LUSK – More than 450 trappers and predator hunting enthusiasts descended on Lusk Aug. 21–22, with attendees from 26 states, from Maine to Alaska, to attend the second annual John Graham’s Coyote Days.
After putting on over 160 demonstrations over his 25 years in the business, Graham decided to create Coyote Days to bring the participants to his doorstep. Instead of traveling to other destinations, he would support his local town and bring the business to Lusk.
Two local motels were full, all local motels had Coyote Days attendees staying at them. One of the larger motels in Lusk reported renting out 99 rooms over the course of the event. A bar owner in town reported having the third biggest night of the year due to Coyote Days attendees.
John Graham and his family moved to Lusk almost 10 years ago when John accepted a position with the Niobrara Predator Management District as a trapper. He and his wife Nicole have had a successful business, Fur Country Lures, on top of John’s duties as trapper. They have raised their children here, all of whom have graduated from Niobrara County High School, while their youngest son, Riley, is currently a Junior. It was important to the Graham’s to make sure they supported local businesses as much as possible when preparing for the event. Decker’s Grocery was the source for 300 steaks, which were grilled Saturday evening at the conclusion of the event. Graham added “Albright’s True Value, Decker’s, Three Sisters, and just lots of places around the community have been excellent to work with us.” They understand the importance of being a part of the community and that local businesses must support each other to survive.
The Graham’s purchased two guns from Zerbe’s Gun Works for the event. One gun was a gift to the Niobrara County 4-H Shooting Sports program and was auctioned off Saturday evening. 4-H County Shooting Sports leader, Kenny Jensen was there with several 4-H shooting sports members to accept the donation.
“The Niobrara County 4-H Shooting Sports appreciates John Graham and his family for the rifle that was donated and auctioned off at Coyote Days. The rifle was sold for $800, but people donated more cash to the program. There was over $1,000 raised to use on buying new equipment for the kids. Between Richard Ladwig and John Graham, we will be able to keep improving the program,” Jensen said.
A third rifle, a Henry Golden Boy, was a gift to Miss Rodeo Wyoming, Rachel Derner to raffle off. Proceeds for the raffle are intended to help Ms. Derner further her education as a scholarship.
Coyote Days included 20, one-hour demonstrations put on by experts in the industry. Demonstrators traveled from as far away as New York and Nevada and as close as Wyoming and the surrounding states. Some of the demonstrators were seasoned veterans, having spent their entire lives in the fur business, others are current legends in the industry, their names contributing to the draw of the big crowd, such as Les Johnson of Predator Quest TV Show. John also wanted to include some new, up and coming experts, ensuring that there was a cross section of talent.
Passing on knowledge to younger trappers was at the forefront of Graham’s mind when planning this event.
“It’s a dying art, people are getting away from the outdoors,” Graham said. “The coolest part of all of this was seeing many friends that you don’t see for years and years. You introduce them to other friends and pretty soon the whole place knows everyone and it’s just so neat to see those connections being made.” Grahams wife Nicole added, “There’s not a better group of people anywhere, you can trust your kids to run around and play and know that in that crowd they are perfectly safe.”
Vendors were also plentiful over the two days to help hunters fill their trapping and hunting needs.
Saturday evening concluded with a banquet, guest speakers and a fur fashion show. Guest speakers included Richard Ladwig of the Game and Fish Commission; Jeb Hanson, County Coordinator of the Republican National Committee; Mike Wilhite, editor of the Trappers Post Magazine; Chris McAllister, past president of the National Trappers Association; and Rachel Derner, Miss Rodeo Wyoming. Issues discussed included dealing with the public perception of the trapping and fur industries, preserving rights and freedoms to continue their way of life and encouraging voting in the upcoming election.
“The perception of the fur industry is that we are all Buckskinners,” said Graham. “We’re actually quite advanced. There is a whole technological aspect that we have learned to incorporate into what we do. Some of it we may not like, but we do it because that’s just what we have to do.”
When asked about the fur industry Graham explained that “Only 2% of American furs stay in the United States. The rest are a valuable export going to countries such as Italy, Greece and China. Not all furs are for fashion, many countries use the furs for utilitarian purposes.
Miss Rodeo Wyoming, Rachel Derner, was also gifted an Arctic Fox Fur coat, purchased by Fur Country Lures. As Derner travels, promoting rodeo and agriculture, she also represents hunters, trappers and the western way of life.
With small businesses having been hit hard by COVID-19 closures, having events that draw large crowds, that in turn support local businesses, is extremely helpful in these tough times. The Grahams expressed their gratitude to the Lusk community and their friends, explaining that putting on an event of that size cannot come together without their help.
Plans for the 3rd annual John Graham’s Coyote Days are in the works, however Graham added, “We are planning on it, but it may not be in Lusk unless some issues get resolved.”