Many years ago I had an experience that opened my eyes to a new hunting opportunity that I’d not realized existed. I was out squirrel hunting in the woods of central Indiana on an overcast and very cold morning. Sitting in the shadows at the base of a shaggy oak as morning broke over the forest, I thought I’d heard a squirrel moving through the trees. But after a half hour of searching the canopy, could not locate the bushytailed rodent. After what seemed an inordinately long time with no squirrels showing themselves, I decided to break out a call. In the past this approach had yielded less than stellar results, but I figured there was nothing to lose. I don’t remember why, but rather than the using the bellows to create some chatter, I flipped the call over and blew a baby squirrel distress sound. After a few minutes I took a short break to look around, and picked up some movement heading in my direction. Out of the early morning gloom emerged a big boar raccoon heading directly at me. Either he didn’t see me sitting at the base of the tree or didn’t care, but at any rate didn’t seem inclined to turn or slow down. I had my gun up and was not hiding my movement, and still he came on, until at about 5 yards it apparently sank in that I might be a problem best avoided. He spun around to run, and before moving two steps my pellet slammed into the back of the coons head dropping him. So raccoons will come running to a call, who knew? Well I guess some of the more experienced predator hunters even a few years back did. But I didn’t, and was really impressed by how aggressively that masked bandit made his approach!
Up until then, I’d shoot these animals opportunistically around grain bins, trash cans, or would sometimes lamp up in the trees for them. My approach towards raccoons had been in the context of pest control, and no doubt airguns are great for this application because they are quiet and effective and can be used in more populated areas. And this is exactly the type of environment where you’ll often find raccoons. After this initial experience, I started approaching raccoons as a predator rather than a garbage raiding pest, and began working in earnest to call them in. I had some immediate success with distress sounds produced on simple mouth blown calls. About this time I started hunting with a really outstanding predator hunter by the name of Brian Beck, who was already seriously into calling coons. Brian introduced me to using the raccoon fight sequences on my FoxPro, which until then I’d only used occasionally when trying to throw something new at the coyotes. I now prefer the e-caller for a couple reasons, first it’s the only practical way to get a coon fight sequence (at least for me), and it allows the sound source to be moved away from where I am sitting. This appeals to me because that first raccoon was not the only one that has almost landed in my lap!
You can hunt raccoons in daylight or at night, though where allowed hunting at night is far more productive. However, I have had pretty good results early in the early morning and later afternoon leading into dusk. I’ve even managed to coax them in (though infrequently) in the middle of the day, especially when it’s overcast. I like calling at night when there is snow on the ground and the moon is reflecting enough light to allow them to be picked up in the scope without artificial light. If calling in daylight I try to find a den tree, finding that a fight sequence will bring the big boars charging down the tree in daylight, if he’s in an aggressive mood.
Lamping is an effective means of hunting raccoons, that I’ve often employed on the large ranches in Texas (where the use of spotlights is legal). This falls into the category of pest control, but is a more active approach than shooting pest animals off the trash heap. The method consists of covering large areas in a truck while lamping the treetops, brush, and agricultural areas. We will drive likely looking areas with a high powered spotlight sweeping the tree branches, surrounding brush and fields, looking for the telltale orange glow reflected from the eyes of watching raccoons. This can be done with or without the use of a call, however combining the two methods (lamping and calling) will often produce the best results. When the glow of eyes are spotted, the hunter jumps out and follows up on foot. I have taken some of my biggest hauls of raccoons this way, and on several occasions have racked up well over a dozen in a night. Another cool aspect of this is that depending where you are calling, you never know what’s going to show up. I’ve had the usual suspects come in; coyote, bobcats, fox, but also some unexpected visitors such as ringtail cats and coatimundi!
The Airguns that I think are appropriate for these tough little critters generate at least 25 fpe of energy, and can be either spring piston or precharged pneumatic power plants. My preference however, is a PCP generating 35 fpe or more, and while I’ve taken many with .22’s I much prefer the .25 caliber. And more recently the .30’s are impressing me with their outstanding terminal performance. One reason I prefer a PCP is that they are more powerful and easier to shoot accurately, but more importantly springers are single shot and many of the PCP’s are magazine fed multi-shot. In the cold weather and dark shooting hours when coons are often hunted, you don’t want to fumble for pellets with frozen fingers or when there’s not enough light to see what you’re doing. Additionally, raccoons will often come in two or more at a time, and a fast follow-up shot can be a good thing to have.
Just about any air rifle generating 35 fpe or better, with the accuracy to print sub one inch groups at 50 yards would be a reasonable coon hunting option. As a point of reference, I’ll give examples of guns that I use and can recommend for those wanting to hunt raccoons. My little AirForce Talon-P was designed as an air pistol, but to my way of thinking serves much better as an ultracompact carbine. Though it’s a single shot, this .25 caliber gun has adjustable power and is capable of generating around 50 fpe. It’s perfect for jumping in and out of trucks, has an accessory rail for mounting lights, along with the accuracy to deliver consistent kills at 50-60 yards. The Hatsan AT-44 QE and the Benjamin Marauder in .25, are both moderately powered, quiet, full sized rifles that are attractively priced. My go to gun for raccoons is the Brocock Bantam or Compatto, though I’ve also been using the Daystate Renegade quite a bit lately. I’ve taken many raccoons with all of these guns, and even though not as compact as the Talon P, the fact that they are so quiet makes them the perfect options for use in suburban settings or around small farms where you want to keep the noise down.
The scopes I use on my raccoon rigs are in the lower magnification range, as shooting can be close and fast, and this type of optic deploys quickly. Quality glass that has good low light transmitting characteristics is a must. And an illuminated reticle is also helpful; on a moonlit night with snow on the ground it is bright enough to hunt without artificial light. But it is easy to lose the crosshair against the dark silhouette of your quarry, and a red or green illuminated wire can fix that problem right away!
For projectiles, my choice is generally a Diabolo roundnose of mid to heavy weight down the lines of the JSB Jumbo/Kings. These are accurate, hit with authority, and provide the right balance of penetration and energy transfer. As always, accuracy is the primary concern, so achieve that first then worry about other factors. I have been using a couple of the hollowpoints recently with good results; H&N Hunter Extremes are a hollow point with a small mouth and a crosshatch cut into them. I have found this pellet very effective on heavier bodied quarry when coupled with a powerful gun, they hit hard, penetrate well, and expand to increase the size of the wound channel. Another pellet worth looking at for use with mid-powered guns is the Predator Polymag; which is a hollowpoint that has a polymer tip bonded to the head. This pellet penetrates well and expands on heavier bodied animals, and when shot from a gun that digest them well can be devastating.
With respect to shot placement, my preference is a headshot when available. However with the more powerful rifles a chest shot will work fine, so long as there is not an immediate risk of losing the animal if it runs a few yards before dropping. Whether you are doing pest control in an urban environment, or calling in the wide open spaces, airguns are an effective, efficient, and quiet method of take. My respect for the raccoon has grown tremendously: this is the perfect starter predator for airgun hunting. They’re the right size, they can be found almost anywhere in the country and in sizable populations, and they come aggressively to the call. Not everybody has the opportunity to pursue coyote, bobcat, or fox close to home: but almost everyone, no matter where they live, can grab an airgun, a call, a light, and be onto raccoons without traveling too far from home!