SPRINGFIELD – Illinois trappers captured about 2,000 river otters during the first otter-hunting season in decades, hundreds more than expected, state officials said.
Bob Bluett, a biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, attributes the larger-than-predicted numbers to high fur prices, according to The Springfield State Journal-Register. He had expected a harvest between 1,200 and 1,800 animals during the roughly five-month season, which began last November.
"The difference was fur prices were up," he said. "More people were trapping and there was more opportunity to catch otters."
Each river otter pelt brought in about $73.
The 2012-2013 season marked the first time since 1929 that Illinois hunters could trap the animals, which are part of the weasel family. River otters were once so rare in the state that authorities believed there were less than 100 of them in Illinois before 1990.
But their numbers rebounded. By 2009, the population was pegged at about 11,000.
State officials said the most recent season's hunt culled about 13 percent of the population.
Mike Gragert, president of the Illinois Trappers Association, said interest in the hunt is increasing, especially because the long-running season gives hunters more opportunity beyond the shotgun deer season.
"Most people you talk to who are involved in deer hunting or turkey hunting are looking for another opportunity to get out in the timber," he said. "And good prices (for pelts) don't hurt."