It is the dead of night. Clouds slip past the sliver of moon. A faint breeze rustles the standing corn, while a November frost nips my face. A single dog howl echoes in the distant dark. I almost expect Bela Lugosi or Stephen King to appear in the faint glow from the GPS tracker unit in Mike Redmond’s hand.
This is raccoon hunting.
Redmond has been trapping and shooting raccoons in Grey County for 5 decades. He started as a young lad with a trapline, guided by his father, Ben. He then took to climbing trees for raccoons — until he discovered the benefit of using trained hounds to scent and run active raccoons at night.
Coonhounds, as they are called, chase and tree their prey. When the hunter arrives, he or she decides if the raccoon is large enough to harvest for the fur market. If so, the hunter takes a selective killing shot.
Raccoon hunting is the only legal form of night hunting in Ontario. You must have an Outdoors Card and an accompanying small game licence tag or an Ontario trappers licence valid for the property you are hunting, and you must be accompanied by a dog that is specifically licensed for raccoon hunting. Only one dog licence is required, regardless of the number of dogs used.
In the blackness, it was difficult to determine if it was a dog that was repeatedly running past me along the edge of the corn field.
“Is that Maggie?” I whispered to Redmond.
“No, those are coons bailing out and running for trees. See… there is Maggie,” Redmond said as he pointed to the plotter chart on the GPS.
Maggie, a Treeing Walker Coonhound is one of Redmond’s prized Nite Champions. She is fitted with a GPS tracking collar so he always knows her whereabouts.
In the distance, Maggie, who had let out a howl upon striking on a hot raccoon trail suddenly begun aggressively yelping and barking. It was almost like she was saying “Hey! I’ve got one over here!”
After a quick check of the GPS, Mike turned on a waist-mounted walking light and we headed towards Maggie’s first tree strike of the night.
“Watch your step there, too,” chuckled Redmond as I picked myself up off the ground for a second time.
Locating Maggie in the darkness was easy, as her calling persisted. When we got to her, Mike turned his helmet light to the treetops to spot the quarry. He does this to confirm the raccoon and to see the eyes reflecting back, so he can make a clean head shot. Redmond made a few squeals on a squall call that turned the raccoon’s attention toward the ground. “There it is, and it’s a good one,” exclaimed Redmond, as he raised the .22 calibre rifle. He fired a single shot and the animal tumbled dead to the ground. I held Maggie on a leash so that she would not damage the hide.
After a quick inspection, Redmond pulled out a chain hanger and his skinning knife. Within minutes a prime hide was bagged in his carry pouch. Raccoon hunting is about collecting fur and hide for market.
We struck off in the darkness to another location with Maggie in tow. On the way, Redmond took me into a field of standing corn. “This is why cash crop farmers like us guys,” said Redmond, as I stared in disbelief at an area of flattened corn about 40 metres by 20 metres wide. “This is what too many raccoons do, and this field will have a dozen spots like this in it.”
We carried on half the night, setting Maggie loose in several locations near standing crops and swamps. Redmond shot, skinned, and bagged 8 raccoons that he would prepare for market later.
My initial anxiety about the dark art of raccoon hunting at night quickly passed and I found it to be a compelling experience. A well-trained dog working with a skilled handler and seasoned fur trapper makes for a unique hunt that is relatively easy to get into, but difficult to be good at.
First published in the 2014 January-February issue of Ontario OUT OF DOORS.