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A Guide To Raccoon Hunting
Raccoon hunting dates back to the time of the earliest Native Americans. In recent decades, however, the sport seems to have fallen out of vogue. That’s a shame because raccoons are more common now than ever, and skyrocketing populations are causing problems such as the spread of rabies and the decline of ground-nesting birds that hunting could help resolve.
Becoming a raccoon hunter requires an extra measure of dedication, which you will see in the paragraphs that follow. But the rewards are many—the pleasure derived from being outside listening to the bawl of hounds on a raccoon’s trail, the camaraderie with fellow hunters and delicious meals prepared from the bounty of the hunts.
Raccoon hunting differs in several ways from most other hunting sports. For one thing, the hunter operates at night, the time when raccoons are most active and a time when hunting for most other game species is illegal. States that allow raccoon hunting typically allow hunting during hours of darkness, a concession that permits hunters to harvest more of these nocturnal furbearers.
While other nimrods are racking their guns, hungry and tired after a long day afield, the coon hunter is just getting started. When supper ends and darkness falls, he fills a Thermos with coffee, loads his hounds in the back of the truck and disappears into the night. As writer Bob Gooch once said, “He is bassackwards in his living routine.”
The minor role played by the firearm also sets coon hunting apart. There may be several hunters, but only one gun for the entire party, usually a .22 rifle with iron sights. Additional guns may be carried but are unnecessary. One is ample to kill all the coons the dogs will tree in a night.
Unlike rabbit hunting, squirrel hunting, deer hunting and other animals, which can be done equally well with or without dogs, raccoon hunting seldom produces unless the raccoon hunter has a good hound to tree his quarry. That’s another way in which it differs, and one reason many hunters never take up the sport. Training a coonhound puppy requires a great deal of time, effort and knowledge. And buying a trained dog may not be an option for the would-be coon hunter. Crackerjack coonhounds command premium prices, usually several hundred to several thousand dollars. Upkeep of dogs is expensive and time-consuming as well.
It is because of the dogs, however, many take up coon hunting in the first place. Raccoons are delicious to eat, and their pelts bring a good enough price these days ($19 average in March 2010) to make that an incentive for hunting them as well. But most raccoon hunters hunt coons simply because they enjoy the music of the dogs.
“Listening to my hounds trailing and treeing coons on a cold, winter night soothes my soul like nothing else,” a grizzled old raccoon hunter once said while tuning his ears to the sounds of his redbones giving chase through the river bottoms. That, in a nutshell, is why so many who enjoy raccoon hunting are willing to spend what is necessary to own a good coonhound. It’s the reason these hardy citizens stay out on freezing winter nights when more sensible people are home in their warm beds. It’s their motivation for following their canine companions wherever the chase may lead, from the lowest swamps to the highest mountain tops.
As the old man said, “Without dogs, coon hunting just wouldn’t be coon hunting.”
Other breeds sometimes are used, but the most popular with American coonhunters are the black and tan coonhound, bluetick, Plott, redbone, American English coonhound and treeing Walker.
One of the few All-American breeds, the black and tan is a persistent, determined hunter that will stay on track no matter the terrain or conditions. His name developed from his color and purpose; his coat is coal black with tan markings, and he is used primarily to trail and tree raccoons.
The bluetick gets its name from its “ticked” or mottled coat pattern. It is skillful in trailing and treeing raccoons, squirrels and other game, and prized for its “bawling” bark. This steady and determined breed can stay on the most intricate of tracks.
The powerful, well-muscled Plott has traditionally been used for hunting big-game animals such as bears or wild hogs. But today, the Plott is frequently used for treeing coons in addition to its more customary duties. Hunters prize these hounds for their determination, endurance and courage.
Known for its flashy red coat, the redbone possesses the ability to hunt and swim over a variety of terrain while still maintaining its speed and agility. It possesses a natural treeing instinct and will track game ranging from raccoons to cougars. An adaptable hunter with a good cold nose, the breed is an excellent choice for the hunter who wants a versatile and capable trailer.
Renowned for speed and endurance, the American English Coonhound has a strong but racy body, a deep chest with plenty of lung room, a strong back, broad loin and well-defined musculature. It possesses the grace and attitude of a well-conditioned athlete, both of which serve it well when coon hunting.
Called “the people’s choice” of coonhound breeds, the energetic treeing Walker is perfectly suited for tracking and treeing raccoons. The breed’s competitive spirit makes it an ideal choice for competitive coonhound events where it excels. It is alert, intelligent, active and courageous, with extreme endurance and the desire to perform.
The breed a hunter chooses is a matter of personal preference. But when building a pack of coonhounds, all savvy hunters seek dogs with characteristics that encourage the hounds to work together. A cold trailer will discourage a hot-nosed dog that will not bark to the strike of his cold-nosed partner, and fast dogs will discourage slow ones. So the hunter attempts to get dogs with like noses, speed and general ability.
Raccoon Hunting Equipment
In decades past, the raccoon hunter carried only two essentials: a carbide light on his head and a loaded .22 rifle in his hand. The headlamp lit the way through nighttime woods and illuminated the glowing eyes of raccoons treed high above the ground. A lightweight .22 was handy to carry on a long hunt and adequate for the close-range head shots needed to kill the quarry. Rubber boots were worn to keep the feet dry, and the hunter usually carried a compass, some matches and a lead for his dogs.