Though there are a lot of beaver in Eastern Oregon and a lot of trappers, beaver are not trapped as heavily as they once were. While pelt prices were up as high as $50 to $60 in years past, they now are down to an average of $12 to $15. Beaver are plentiful in many locations of the United States providing a soft market, plus skinning a beaver is not an easy task.
Trapper Jim Soares of Wallowa rarely traps beaver any more, and when he does his primary objective is to get the beaver's carcass to use as bobcat bait. Beaver can be legally trapped from Nov. 15 to March 15.
Experienced outsdoorsmen can view a stream bed and readily discern where a den of beaver may be living. Even if dams are not evident along faster moving water, there are damaged trees and visible beaver mounds along the shore. Soares says that most dens host from four to six beaver.
Fish biologist Brad Smith of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Enterprise office says that beaver are present on many, if not most streams in Wallowa County. The reason they are rarely seen is because they are nocturnal.
Wallowa County beaver may be trapped below the elevation of the U.S. Forest Service boundaries on most streams in the county. Off limits are the Minam River and Prairie Creek.
Trappers like Soares and his 12-year-old son Tyler continue to trap fur bearing animals even if the price of beaver is down. A priority for them is the trapping of bobcat. With each bobcat pelt bringing an average of $190 because of the sightly coats they make, the two Soares trappers bagged their limit of five bobcat apiece one year ago, Tyler's first year as a fur trapper. Each has only trapped two bobcats so far this year with the season to end this weekend.
An employee of Henderson Logging during much of his daylight hours, Soares - with 30 years of active fur trapping in his veins - says he has from 50 to 60 traps out at a given time, trapping raccoon, fox, bobcat and coyote. Most traps need to be checked at least every other day, he said. Last season Soares trapped some 50 mink, but with the market price as low as $10 apiece he determined that, until the price goes back up, the trapping of mink is no longer economically feasible. The same can be said of the trapping of muskrats.
Coyote fur is commonly used as trim on coats and the price of a pelt averages $30. Last year the Soares team bagged 15 coyotes. Three fox were trapped at an average price of $27 and a dozen raccoon at an average price of $12 for each pelt.
Most of the pelts are stored and later sold when the Oregon Territorial Council sets up one of its five annual shows to purchase fur. Last year's pelts were sold at a sale in Prineville.
Jim and Tyler Soares are not getting rich in their fur trapping hobby, but are spending a lot of quality father/son time together.
And the $1,900 in bobcat fur sales last season alone probably made up for some of the long hours spent checking traps.