A term tossed around by trappers and by people who work with fur is the word “prime.” When a fur-bearing animal’s fur is at its very best it’s called prime. An animal’s fur pelt has thick, dense “underfur” similar to the down feathers on a bird that insulates the animal from the cold. That dense underfur is protected by long “guard hairs” that grow long and thick above it. The pelt is considered prime when that underfur is at its thickest and the guard hairs are at their longest. Hunters and trappers get the most benefit from harvesting furbearing animals when their fur is at it very best, or prime.
Animals fur is always prime at the coldest part of the year, so it seems a safe assumption to think temperature is what brings a fur pelt to become prime. Temperature affects fur quality, but temperature actually has nothing at all to do with fur primeness. The primeness of fur is controlled by a long scientific term called photoperiodism, meaning the amount of light in a 24-hour period. Light is absorbed through the animal’s retina’s, so when the winter days become short with fewer hours of daylight, that information is transmitted to the animal’s brain, triggering seasonal responses like turning the fur of a weasel or hare from brown to white, signaling for bears to seek their dens and causing fur-bearers pelts to become prime.
It’s no secret that furbearer’s pelts grow thicker and of better quality in parts of the north and west. For instance, a prime coyote pelt from Montana will be thicker and of better quality than a prime coyote pelt from South Carolina. Both pelts will be at their very best because of photoperiodism (the length of sunlight during the day) but the Montana coyote’s pelt will be thicker and better because of the longer, colder and more severe winters where it lives.
Photoperiodism also tells hibernating animals when to hibernate and triggers sexual responses in others, telling them when to search for mates and when to begin breeding.
The fur of Kansas furbearers becomes prime at different times and remains prime and in good condition for different lengths of time. Kansas racoons and coyotes will become prime around mid-November, followed by muskrats and beavers later in the winter, and bobcats and badgers after the first of the year. Coyote’s pelts begin to lose quality around mid-January or before as they begin to breed and to rub their shoulders and necks.
Fur primeness is a major factor used by wildlife and parks personnel across the country when deciding trapping seasons. Since prime fur is also the highest quality and most valuable fur, seasons are set to coincide with when fur is prime. Kansas trapping seasons end mid-February for all furbearers except beavers and otters. Beavers and otters can be trapped until March 31 partly because their pelts remain prime slightly longer.
As we zip through all the various hunting, fishing and trapping seasons we enjoy, it’s easy for us Kansas outdoorsmen and women to take for granted and not to think about the subtle little ways God has designed all of Nature to work. The way He triggers animal’s fur coats to become prime and luxurious after a long, hot Kansas summer is just the tip of the iceberg…Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve Gilliland can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.