Goodbye, Mr. Ringtail

Longtime readers of this blog know about the many battles we’ve had with raccoons over the years. They’ve killed more poultry than I can count, and have done all kinds of damage to our chicken pens. I’m not even going to attempt to track down all of my old blog posts about raccoons and link to them here.

Raccoons are especially bad news for us in the Spring — and it’s almost Spring. Spring is when we’re putting out young chicks and turkey poults in poultry pens. Spring is also when raccoons have litters of hungry little ones to feed, and litters of hungry little ones they need to teach how to hunt and kill. A couple of years ago, our poultry pens got hit on multiple nights in a row, and from the amount of activity it was clear that we had multiple predators.  The would tear the pens open, and then chew the heads off of bird after bird. They wouldn’t even bother finishing one bird before moving on to the next.

It was war. I reinforced the pens with heavy duty wire mesh. The raccoons dug under the bottom of the pens and killed again. I laid long plywood strips on the ground, encircling the perimeter of each pen, and weighted them down with heavy rocks. And I started setting traps. That did the trick; the killings slowed, and we managed to nail the “ringleaders” over the next couple of nights. Once we took out the mother coon, that was pretty much the end of the raids. At least for that year.

The bottom line is: when we see an opportunity to take out a raccoon on our property, especially around Spring poultry season, we don’t let that opportunity pass by.

Which brings us to last night. A little after dusk, I crossed the driveway from the house to my office building. Just outside my office door is a very large pine tree. Standing under it, about to open the door, I heard an unusual noise coming from above: claws on tree bark. All the lights were off, so I couldn’t see what exactly was making the noise. We have a lot of barn cats, and they frequently climb trees, so “it’s just a cat” was my first thought.

But something about the tone and cadence of the scratches didn’t sound right. It just wasn’t quite “cat-like” enough. I flipped on the exterior floodlight, and took a good look up the tree. Sure enough, about 15-20 feet off the ground, a big raccoon was slowly making his way up the trunk. He froze, probably temporarily blinded by the floodlight, and I knew I had limited time before he scrambled away.

I may have had enough light, and a clear enough shot, to take him out with my concealed carry pistol. However, whenever possible, I try to avoid discharging a handgun or rifle on an upward trajectory. What goes up must come down, and a bullet can travel a long ways if it misses the target. Besides, my hands were full; I’d been carrying something that I needed to set down anyway. So, I dashed into the office and grabbed my tool of choice: a 12-gauge shotgun. It’s an ancient, Remington Model 11, recoil-operated autoloader that I keep in the office for property defense. I quickly loaded three shells of 00-Buckshot (“Double-aught buck”), and was back outside before Mr. Ringtail could climb more than a few more feet.

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About five years ago, I mounted a 500 Lumen tactical flashlight to the barrel of the shotgun (Sportsman’s Guide still caries them, for about $35). This is an extremely useful addition. It’s nothing fancy, and can be bolted even to a pre-WWII shotgun like mine that doesn’t have an accessory rail. The light sits to the side, so it doesn’t interfere with the shooter’s sight down the top of the barrel.

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It puts out a very bright light, and the lithium batteries are still going strong despite sitting with very little use since 2011. My only complaint about this particular light is that it slips from “steady” to “strobe” too easily. Sometimes the recoil shock alone is enough to make it switch modes, even without hitting the power button. If I were in the market for something new, I might choose something different. But for the little that I use this light, and for the price, I can put up with the annoyance.

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Back outside, I disengaged the safety and drew a well-illuminated bead on the raccoon. He was a little higher in the tree now, and there were some branches in the way, but the shot was still clear enough. I knew at least some of the nine pieces of buckshot would reach the target. I squeezed the trigger, and the raccoon’s reaction told me he’d definitely been hit.

From the amount of blood he was losing, I knew his wound was not survivable. If I did nothing, he’d be dead within a half hour. Still, much as I dislike raccoons, I don’t like seeing any animal suffer needlessly. I’d started this, and it was my responsibility to finish it the right way.

The problem was, he’d managed to drag himself behind some heavier pine branches. I no longer had a clear shot up the trunk. I circled around and around the tree, looking for a new angle through the branches. The 500-Lumen light definitely helped. It didn’t take long before I’d found a relatively clear way to light him up. I drew a steady bead, squeezed the trigger again, and it was over in an instant. The raccoon immediately fell from the tree. From the looks of the wound, he was dead before he even hit the ground.

Begun, the Spring coon wars have.

 

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