Coyote Pelts - Part I
I've been around coyotes and their furs most of my life, and I've seen many interesting market trends and concepts come and go. Like a lot of industries, I think the fur business evolves and changes with the mood and preferences of the end consumer, a year or two before that current trapping season. Hardly any business or commodity is as volatile or uncertain as the fur trade, and the demand for coyote furs is no exception. But we, as trappers, go forward every year, pick up our traps and other equipment and head to the hills to harvest an item that starts as a rough product and is later finished into a garment. That garment's final destination may be several thousand miles away. Hats, coats, and even parka trim for soldiers, are common uses for North American coyotes. Although coyotes are just one of the many species of furbearers we produce as fur harvesters every year, they are one of the staples of the fur trade, due to their widespread distribution across North America, and the numbers that are put on the market each year. The harvest of their pelts from all regions is absorbed by the fur trade annually.

Looking back, there were several catchy phrases and terms mentioned in connection with coyotes that influenced me early in my trapping career. Today we would call them 'buzz-words', and rightfully so, since a few of them still hang on, 30 years later! The term 'Montana pale' is a classic example. It has been used in fur market reports for years, to describe the better end of Western coyotes from northern Montana and surrounding areas. It has been the gold standard against which all other coyotes are measured, and I still hear the term from time to time. I traveled West in 1983, with plans to catch my share of these highly publicized coyotes, and never really made it back home after I got caught up in it all.

From my observations, though, a lot of western areas will produce some pale type coyotes, although some areas such as Montana and the Dakotas turn out a fairly high percentage, in some regions. One interesting side note that I have observed over the years, is that some paler coyotes seem to 'break', or rub, earlier than the slighter coarser coyotes in the same locale. It's not an etched in stone rule, but I've seen it enough that I know it to be a factor.

More than one person has told me that a very high percentage of the true 'silky pales' got harvested by aerial hunting in the late 70s and early 80s, on heavy snow cover, and since then the percentage taken in the overall harvest has dropped dramatically. I've witnessed it myself to a point, and a lot of areas that had produced some finer haired, silky coyotes slowly evolved into producing a darker, coarser coyote over the course of 20 or more years. Snow cover can help with some coyotes 'bleaching' out a bit, making them slightly paler, but that same snow can make coyotes rub, too.

Today, the current market trend for coyotes is for the heavy type, which, by definition, means a coyote with full coverage of thick, dense fur on its back. The flank, or area about its hips, should be full or well furred also. Since the vast majority of coyotes are used by trim on coats and other garments, the finished (tanned) coyote is cut into strips by the furrier. Simple logic tells us that the more useable amount of fur, meaning the more strips, usually translates into more value for the larger northern coyotes. Anybody who has sold many coyotes the last few years has probably seen the buyer(s) really paying attention to size more than ever before. Simply put, in most cases more square inches translates into more dollars, at least to the end user.
For the most part, the color of coyotes isn't as important as it once was, and very few premiums are paid for the paler type coyotes, with few exceptions. In the traditional coyote areas of the West, most of the better coyotes harvested will no doubt fit into the 'northwest' type or category, which is basically the next step down, color-wise, from the pales. We saw this grade become more and more popular during the 80s and 90s. By definition it meant a coyote with a slightly darker back, but still with a good wide, lighter belly. Most coyotes in the northwestern grade are in the heavy class, although we've seen some decent activity with the semi-heavy types too.

I've sold coyotes to many western fur buyers over the years, and I can truly say that none of them grade exactly alike. In the late 80s, when the fur market was basically non-existent, grading really tightened up on coyotes, and it really hit home when you were trying to sell some 'in the country'. I remember loading up about 40 finished coyotes and traveling to an old, established country fur buyer, hoping to sell them for enough gas and expense money to keep going for another month or so. I was single at the time and had few immediate needs, but the sale of fur was my only source of income. I had more coyotes at home, but I threw in a few early (October) ones, some more seasonable, heavy types, and I'm sure at least a few slightly damaged or 'broke' ones that you always seem to encounter when harvesting any number of coyotes.

I watch in amazement as this seasoned buyer put the 40 coyotes into at least eight piles! I thought while he was doing this that in the end he would shove them into the customary four piles that seemed to be how most people operated at the time, but in the end he left them where they were. What was even more surprising to me was that he had names for all the grades, and he read them off of his tally sheet when he was done. I don't remember them all, but there were some No. 1s, 2s, 3s, Western, "Wyoming types", etc. He did comment favorably on a few of the lighter colored 'pale' coyotes I had taken on a mid-winter prairie line, and they made the top pile.

I didn't accept his offer, although a buddy who I had travelled with sold some cats to him, including one of the very best bobcat pelts I've ever seen, before or since. I didn't walk away mad, but I learned something from the experience. I still see the old gentlemen from time to time, and have always enjoyed visiting with him. The coyote market then was bad, I just didn't think quite that bad, and he was simply protecting himself and his money. I ended up selling most of them to another country buyer who graded a little easier, and he put them in the four piles I was accustomed to: No.1, No.2 (or 'slights'), No.3 (early), and No.4 (damaged). I know this is simplified, but it was how most of the coyotes I marketed for many years were graded.

Continued next issue.