Zander Fur wraps up winter season fur buy

MD-Zander Fur 1

Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
John Zander with friend Meg Hoyt, and Byron Cameron (r to l) discuss pelts sold by local trappers to T. Zander & Sons on a bitterly cold March day at the Woolford General Store.

WOOLFORD — The wind blew steady in the 20s with occasional 40 mph gusts. It was cold as can be, but a bone chilling real-feel temperature near 20 degrees did not stop local trappers from selling their pelts to fur collectors T. Zander & Sons, Inc., in the Woolford General Store parking lot on March 28. The first sight in fur buyer John Zander’s truck was a pile of bloody muskrat carcasses that bore no resemblance to Granny’s gorgeous fur coat.

Trapping is an Eastern Shore tradition. Animals are trapped for food (check out local restaurants), fur, pest control, and wildlife management. If you ask local trappers why they trap, many say “it’s a hobby.” John O’Donnell explains he started trapping fox “because I was bow-hunting one day and there were five foxes out there in front (of his house). We lost a lot of rabbits, so I thought by trapping them I’d get the population down some. Then I just kind of got hooked trapping. I just kept doing it.”

This is the first year that Zander Fur set up a local buying day at the Woolford store, according to Woolford store owner Ed Bramble. Mr. Bramble readily agreed when Zander called about holding a fur buy for local trappers.  He said, “I talked to a bunch of local trappers and a lot of them were excited because otherwise it’s quite a bit of driving.”

Ted Abbott brought 118 muskrats that he and his son, a commercial fisherman, had trapped. He said, “I used to do a lot of trapping but my age got to me. At 75 I don’t walk so much anymore.” In the county’s bountiful marshes trappers walk many miles setting, checking, and emptying traps.

Dorchester resident Bryron Cameron held a hard, pancake-flat muskrat pelt called a “plate.” He explained how the skin is on the outside, the fur is inside, with holes where the eyes once were. They are not the soft, luxurious pelt of a finished garment, but are one step closer to tanning.

According to Mr. Zander, the soft, furry belly adds more luxurious warmth to garments than the back. Muskrat glands are also in demand for perfumes and fox bait, said Cameron, as he held up a mason jar full of pink, round balls.

Mr. Zander says “We purchased approximately 3,500 muskrats, 300 red fox, and 200 raccoons.” The average price was $5. “We use the term ‘average’ for the price a trapper gets for every pelt in his lot, but for example a muskrat this year could be $1 or could be $7 depending on size, quality, etc. The fox again varied according to quality, but most averages were around $18.” For undressed muskrat pelts (the not-so-clean ones), he says, “The large ones go for $7, $5, or $4. Foxes with a big good finish are $20; the second quality is around $10 to $12. The eastern red fox brings a good price.”

In an interview with The Banner, John Zander said the family-owned business, based in New Jersey, buys, processes, and sells wild fur as opposed to ranch fur. They buy from trappers and smaller dealers across the county and export overseas, primarily to China and Korea. “Manufacturing is done in China because of cheap labor costs, but it is just starting to shift to other countries.”

“Muskrats have held their own,” he said, “but raccoons are just almost tanked, really low. Our biggest item is muskrat because of our location on the East Coast.” Several years ago the company handled as many as 750,000 in a 12 month period. The numbers are lower but they still handle 200-300,000 in a typical year.

They do not deal with nutria despite initiatives in the early ‘70s to eradicate an animal considered a “pest.” He added, “There are a few different types. There’s a western type they can shear and get an almost velvety structure. It just hasn’t really taken off.” The company bought 2,000 from Louisiana five or six years ago “and they’re still in our cooler. We paid maybe a buck, buck and a half, so there’s not much margin for the trapper. They probably make more on the bounty than the actual hide.”

John Zander participated in the 2015 Outdoor Show, where Dorchester trappers asked if he could arrange a county fur buy. He agreed to set one up. “It really helps the smaller, hobby trappers and kids who might not have enough catch volume to justify a long trip. This way, we can pick up some additional fur that might not have made it up our way, and they can get a better value for their fur versus if they had sold through some other venue.”

According to John, about 20-25 trappers showed up on the 28th. “It was a decent turnout,” he says, “and with the long freeze-up this winter” trapping time was limited. He and his brother Harry heard “a lot of talk that they had trouble getting enough muskrats for the skinning contest (at the Outdoor Show) because of the marsh freeze up.” He is confident there will be a greater turnout next year once the word spreads. He definitely plans to return for another buy from December to March next year.

John Zander’s grandfather started his fur buying business in the late 1950s. A pipefitter for an oil refinery in New Jersey, he trapped for extra money. Local trappers began asking if he could buy their fur. After taking fur to sell to New York brokers, a wholesale business was born.

After his grandfather passed away, John Zander’s dad, who had joined the business, decided to sell in Europe. John notes, “He found a good market in Europe, and once China got involved in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s they blew Europe out of the market. I was in China in January, my brother’s been there twice this year; my dad’s been there four times. There’s nothing like seeing it firsthand.”

After earning a masters degree in engineering, this third generation fur wholesaler says he “always wanted to be part of the business. I love it.” A trapper from a young age, Mr. Zander says, “It’s really cool to see the whole spectrum, from being in the marsh trapping muskrats to seeing the end product all the way across the world.”

View a slide show of the fur buy below. (All photos by Susan M. Bautz)

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment