|The raccoon, procyon lotor, is related to the ringtail, coati mundi and panda, and it is the only representative of its biological order found in Wisconsin. The scientific name can be roughly translated to "before the dog", possibly indicating a distant relationship to the dog family, and "a washer". The common names, raccoon and coon, are derived from an Algonquin word "arakun" which means "he who scratches with his hands". Indians harvested raccoons for food and clothing before the first white settlers came to Wisconsin. Raccoons are abundant in the southern 2/3 of the state, but populations in the north do not reach great densities, due to the severity of the winters, lack of favorable habitat and fewer available food sources.
Raccoons have a full, round body, broad head and pointed nose. Ears are 1 1/2 inches long, rounded and erect, and eyes are black, alert and reflective of the animal's intelligence as well as curiosity. There is a distinctive ringed tail and a black facemask, making this a very recognizable animal for people of all ages. Coon's fur is 1-2 inches long and normally a grizzled gray or silver tipped with black; however, buff brown, black, dull yellow or orange variations can occur, and even all black, pure white or red color phases rarely occur in the wild. Raccoon's feet have bare soles with five toes each having a short, curved claw. The forefeet are similar to human hands, both in appearance and in dexterity, and a combination of flat feet, short legs and a round fat body give coons a shuffle to their walks. They make a variety of sounds, including a harsh growl or snarl, a rasping scream, low grunts and loud purrs. Adults average 14-24 pounds, but 40 pounds is not unusual, and are typically over 3 feet in length.
Peak breeding occurs during February or early March as temperatures begin to rise. Yearling males typically do not mate, but approximately 30% of yearling females produce litters. Approximately 80-90% of females 1½ years old, or older, successfully produce a litter each year, and females who don't mate during the winter months may continue to try to produce a litter until early summer. Young raccoons, an average of four per litter, are born in April or May, are helpless, are born with closed eyes, and weigh an average of only a few ounces at birth. Tree hollows, caves, brush piles, rock crevices, building and other man-made structures are favorite dens used to raise the young. When they are 1-2 months old, young coons start to venture out from the den, and although they remain with their mothers until spring, they begin to establish their independence by late summer. The young generally den with or near their mothers during their first winter, but the yearlings set off on their own the following spring, when they are 13-14 months old. Movements of yearling females are both less common and less extensive than those of yearling males. Range is typically less than 5 miles for yearling raccoons, while distances traveled by adults have been reported to exceed 150 miles on rare occasions.
Raccoons are omnivorous, meaning they will eat both plant and animal matter alike. Wisconsin raccoons commonly eat nuts, berries, seeds, insects, fish, frogs, turtles, eggs, birds and mammals (particularly young ones), crayfish, carrion and garbage. Corn may become an important food source, in winter and early spring, in agricultural areas or in areas where people have wild animal feeders. A raccoon's diet varies with the season and abundance of particular food sources. Raccoons have long been known for their habit of "washing food" in water. They don't, however, always wash their food, even when water is near, and they won't pass up a tasty morsel when there is no water around. Many theories have been presented to explain this habit, but none have been proven to date. Coons eat more in the fall than at any other time of the year, as they build fat reserves to supply energy for their bodies during winter dormancy. During autumn, adult raccoons may accumulate a one-inch layer of fat on some parts of their body, and it is not unusual for a juvenile's weight to increase by more than 120%, between summer and mid-November. By spring, many raccoons have lost 50% of their total body weight, mostly losing fat put on in the fall, and coons that don't build adequate fat reserves often die of starvation before winter is over.
Raccoons are nocturnal, mainly active from one hour before sunset to an hour after sunrise. Males tend to roam farther than females during a night, but both sexes prefer the same type of habitat while looking for food. During the day, coons rest in ground beds often located on high places in swamps or marshes, agricultural fields, hollow trees, rock crevices, burrows, caves and human buildings. Squirrel leaf nests or abandoned nests of large birds can make good resting places in spring and fall. The distance between daily resting places can be up to a mile, and raccoons seldom use the same spot two days in a row. Snowfall or temperatures below 20 F, cause raccoons to retire to their dens, but since no reduction in heart rate or body temperature accompanies winter dormancy, they do not really hibernate. When temperatures reach close to the freezing mark, coons will interrupt their winter dormancy to look for food. The population density in Wisconsin averages about one raccoon per 30-40 acres of good habitat, but densities can range from one per acre to one per 150 acres. High densities occur in river bottoms or agricultural areas well interspersed with woodlands and waterways. Medium densities are typical in woodlands, wetlands, extensive agricultural or residential areas, and prairies. Low densities are found in areas of extensive evergreen forests. Winter severity, food abundance and availability, harvest pressure, and levels of disease and parasitism ultimately determine densities.
Hunters take about 60% of harvested raccoons in Wisconsin and hound hunting is popular. Trappers take the balance using a variety of traps and techniques. Average pelt prices, daily temperatures, and snow during the legal season affect harvest numbers. Raccoon hunters seem to prefer earlier opening season dates due to increased activity by raccoons, and better trailing conditions for the dogs. Late season openers don't have as much impact on trappers as hunters. Wisconsin does define a hunting season for raccoons, but there are no daily bag or possession limits. You will probably be in need of a good coonhound if you are planning to be a successful coon hunter, and the most popular purebred breeds are Black and Tan, Bluetick, English, Redbone, Walker and Plott hounds. The coonhounds are the most highly-specialized, purely-American dog breeds, and they were created out of necessity, as early settlers encountered game species that, when pursued, would climb trees to escape trailing dogs. Early foxhounds, and other dogs, were tried but they didn't have the treeing instincts and other necessary abilities required to produce consistently reliable results. These early Americans needed a dog capable of tracking and treeing that would stay at the tree and alert the hunter to its location. Because of the type of game hunted in Europe, a treeing-type hound had not been developed, so a brand new type of dog was needed. The American Coonhound must be a rugged, intelligent, trailing hound that can handle the physical torture of varied terrain. It must be a pack dog with the fighting ability, size and stamina to engage animals up to three times its size, and have a terrific nose and the determination to track an animal tirelessly in the daytime, or more importantly, mostly in the darkness of night. Coonhounds are extremely versatile dogs that can be used to track and hunt bear, cougar, bobcat, fox, boar, raccoon, opossum, and in some cases even birds. Like any breed of dog, the best place to buy a coonhound is from a reputable breeder, but you may expect to pay from $100-$600 for a young pup and several thousand dollars for an experienced accomplished hunter. Coonhounds are streamlined and powerful with webbed feet to quickly propel them through water. Their coats are very short and don't soak up water, shed water weight quickly, and dry in a very short period of time. A great deal of coon hunting takes place in swamps, or near rivers, streams or ponds, as this is prime raccoon habitat. Raccoons are excellent swimmers and clever enough to use water to escape a trailing hound or to drown it. The idea is to get a good quality dog, train it properly, put it in the right environment, and then let the hound be the hunter. Don't over-hunt the situation. Let your hound do his thing and he will let you know when he needs you to complete the hunt.