years. He was a dairy farmer who added fur sales for extra income. But he had a marketing problem.
“I had fur I couldn’t sell, so I had to make a product,” Cook said. That product was teddy bears.
Business boomed, even when movie stars threw down their fur coats and there was a negative impact on the overall fur market, Cook said.
“When it became politically incorrect to wear fur, a lot of people would send me their fur coats and I would make them into teddy bears,” Cook said.
Cook, along with more than 200 other vendors, set up shop at the convention’s second visit to Columbia. The last time the convention was in town was in 1998.
Since then, Missouri’s trapping economy and regulations have undergone considerable change. This will be the first year cable restraints will be allowed for trapping after regulations were passed 18 months ago, said Dave Hamilton of the Missouri Department of Conservation. The cable-restraint season will run from Dec. 15 to Feb. 15.
“A cable restraint is a relaxing snare,” Hamilton said. Snare and cable restraints both close down when an animal passes through it. Hamilton said the cable restraint is “like a dog’s choke collar, but for a coyote.” The locking mechanism on the cable release relaxes when the animal quits pulling on it, he said.
Hamilton, a resource scientist, said the new tactic requires training and a special permit.
There will be a demonstration on how to use the device at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Hamilton said the cable restraint received the most humane scores over other traps. He said he thinks it was not passed sooner in Missouri because of fear that the devices would be like snares and hurt dogs.
“Missouri is a very big dog state,” Hamilton said. “Snares in the old days would be attached to a bent-over elm and was meant to wrap around the neck, and pull the animal into the air and kill it.” With the cable restraint the animal should remain unharmed until the trapper is able to shoot it.
The fur trend in Missouri took a dip in 1991, Hamilton said. When the price of a raccoon fur was $25 in 1980, there were about 13,000 registered trappers in the state. That number dipped to 2,000 in 1991, when raccoon furs were selling for $2.
Now, the price for a raccoon fur is $12, and there are about 4,000 registered trappers in Missouri. Hamilton said there are about 150 to 200 registered trappers in Boone County.
“In Missouri, the fur economy is directly related to the price of raccoons,” Hamilton said. “High prices cause conflict between trappers and the 25,000 Missouri raccoon hunters.”
Chris Flynn, vice president of the National Trappers Association, said the fur market is holding steady as reflected in the size and growth of the convention.
Different states bid on the annual convention; Missouri won this year’s bid.
Throughout the weekend there will be activities for trappers and non-trappers. There are specialty vendors such as the teddy bear stitcher and a chainsaw carver and events such as skillet tossing. The convention also will feature demonstrations on equipment usage, accessories and fur products.
Flynn expects a strong turnout because of the success of the 1998 convention in Columbia. “We are in the heart of fur country,” he said.
Trappers have traveled from as far as Canada, Mexico, South Africa and Australia to attend previous conventions.
Harris Glass, who traveled from Starkville, Miss., said he’s been trapping since he was “knee-high to a grasshopper.” He said he hunts to assist with the human-wildlife conflict and recommends visiting the convention for the experience. “Everyone should come for the traps on display, education, diversity and the culture,” he said.