Benefits to trapping raccoons
By Laura Gidney
Trapping. The word alone often elicits a strong opinion. I tend to think, in general, trapping and trappers get a bad rap. I feel that has a lot to do with a lack of understanding as to why and what we really do.
Most people probably don’t realize the positive benefits trapping has on an environment or an ecosystem. Nor do I think people really think about the consequences of too many of any one animal around. Realistically if trappers didn’t step in to help the Department of Environmental Conservation control animal populations, Mother Nature so to speak, would step in for us… and let’s face it, Mother Nature, she can definitely be cruel.
When animal populations get too high, the habitat can’t support what’s living in it. When this happens, disease often takes over. When it spreads, it can wipe out a population, sometimes for good. Trappers don’t want that to happen.
In general, trappers love wildlife and we love to see it healthy! We understand the delicate balance of nature and when a piece of it goes missing, it can upset a whole ecosystem.
Let’s just consider raccoons. Did you know at any given time there are at least a dozen different diseases and parasites that can affect any raccoon running around your neighborhood? Some of those include rabies, distemper, leptospirosis, mange, listeriosis, tetanus, tularemia and roundworm.
Now, not all of these diseases or parasites affect humans, but think about how you feel when you are sick – at least you can see a doctor. These animals don’t have that option. They are stuck running around with whatever they have and eventually these diseases or parasites often end up contributing to their death.
If it’s not disease that gets them (when the population is too high) it’s the lack of food, shelter or water that will do it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking just because we don’t see it, that it doesn’t happen, because in reality, it does happen and it’s not pretty.
Now, I know raccoons are cute and fuzzy, and I happen to think those little bandits are beautiful animals, but they know how to get themselves into trouble. They’re omnivores, they’re nocturnal and due to their adaptability, they can pretty much live anywhere. That means your not always going to find them in their usual habitat of mixed or deciduous forests.
As anyone with a garbage pail knows, once they know where food is, they invite themselves for dinner. Of course, once they’ve had dinner, they’re going to get into other things. This is where we as homeowners generally start to have a problem.
Do you have outdoor animals or pets? Consider that their food and water is fair game to a coon! Leaving it out could allow the passing of a disease or parasite to your beloved animal or pet.
Or maybe you have chickens. I, unfortunately, know all too well how much coons enjoy them. And they won’t stop at one. If they get into your chicken coop, they can kill an entire flock in one night, even wasting their kills.
If you enjoy watching birds and monitoring birdhouses, you probably already know the devastation raccoons can cause to nests. Often walking fencelines looking for birdhouses on posts, raccoons commonly scratch and tear at birdhouses, killing the hatchlings or breaking the eggs of bluebirds, wrens and more.
Love getting your hands dirty and eating from the garden? So do raccoons. Too bad they don’t use those little hands to leave you a thank you note after they’ve ransacked your garden! They especially know when to ruin a patch of sweet corn, waiting until just before it’s ready, then taking a bite out of every cob down every row.
Worst of all, what happens if they find your home just as nice and cozy as you do? What if they invite their family and friends for a permanent stay? Well, if any of these situations happen, you have two choices. You can either learn to trap them yourself or your local trapper can become your best friend.
BEFORE YOU START
Let’s talk about doing it yourself. I would highly suggest the novice take a trapper education class – in many states it’s required. Here in New York, it’s a free one-day class. This class will also give you connections with local, more experienced trappers who, more likely than not, will be happy to help you and show you the ropes!
Next, check your state laws and local town ordinances. You need to know what’s legal and what’s not. Once you know the laws, plan for how you are going to humanely dispatch the animal. I’m specifically saying dispatch because where I live in New York, it is illegal to transport wildlife without the proper licenses, so moving the coon to another location is not a legal option. Consider this too – why would you want to move your problem animal and give it to someone else? Be considerate of others even if the state you’re in allows transport.
CHOOSING A TRAP
Your trapping class will show you different traps and how to set them. I’m going to talk about traps I would use for raccoons. One type, especially made for raccoons, is called a “foot encapsulating” trap, also know as “dog proof” or “DP.”
This type of trap eliminates the chance of catching a dog or a cat, even more so if you use a fruity bait. Then if you stake it a few inches off the ground, you further eliminate the chance of catching a skunk or an opossum. (They generally won’t go up on their hind legs to find food, but a raccoon will.) If you don’t have to worry about other animals, a fishy-type bait or lure works very well.
Another type is the “foot hold” trap – a #1 or a #1-1/2 are both good sizes for raccoons. You use these with a dirt hole or pocket set, depending on the location. You can also make a cubby set, use a cubby box with a #160 body gripping trap or a “cage trap.” All of these methods and traps are effective – coons really aren’t picky. Now it won’t be long before you’ve got one.
UTILIZING THE ANIMAL
Personally, I’m a firm believer in not wasting anything. After all, it was a life, so if you take it, you owe it to that animal to make wise use of it. With that being said, first thing I do is kill all the fleas and ticks in the fur using your run-of-the-mill flea and tick spray. Then I dry the fur and skin out the animal.
Next, I gut it, giving the kids a science lesson while I’m looking around to see if the animal was healthy. That decides whether or not we’re having coon for dinner. There are lots of tasty recipes on the Internet and in game recipe books.
Once that’s done, I go back to the pelt. I flesh all the fat off of it, then fur side in, I board it and pin it out to dry. Later, it will be sent out to the tannery and we will use it to make something. My kids are also into skull cleaning, so I remove that for them.
In case you catch a male raccoon, the penis bone is used to make jewelry, so you could either use that yourself or sell it. We really try to make good use of everything.
This year, I’ve been researching how you can render the fat down to make soap and candles. I figure they will be fun and interesting gifts for family and friends!
TRAPPING IS GOOD
When it comes down to it, there are a lot of positive aspects to trapping. Not only is it fun and educational, trapping helps you improve your outdoor skills. It’s also necessary for healthy animal populations, environments and ecosystems. Think about this too… fur is a renewable resource, and really, the only difference between “fur” and your leather shoes, purse or jacket, is just that – the fur.
Laura Gidney is a certified trapping instructor and has a nuisance wildlife license for the state of New York. She also mentors at the Pat Arnold Youth Trapping Camp.