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David Kerl

David Kerl, Mazomanie, trapped 12 muskrats this fall, hoping to prevent them and others from digging holes in stream banks.

Ground and pond water has hardened. Freezers, driers, pantries and other storerooms are loaded with winter nutrients and needs. Feasting has begun.

Dig into wood cords as needed for heat and comfort. Pick up the processed venison in town. Continue to bag a squirrel, rabbit, pheasant or turkey as desired. Panfish through the ice when safe. Pull down the strings of dried morels and open canned berries or venison, and maybe horseradish for flavor. Sell or barter the deer hinds, raccoon furs and ginseng roots.

Now, too, begin sorting this year’s stored photos and journals for sending out Christmas wishes to friends, relatives and landowners.

Bryce Kubly, of Groenewold Fur and Wool, directed his mobile pelt purchasing business, an enclosed truck becoming clogged with deer hides and muskrat furs, into McFarlanes’ parking lot in Sauk City last Saturday. He had already made stops in Argyle, Mount Horeb, an Amish deer processor and two public meat processors to purchase deer hides.

If large enough, he paid $4 per deer hide or traded for a pair of deer skin gloves for each hide.

A cashier in front of the truck box was cutting checks for raccoon, muskrat, mink and coyote pelts.

Most trappers and hunters in line could carry their furs in their arms, including David Kerl, of Mazomanie, who trapped 12 muskrats on his farm.

“They’re pests to farmers, digging holes in stream banks and out into the fields, so I’ve been farming and trapping muskrats for 50 years,” Kerl said.

Maybe enough cash for a couple fish dinners, he thought as he looked at a $30 check. The largest “rat” brought him $4, but a small kit fetched a mere 50 cents.

Another trapper had cleaned out a den of raccoons from under a neighbor’s deck, but most of those in line brought their deer hides to barter for gloves to keep their hands protected from this winter.

Low fur prices are connected to supply-and-demand, beginning with mild winters, lower fur coat sales in China, an oversupply of farm mink of late, and now rock-bottom prices, except for a light-colored coyote, which might mount interest to $50. Kubly purchased one of those at Argyle.

GRW also purchases squirrel tails, but none were stowed in the arms of waiting sellers on this mild afternoon. Most tails go to lure companies, including Mepps, who purchase by mail.

On Feb. 21, 2018, Kubly will be back at the parking lot at McFarlanes’ for 30 minutes or less to pay out a few bucks of spending money to local outdoors gatherers who congregate furs and pelts. These same men, and a few women, gather wild edibles and saleable produce, including morels, berries and other wild edibles throughout the year.

Next stops for Kubly were Spring Green, Dodgeville, Darlington, Monroe and then back home to Forreston, Ill., to unload and head back into Wisconsin for more furs and hides the next day.

Human gatherers aren’t the only animals settling in to enjoy the fruits of past seasons. Some never stay around for winter and are south by now, spending the nutrients on flight. The last skunks are about to hole up until February to the pleasure of late bird hunters and their dogs, as well as early morning nature hikers.

Deer continue to make use of stored fat and improved hollow-haired coats. Birds, too, are fit for weather with better quantity and quality of feathers and down. Seldom does a feeder bird perch with its back toward incoming winds, which allows the wind to reach exposed skin under its down and feather coat.

The gratification of gathering has now led to a winter of indulgence.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at or 608-924-1112.