Coon Tales
June 2024, Legends of Vashon

Coon Tales

By Orin Edwards

Growing up, my family kept chickens. Most everybody did in those days, it was considered normal. Just part of being here. Of course, you could also get store-bought eggs from up at the grocery. White for Easter, for dyeing and decorating. Mother could make them look like jewels. We kept our flock to between 10 or 20 birds and my chore was to bring scraps and feed in the morning and then collect the eggs after school. Pretty easy work.

A flock would get whittled down one way or another, carried off by a hawk or eagle or even a dog, but easily the worst culprit was raccoons. One morning, the rooster was lying dead and two hens were missing. There was good chicken wire around that coop, a woven steel type you can’t get anymore, so I knew right away what varmint was responsible. I declared a war of vengeance on them.

You can use a box trap or a cage trap, but that has some problems. It’s not uncommon for raccoons to run in packs, and if you catch one with the box, the others will wise up right away. Plus, you never really know what else you might catch. Same with a leg trap, only worse. 

The other problem is, if a raccoon is stuck in there, it might decide to run around like a whacked beehive trying to claw its way out. Nobody wants to see the aftermath of that. So, I used the method Mr. Hansen taught me, who knew all about coons and kept them as pets until, well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What makes a raccoon special is their fingers. They can grab and hold things as well as us, and they’re just about as greedy. So, what you do is get a Mason jar, put some salmon in with the shiny skin left on, plus a half-dozen colorful marbles. Then you screw the lid on tight, take a hunting knife and stab through the lid. Pry that open far enough so a coon can force their hand and arm down through it, but not too easy. Then, you set that out near the scene of the crime. 

Two things will happen. They’ll reach in, but not be able to draw their hand back out with the salmon. But they’ll keep trying and generally get stuck. And you’ll hear the marbles rolling in the jar. 

There’s an even better but less fun version of this finger trap, known as a dog-proof trap. It’s easy to set, won’t get other animals, and is so coon-temptingly reliable you can catch three or four at once. It won’t hurt them, and their instinct will be to pull away, so you can walk up and give them a nice stern lecture. Setting these around a chicken coop protects the flock and has yet another benefit …

Back in those days, the preferred expedient for humane dispatch was a shot of 22 Remington. And people were accustomed to thinking differently about the stripe-tails. Bart Hansen, for example, raised them both for fur and food. Their meat is succulent, dark, and every bit the equal of pulled pork. 

So, after catching that first offender of many, I walked over to the Hansen house and felt proud to contribute to that evening’s dinner. Sweet revenge.

June 8, 2024

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