Many a Western New Yorker has gotten into trapping as a hobby, but two trappers have made the pursuit an industry.
Attend any area fur auction and you are bound to see Chris “Hoot” Gerling and Captain Joe Fonzi standing somewhere near the bidding table. Both Gerling and Fonzi bid on lots and both deal in the sale and resale of furs and fur items.
The Gerlings are always out each deer season in search of venison for the freezer, but the mainstay in this household is processing items for sale as Hoots Furs. From the buying of raw furs to tanning and finishing of hand-made fur hats, vest, jackets, mittens and other accessories, the Gerling family has developed fur processing since 1984.
“We started just selling trapping supplies, which we still do, but it became obvious that items made of genuine fur were in short supply around Western New York,” Gerling said of his business that now includes his mom, Marilyn Gerling, and other family members.
“She does all the sewing,” Hoot said of his mother who is adept at all kinds of sewing tasks, which included a beaver hat wife Jean received as a pre-Christmas present to get through the early cold a couple seasons ago.
Finished product sales improve and should continue in anticipation of a predicted cold, protracted winter this year But Hoot foresees lower prices.
“Fur markets in China are overstocked and we could see a decrease in prices,” he said of a market that saw soaring prices of some furbearers in 2012-2013. “I wouldn’t panic, but prices may not be near what they were last year.”
Joe Fonzi echoed Gerling’s assessment of the past and current fur market.
“Last year prices soared in February but made an adjustment down in May. We still expect a downward adjustment after this December’s Copenhagen sale. In a nutshell, prices went too high too fast and end consumers are facing a little sticker shock,” Fonzi said of upcoming fur auctions.
Fonzi, better known as a charter captain on the Great Lakes and on the Niagara River, has been a fur handler for two decades and buys furs from his home shop. He has scheduled pickups at Hunters Landing in Batavia and Grizzlies Custom Cutting in Hunt.
He is optimistic about the future of trapping in the area. He notes, “The trapping season has seen several new faces with the onset of higher prices … It’s nice to see kids getting involved again and especially nice to see people leave with a smile,” referring to the interest in fur marketing in general.
Patti Wattengel, with the Erie County Trappers Association, points out that trapper numbers have increased markedly in recent years.
“All of our trapper certification classes are filled and kids sometimes have to go to nearby counties to find a class,” she said of education programs the association provides for youths or anyone interested in learning more about trapping techniques.
One good opportunity to learn about many aspects of trapping will be during an ECTA Fur Handling Seminar set for Jan. 4 at Collins Conservation Club at 2633 Conger Rd.
This free event goes from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. that Saturday, with instruction on techniques for preparing pelts, fleshing, stretching, drying and sizing hides with and without hair. The newest as well as veteran trappers can pick up good tips.
The kitchen will be open during the event. Kids can enjoy games and earn prizes, The gathering will put visitors in touch with experienced, skilled trappers willing to share information about starting and improving as a trapper.
Chris Gerling will provide some of the instruction. Patti and Rick Wattengel can share more details on the ECTA seminar. Check with them at 337-2556.
For more details on fur handling, sales, equipment and market concerns, check with Gerling at 397-1315 or visit hootfurs.com. To connect with Joe Fonzi, call 438-2366 evenings or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.