The Legendary “Trash Panda”

Tom LounsburyA Companion Trap line

The raccoon gets its name from the Algonquin word “aroughcoune”, meaning “he scratches with his hands”. Raccoons are unique in possessing thumbs (although not opposable) which allow them to gain access to many items, such as taking the lids off garbage cans, hence the nickname “Trash Panda”. Being very adaptable, the raccoon is at home in the woods as well as in urban settings, including even thriving in big cities. Toronto, for example, is known for being the raccoon capital of North America.

The development of civilization has been kind to the raccoon, because it can live and thrive in close association with humans, and like the coyote, it has been continually expanding its range. The raccoon can now be found from southern Canada to the Panama Canal, and again like the coyote, I’m pretty sure raccoons are already “invading” South America.

Raccoons can be a bit devilish and destructive when they gain access to buildings or dwellings, and they can enter through some surprisingly small openings, which they might even conceal. Attics are a favorite abode for them, something I had to deal with a few years ago. I was in our kitchen fixing my morning coffee when I could hear the twittering sound of young raccoons talking to their mother right above my head, and I knew they were in the attic. Besides ripping things up, for no other reason than entertainment, they also can defecate on items and in areas that have been determined to be favorite latrines. Needless to say, folks, a raccoon family eviction process became a high priority!

The only place the raccoons could have reached the attic was from the rooftop, near the chimney, where I found a loose piece of soffit, which could be tilted for entry and exit, and it popped back into place when done. I left this as it was to allow an escape route for the raccoons, and I would enter the attic from the opposite end of the house, which required a ladder to reach an outside small access door. I began by putting three “bug bombs” in at once, closing the door, and waited for the hopefully foggy and unbearable atmosphere to flush the raccoon family out of my attic.

When I knew the air had cleared, I entered the attic, which required going on my hands and knees, and avoiding poking a hole through the ceiling underneath me. Besides a flashlight in one hand, I had a stout hardwood club in the other, and was fully prepared to enforce the eviction process if the raccoons had not vacated. Anyone who thinks a cornered raccoon won’t get a tad feisty had better think again. I’ve caught enough in traps to know they never give up without a fight! Fortunately, the raccoons had vacated, and I sealed their entry point.

I know of some folks who had the interior of their summer cottage, which had been closed for the winter, completely ravaged by raccoons having a high old time. I’ve had raccoons get into my pole barn and do their fair share of mischief. My wife once had a large quantity of flower bulbs stored in a plastic tote, with plans for planting them in the spring. Raccoons had ingeniously managed to unclip the lid’s latches, and discovered all the bulbs were delicious, much to Ginny’s dismay!

Raccoons are also a distinct challenge regarding our garden, especially when it comes to sweetcorn. I’ve had my entire sweetcorn patch annihilated overnight, and it resembles something hit by a tornado. The raccoons seem to know when the sweetcorn is at its most delectable and hit it the night before the planned harvest. They also don’t eat the entire ear of corn, but just munch enough off to ruin it. Raccoons also like to inhabit wetlands and can be hard on nesting waterfowl in destroying eggs and the young. I manage most of our farm in conservation programs, with a focus on wild pheasants (which in turn helps all wildlife) and I look upon raccoons as being a distinct detriment to the process and show no mercy in their regard.

Being classified as a furbearer with established trapping/hunting seasons, raccoons can be eliminated in Michigan at any time if they are causing or about to cause trouble, which in my opinion is 24/7 (I feel the same way about coyotes)! In the wild, raccoons have a life expectancy of about 3 to 10 years and have lived to reach 20 years while in captivity. The main cause of mortality is human-related due to trapping and hunting, and of course being hit by motor vehicles. Seeing road-killed raccoons is a common sight in this state. North Carolina is known for having the most raccoons, but Michigan isn’t far behind!

Taxonomists used to classify raccoons in the order Ursus, the same as bears, but although there is a slight relationship, the species separation occurred a few million years ago. Like bears, raccoons build up a layer of fat to help survive winters, and if weather and temperatures get a bit frigid, they can den up and sleep until things get a little more copesetic, and then they are up and about again. The raccoon breeding season can occur in January, but usually starts peaking during February and March. Raccoons have a scream, which I call a ‘coon squall, that is used to intimidate other raccoons or attract a mate. Since this usually occurs at night, uninitiated folks might assume they are hearing banshees in the woods!

Raccoons are one of the predators which can be called in and legally taken at night, using lights, lasers and other night-related optics, with the latter part of February and all of March being my favorite timeframe to pursue this avenue and eliminate some problem raccoons before they can propagate more raccoons on my farm. I personally use a high-powered flashlight using a red lens, which is attached to my selected firearm. I also use an electronic caller which offers a loud and far-reaching ‘coon calling sequence, and yep, folks, it sure sounds like banshees wailing away. If there are a lot of raccoons around, the action can be quite interesting. They are either coming in for a date or to see what is being fought over. It sometimes even becomes a “groupie” affair and I’ve shot several raccoons at one sitting on many occasions, before they realized something was up or where it was coming from.

Raccoon meat is edible and reminds me of bear meat, which in turn reminds me of beef. The key is to remove as much fat as possible before cooking. My mother knew how to prepare matters and oven-roasted the first raccoon I ever shot, and it was delicious.

I have two mountain curs and one redbone coonhound, and besides treeing squirrels, they are in absolute hound-heaven whenever they tree a raccoon!

Raccoons are sometimes referred to as “ringtail bandits” due to their telltale masks. Well, folks, also due to the masks, I believe “trash pandas” is a more fitting handle in their regard.

Tom Lounsbury