Coyote Pelts - Part II
In the last issue I talked about different types and grades of coyotes, past and present.

These days you will also see the term 'commercial types' when describing coyote pelts, and that is simply the lower end of the bulk of the coyotes in many areas. Coarse, (I call them "boardy"), very off color, and smaller, nondescript coyotes fall into this category. Almost all areas produce some, and some years a fairly high percentage of them. In the North and West these types can be hard to sell, and on even the good years they are your average-breakers come sale time. Some guys get these tanned to sell in the ornament market or as wallhangers, or maybe to give to a landowner as a gift. On a good year, with low harvest and/or an increased demand, the commercial grade coyotes might be bumped up a bit.

The time of the year that a coyote is harvested makes all the difference in the world to its value. Again, there are some variables, and I've seen some seasons have quirks of their own, but pretty much I've found some things to hold true. It's no secret that the length of days, and their getting shorter in the fall, triggers an animal's fur to grow. Elevation has a lot to do with it, and the farther north you live will be a big factor too. I've trapped fairly high country in Montana/Wyoming in early October many times, and have caught a lot coyotes that were acceptable, although marginal in the fur trade. A few weeks makes a lot of difference that time of year, and you can at times see the changes weekly, if not daily.

Large male coyotes seem to be the first to prime up, so to speak, but sometimes young of the year will be really nice by November 1 too, although a month or two earlier they were no doubt dull and with no shine too them. Female coyotes, especially those that have raised a litter, are usually noticeably shorter napped, and can be off-color at times too. Their belly will usually be furred over again by fall, but that 'bar' of brown or butterscotch colored fur across their lower belly will still be evident in many cases. In the areas that I've trapped, most older female coyotes are a few weeks later getting fully prime than other coyotes, but there are exceptions of course. And I've caught coyotes in midwinter that never really got that 'full' look to them.

As the fall/winter progresses, coyotes can get that fully prime 'shine' to them, and depending on where you are at, by mid-December they have probably reached their peak. That will vary no doubt, but I think that takes in the vast majority of areas.

From what I've seen, the cover in which they live will dictate how long they remain without 'breaks' or 'rubs', as much or more than weather does. Coyotes that frequent tall grass and/or light brush tend to get their sides 'clipped" earlier than coyotes that live out on open prairie or in complete snow cover. High sage and heavy timber seem to produce coyotes with less fur damage later in the season, but that could change immediately with a migration of new coyotes. River or creek bottom coyotes seem to be the worse for wear earlier, no doubt because of the brush associated with those areas.
Some of the very best coyotes I've taken over the years have been from areas that were under a permanent type of 'tundra' situation for the entire winter. Low brush, deep snow, and cold temps kept them as good as they were ever going to be, for a longer time than in other areas I was trapping. I've caught some as late as the end of March that were basically blemish-free, while coyotes from a little farther down the drainage were rubbed to almost valueless by Christmas time.

There's a big difference in hip-rubbed or 'broke' coyotes, versus a coyote with a blemish or bad spot that can be removed and sewn up. While fleshing coyotes (and other furs) you will sometimes notice scars, tick bites, larger bites, and other spots on the leather that you will want to inspect before you put the pelt on a stretcher. By placing your finger on the bad spot in the leather, you will be able to pinpoint it when looking at it fur side out, so you can decide if the fur damage is visible enough to be cut out or not. Many times, I've opted to cut out a little quarter-size mass of scar tissue that looked bad on both the fur side and the leather side, then sewed the hole so there is no visible damage on the fur side.

A sharp knife, a scalpel, or scissors will help you cut the bad spot out, from the leather side of the pelt. Cutting from the leather side will allow you to do it without cutting hair, and having little fine hair clipping in your sewing job. Many years ago a friend showed me his method of cutting a slightly diamond-shaped piece of leather and fur out, rather than round or oval, and it seemed to help in both the sewing process, and the final product.

These blemishes, or more simply put, "bad spots", are very common on coyotes, and are what make a person's slight damaged pile grow so large at grading time. A little extra effort can go a long way at this point toward presenting a really nice coyote to the buyer. In the last few years, I've seen some coyotes graded as 3s that would have made the next pile up with just a few minutes of extra work. When some grades are at a $20-plus drop, that equates into serious money "left layin' on the table," to quote a friend of mine.

With the costs associated with coyote trapping, it is in your best interest to take care of the fur harvested to the best of your ability. Knowing what you have to offer will also help you in marketing your catch. Like in all fur, 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder', and coyotes are no exception. A midwinter, heavily furred western coyote is truly a thing of beauty for me. We have several tanned ones in our home, and will no doubt pick out one or two this coming season to get tanned as well. And I'm sure that more than a few will be harvested for use in a fur trade in a far off place as well.