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Iowa’s furbearer season begins Nov. 2

Furharvesters take note: the outlook is pretty decent for most of the commonly targeted species ahead of Iowa’s furbearer hunting and trapping season.

“Over the past five years, coyotes have become the new hot thing,” said Vince Evelsizer, furbearer wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Last year, more than 18,000 coyotes were harvested, easily surpassing the previous record harvest of 15,347.

“The market has been strong for coyotes and the outlook for this fall looks good again,” Evelsizer said. “Our coyote population remains stable to increasing across the state with indications from our surveys the highest population is in southwest Iowa.”

Coyotes have become the number one furbearer species people are pursuing because the fur market is good, and it’s featured more than ever on television shows and videos. The hunting industry is also producing new products specifically for coyotes, he said. However, with that popularity the number of issues have also arisen. Evelsizer stresses that anyone pursuing coyotes make an extra effort to respect land ownership, property boundaries and use fair-chase ethics.

Iowa ranks in the top five states for the number of licensed furharvesters per capita, averaging around 14,500 per year for the last three years. When the fur market was strong, like in 2013, the number of licensed furharvesters was nearly 21,000.

Raccoons, along with muskrats, are two species targeted by beginning furharvesters.

Iowa’s raccoon population continues to be high – too high. Unfortunately when populations reach high levels, the prevalence of disease outbreaks increase. For raccoons, outbreaks of distemper often occur which has been the case this year. Pelt prices are trending up slightly this fall, especially for large prime raccoons.

Iowa’s muskrat population is variable, but the long-term population trend continues to decline.

“There are some areas that have muskrats, but statewide, the population is extremely variable. Scouting will be important. Huts have already begun to show up in Iowa’s wetlands and will rapidly increase wherever muskrats and ideal water levels with aquatic vegetation occur,” Evelsizer said. “However, we still don’t see the widespread distribution of muskrats across the state like we used to.”

The fur market outlook for muskrats indicates pelt prices from last season may trend up slightly for the 2019-20 season because inventories are low going into the season thus increasing market demand for those harvested this year.

Red fox numbers are trending up slightly in some regions of the state, which is positive. However, red fox continue to deal with mange. Pelt prices are expected to remain fairly similar to last year.

Iowa’s beaver population is trending higher. While the pelt prices on the fur market is low, prices for beaver castor (glands) is high. The number of nuisance complaints often increases with the population.

Badger numbers are stable across Iowa and increasing in western Iowa likely due to lighter and dryer soils and grasslands. Pelt prices are likely to be similar to last year.

The river otter population has trended upward in eastern and southern regions of Iowa. The bag/possession limit for river otters is two. Pelt prices are expected to be stable to up slightly.

Iowa’s bobcat population is up across southern Iowa and continues to expand into new areas of north Iowa; specifically northeast Iowa. The fur market should be similar to up slightly compared to last year.

New this year is a three bobcat bag limit across three tiers of counties in southern Iowa.

Iowa’s bobcat harvest is divided into three zones – a three bobcat bag limit zone (southern Iowa), a one bobcat bag limit zone and a zone closed to bobcat harvest. Only one bobcat may come from the one bobcat zone regardless of the county in that zone it was taken from, the remaining cats must come from the three cat zone. No more than three bobcats total can be legally harvested by a furharvester this season.

Furharvesters are reminded of the requirement to contact a conservation officer within seven days of taking an otter or bobcat to receive a CITES tag. The CITES tag must remain with the animal until it is processed or sold.

Gray fox populations remain low but are rarely targeted by trappers. We are watching the gray fox population closely,” Evelsizer said. A proposal has been submitted to study gray fox populations, including what they’re dying from – cause specific, as well as looking at their habitat needs. This population decline is not unique to Iowa, it’s a Midwest trend, he said, we are hopeful about getting this funding to carry out this research on gray fox.

Space available in upcoming beginning trapper workshops

Two beginning trapper workshops are scheduled in October. Activities vary by workshop, but participants can expect to learn the basics of trapping, ethical and responsible techniques, proper gear, skinning/fur handling methods, trap types and more.

The importance of being a responsible trapper will be emphasized throughout the workshop. Workshops are scheduled for:

Oct. 24, 5-9 p.m.: Learn to Trap: Furharvesting Workshop, Butch Olofson Shooting Range, near Polk City
Oct. 26, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.: Buchanan County Wildlife Seminar: Iowa Furharvesters, Fur Buyers and Taxidermists, Cedar Rock Visitor Center, near Quasqueton
There is more information on the Oct. 24 and 26 workshops online, including registration forms, at https://register-ed.com/programs/iowa/154-iowa-advanced-skills-and-opportunities

Iowa’s furbearer hunting and trapping seasons begin Nov. 2.