A Very Memorable “Coontest”.

Tom LounsburyA Companion Trap line, Conservation & Wildlife Management

"takin' em to the train station"

During the first weekend in March last year, the Ubly Fox Hunter’s Club held their first annual “Coontest” in which contestants can enter raccoons they have harvested in any legal manner, such as using dogs, calling or trapping. Bringing in obvious roadkill was not allowed. Seventeen 4-person teams had entered that contest but were in for some challenging conditions when a foot of snow suddenly hit the Thumb area. Just the same, contestants managed to enter 331 raccoons, an amazing feat considering the weather. Early March is a good timeframe because raccoons are usually out and about after a long winter, as well as it is their typical mating season.

The raccoon has proven to be quite an adaptable and very prolific wild critter which can be found statewide, even in suburbs and cities where it has earned the handle “trash panda”. Being primarily nocturnal, nighttime raids by raccoons are routinely performed on garbage bins and cans, gardens and even farmer’s cornfields. I’ve seen damage to cornfields being blamed on deer, when the culprits were raiding raccoons on a mission! Due to their dexterity with their “handlike” front paws, raccoons can gain access to containers and even buildings where they enjoy wreaking havoc and defecating wherever they please. Nuisance animal control professionals must deal frequently with raccoon invasions, sometimes where people least expect, including metropolitan businesses and storage facilities.

Raccoons are also notorious for raiding the nests of birds and waterfowl, and too many of them in an area can become detrimental. I do everything I can to keep them in line on my farm, which includes my owning three dogs –  two mountain curs and one redbone coonhound, that dearly love pursuing and treeing raccoons, which I find is a great outdoor pastime!

The recent 2024 Ubly Fox Hunters “Coontest” was held March 1, 2 and 3, with the start time being noon on Friday and ending at 1:00 pm on Sunday. When I arrived around noon on Sunday, pickups were already in the process of unloading and counting harvested raccoons and lining them in organized rows in the paved parking lot, and more pickups kept trickling in with their loads. It was truly an amazing sight to witness!

One of the early check-ins I really enjoyed meeting was a team of four young boys, who under adult supervision and with the help of a mountain cur, treed and bagged 26 raccoons. Proud of their accomplishment, they were sure they probably wouldn’t win, but they had a fine time competing and enjoying a great outdoor pastime together, which had occurred during the wee hours of the night. The fact is, when using dogs or calling techniques, raccoon hunting is primarily a nighttime exercise which features a unique atmosphere. Yep, folks, I always enjoy a good night of raccoon hunting.

I was amazed at the number of raccoons being unloaded from vehicles on a regular basis, and the area set aside in the parking lot for lining the carcasses up after counting kept growing and growing. A key to all of this was the extraordinary weather, which was dry and on the balmy side, meaning raccoons would be very active in doing what raccoons do. Many of the raccoons had been taken using trapping techniques, and setting and checking traps, especially a large number, can be quite a chore. It also requires knowing where and how to go about matters, which includes having a thorough knowledge of the animals being trapped. I had a trapline when I was a farm kid to earn extra money, and raccoons were at the top of my list. It was an outdoor pastime I much enjoyed and taught me a whole lot about wild critters. It is a sad fact that today a lot of folks who don’t understand matters, are against trapping.

A popular trap which happens to be my favorite is the “coon-cuff”, which is very species-specific by targeting only raccoons. Its design involves a metal tube just big and long enough to allow a raccoon to insert a font paw to grab the goods, which involves bait of some sort stuffed inside the base. This sets the trap off on the raccoon’s wrist, and I’ve found it is an effective method which doesn’t harm dogs, cats or other critters which encounter it. My favorite coon-cuff baits are marshmallows, jam or cat food. A trapping friend of mine prefers chunks of smoked fish, and claims it sends out an aroma raccoons can’t resist. I might have to try that!

By 1:00 pm, all the raccoons had been unloaded, counted, registered and spread out on the pavement which made an astonishing sight. A total of 1083 raccoons lying in organized rows in a big square covered quite an area! It sort of reminded me of being an enormous raccoon skin rug, ringtails included. The first place had 121 racoons followed closely by second place with 119 raccoons. Yep, folks, that is a lot of raccoons not out and about and creating havoc! I do believe that the Coontest performs a good deed for all sorts of wild birds, waterfowl, farmers, gardeners, homeowners and businesses.

The Ubly Fox Hunters are planning to have another “Coontest” next year during the first weekend in March, and I’m already looking forward to it. My three “treeing dogs” and me might be a tad busy! Especially if I can find some kids who would like to join in and form a team.

One thing is for certain, there won’t be a short supply of raccoons. They sure do know how to propagate!

Tom Lounsbury