There is nothing like being settled in your stand, be it with bow or rifle, 30 minutes before dawn rubs the sleep from her eyes. The serenity of being alone in a swamp or on a ridge to welcome the morning is experienced by few. Most are still nestled under the covers while the mug awaits the coffee. Try and grasp the picture of the first hint of gray that slowly pushes the winter darkness aside. Maybe a blue or red hue will catch your attention as the sun, rising more from the south than east, begins to warm Mother Earth.
Anticipation is high as a twig, snaps behind you. Your heartbeat is in your throat, throbbing with each breath. The moment you have been waiting for is here! But oh, the disappointment you feel when what emerges from the thicket deflates you like the railroad spike in the tire.
As a hunter, have you been here? How many times has a natural sound triggered your hopes and adrenaline rush, alerting you to the possibility of your dream buck stepping into an opening from cover? Instead though, how many times has a short-legged, furry critter been the source of your heightened attention? Ha, it happens all the time, doesn’t it? The letdown can be enormous when reality sets in and the raccoon or opossum is the source of our excitement. Let’s investigate further and learn more about these native inhabitants that we encounter so often.
I will never forget climbing into a stand before dawn on a cold November morning in Kansas. My arrow was knocked, and I anxiously awaited what the morning would bring. While still dark, I heard something above me in the tree I was perched in. Next, small pieces of bark fell from limbs and settled onto my lap and shoulders. I didn’t panic, for I was certain no bears lived in the sunflower state.
Still, what was above did cause some concern. I just sat there as daylight slowly brightened the cottonwood bottom I was guarding. It wasn’t long before “scratching” on the bark of the tree became louder, and whatever was above me, was coming down. I was undecided whether to stand and look up, quickly descend to the ground, or do nothing. I chose the latter. I suppose I surprised the family of raccoons as much as they surprised me. One by one, mama and three kits backed their way down the tree to the ground. They were smart enough to be on the opposite side of the tree from me, and for that I was grateful. A raccoon is a tough little mammal, and I wanted no part of a fight with her. Momma waited for all three kits to join her on the ground and they ambled away, no worse for worry. I admit, my perspiration chilled me to the bone as the morning lingered.
Raccoons are medium-sized mammals with distinctive features. Noted for their dexterous front paws, a facial mask, and a ringed tail, these funny creatures inhabit much of North America. The name raccoon may have been derived from a Proto-Algonquian root, ahrah-koon-em, meaning “one who rubs, scratches, and scrubs with its hands.”
Sometimes this furry mammal is known as “wash-bear” because raccoons often search and dabble underwater near shorelines for food. They often pick up a food item with their front paws and examine it then rub it to remove unwanted parts. This gives the appearance the raccoon is “washing” their food. Naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc Comte de Buffon, believed that raccoons did not have adequate saliva production to moisten their food, but this hypothesis is now considered incorrect.
Raccoons are described to be quite clever. In mythology, indigenous peoples of the Americas include these mammals in many folk tales. They play the role of a trickster and outsmart other animals like the fox, the coyote, and the wolf. The Dakota Sioux believe the raccoon has natural spirit powers. Its mask resembled the facial paintings, two-fingered swashes of black and white, used during rituals to connect to spirit beings. Several autobiographical novels about living with a raccoon have been written. The best-known is Sterling North’s Rascal. In fact, just last week I pulled a copy from my shelves to re-read. I ordered the book when I was in grammar school and somehow have managed not to lose it.
Walt Disney produced a movie based on this book and surprisingly, as much as I love the book, I have never seen the movie. I tried to find it on several apps, but my lack of technical skills with Netflix, Youtube, and Hulu, have left me still searching. I have sources though and can’t wait to watch it in the coming days. The previews remind me of those old, family-oriented shows that we could all use from time to time.
One of my prized possessions as a boy was my coonskin cap. I wore it religiously when I terrorized the neighborhood bird population with my BB gun. The film Davy Crockett was my inspiration and I did my best to be like him. After reading the classic by Sterling North, I truly wanted a coon for a pet. I could only imagine building a canoe in the living room and having a dog and a masked bandit for pets. Some of my friends had them, but I was never granted permission. It was common back then to keep them as pets, but highly discouraged now as experts regard them as an undomesticated species. They are unpredictable and can be very aggressive when they become older. Of course, this is true of humans also. Still, the romance of growing up in those times with the freedom to roam the swamps with critters following is still an allure I will always cherish.
Have you ever read the book or watched the movie? If not, you should treat yourself. I will find the movie and I am in the process re-reading the book for the umpteenth time. Caramel apples, falling leaves, pumpkins ready for the harvest, and novel movies can make for nice days ahead. I fully intended to write about the other creature snapping twigs and mimicking the sounds of a cruising buck as well. However, I found myself captivated to the point of keeping this one for the little creatures that remind me so much of Chloe, my lost Yorkie. Don’t worry, I will give full attention and glory to the little opossum next time. And to think, I already have my next article topic ready to go. Let me know where to find the movie and while you’re at it, if you can find “Those Calloways,” that’s a good one too.
For you hunters, don’t feel too much anger towards the little raccoons if they find your corn. Remember, they’re trying to make a living too. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found.