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Raccons and Airguns: Hunting the masked bandit

Posted by on February 1, 2015

The raccoon is a medium sized mammal that can be found in virtually every state in the continental United States. It has a ringed tail and a masked face, by which everyone knows this animal. The tail is 10-12 in. long and has a series of rings. They measure 9-12 in. at the shoulder and 30-33 in. body length. The average adult is 12-15 lb, but they can get much larger. I was out calling  the other night and dialed in a raccoon fight, over my shoulder I saw what looked like a black bear heading at me on a dead run. I was sitting at ground level between the coon and the call (rock and a hard place?), and if you said that thing was under 30 lb I wouldn’t have beleved it!  Their eyes are black by day and orange by night, and can be seen glowing when hit by a lamp at night. The raccoon is unusual in that they can see equally well in the daylight or at night, and can be difficult to spot at night due to their coloration.

You might have seen this photo before, it was the first raccoon I had come into a call, while hunting squirrel in Indiana many years ago.

You might have seen this photo before, it was the first raccoon I had come into a call, while hunting squirrel in Indiana many years ago.

People tend to think of raccoons only as scavengers and in fact the diet of the raccoon is aggressively omnivorous. They will eat fruit, berries, grain, eggs, poultry, vegetables, nuts, mollusks, fish, insects, rodents, carrion, pet food and garbage. Individual animals may learn to use specialized foods such as poultry, fruit crops, small livestock, or garbage by watching other raccoons.  But what I’ve come to find over the last few years of going out to hunt raccoons is that they are a predator of note. When firing off a small mammal distress in the vicinity of a den tree, coons will poor out of the den and down the tree. And they charge more aggressively towards the call than coyote, bobcat, or fox when in the mood. I’ve had the bloody things just about run me over when using mouth calls.

These animals are nocturnal and become quite active as the sun sets. Urban raccoon populations are often underestimated because people seldom see them traveling during the daytime. Where I live I see new road kill raccoons as I drive to my office almost every day, which would indicate a pretty healthy population. But I reckon out in the country areas if there’s a small wooded area, I’ll pull a coon from it.

Raccoons can cause substantial damage to buildings (particularly attics and roofs), gardens, fruit trees, lawns, garbage cans and trash containers. They are also attracted to pet food left outdoors and will attack pets. In rural areas, raccoons may feed on farm crops or raid poultry houses. Raccoons have been known to mutilate poultry in cages by pulling heads or legs off. Several kills may be made during a single night raid with part of one or more carcasses fed upon. Dead fowl may be consumed at the kill site or dragged several yards away. Raccoons are also serious predators of wild bird populations. I have read that raccoons have been responsible for eliminating local populations of some nesting waterfowl. In these situations raccoons may be classified as a pest species, but in most jurisdictions they are classified as a furbearer so check the laws for method of take, seasons and limits.

I had quite a few hunts in Texas for raccoons, but it was when Brian Beck and I started going out calling specifically for them that I was hooked, and started thinking of this animal as a predator rather than a garbage raider.

I had quite a few hunts in Texas for raccoons, but it was when Brian Beck and I started going out calling specifically for them that I was hooked, and started thinking of this animal as a predator rather than a garbage raider.

As a rule, when I talk about raccoon hunting I am talking about calling them in rural areas, approaching them as a predator. I have started pursueing them in a more focused way over the last couple years.  Hunting raccoons can be done with dogs, and this is how most firearm hunters do it. My method is quite simple, and consists of setting up an ambush then waiting. The gun that I found to work well was a .22, .25, and more recently the .30 caliber PCP rifles scoped with a fixed 4x powered scope and a mag light fitted under the barrel. Heavy roundnose pellets give a good combination of penetration and energy dump. With these guns either a head shot or a heart/lung, but raccoons are tough and can carry lead when a body shot is taken.

However, two things happened which tweaked my interest in raccoon hunting. The first was that on a couple trips for large game in Texas, ranchers asked us to thin the populations on their properties as there were just too many coons causing way too much damage. We pursued these animals with lamps at night (legal on private property in Texas) with the aim of removing as many as possible. We drove the ranch roads with high power lamps searching the trees and scrub looking for the telltale glow of eyes, hopping out of the truck and moving in on the spotlighted animals for a twenty five to forty yard shot. This was pest control, pure and simple; the objective being to remove a large number of critters, and this approach worked well. On one nights outing with a couple hunting buddies  we took a dozen raccoons  on a local farm situated north of Dallas in just a few short hours, I was using an FX Gladiator on that outing.

The second factor which increased my raccoon hunting interest was when I accidentally discovered they will aggressively come in on a call. I was squirrel hunting and using a distress call to locate bushy tails, when out of the corner of my eye I picked up a big male raccoon moving rapidly towards me. He froze on detecting something was out of line, but then it was too late. Since that time I have called in many more masked bandits, and find that unlike night time pest control, this is exciting sport which offers some real challenge. Anybody that tells you raccoons won’t come to a call, or won’t come at it in daylight has not tried it. The other thing that I’ve found as I’ve gotten more experience with raccoon calling, they can come charging in without a second thought to wind direction or scent. I almost ended up with a raccoon in my lap on one occasion, and for that reason alone prefer an electronic call so I can get a little distance between my person and the source of sound. But another, more important reason is that I have found the best way to get a raccoon to come to the call is by using raccoon fight sequences which I cannot do with a mouth call.

The distress calls which I’ve found most productive are woodpecker distress, baby squirrel distress, and rodent squeakers. I have many e-callers, but the two I like best for raccoons are the FoxPro Wildfire and the Primos Alpha dog. Almost any call will give you a good selection of distress calls, but these two offer a better library of coon sounds than most others.

If you plan to take raccoons, check the local laws; in some jurisdictions raccoons are pest, in others they are a furbearer with seasons and limits. Sometimes they become a nuisance or pest animal, and depredation permits or special requirements may or may not be required. Raccoons are fairly robust animals that can be hard to kill, and I therefore prefer to use more powerful guns in the 30 fpe plus range. A solid, heavy pellet is a good choice and I have found the JSB round nose (in .22, .25, and .30) and Beeman Kodiaks work very well, yielding both penetration and an effective transfer of energy. If you want an exciting hunt, with a good chance of success, that is available almost anywhere in the country, give raccoons a try!

I’ve staked out about a dozen likely spots, and am going out to call a couple of them when it gets dark. There’s a full moon and with snow on the ground, I don’t even need a light.

3 Responses to Raccons and Airguns: Hunting the masked bandit

  1. steve in KY.

    Thank you for a good read again. I use a green laser on my 25 Escape for coons. works great more so for those shots that are a bit to close. don’t even need to look threw a scope most of the time.

  2. Lee Brown

    Jim, is Brian Beck still airgun hunting? I don’t see him posting anymore and you used to post about his hunts.

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Lee,
      He is, I speak with him a lot. For those that on’t know Brian I think he is the best airgun predator hunter in the world. Right now he’s in the predator competition season and took a first last weekend with 5 dogs (second place shot 2) and the week before 2nd (only 3/25 teams got anything). I’m writing a book on predator hunting with airguns, and Brian will be featured in that. A lot of us are rethinking our posting activities and where we want to post but I expect you’ll see him back soon.

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