Raccoons are just about everywhere in the US and almost all states have liberal seasons and sometimes unlimited bag numbers. Raccoon hunting history is long and storied with songs about coon hunting dating back to the pioneer days with trappers and Indian wars.
Coon hunting is unique in that it requires a hunter to head out when the sun is sinking and you almost always need dogs. While most hunting can be successful without dogs, raccoon hunting success is almost entirely dependent on the quality of the dogs a hunter has access to. This can make raccoon hunting difficult to get started in and gives the coons a leg up.
Why Hunt Raccoons?
Populations of raccoons have exploded in recent years. If we as hunters want to follow QDMA we all have to do our part to control the predator population. Raccoon hunting is much like dove hunting, in that it's a social affair and a great way to introduce new hunters to the sport. It's also a great way to keep hunting year round.
Many states have liberal bag limits and the raccoon hunting season is 365 days a year. The only real barriers to hunting is land access and a crack set of dogs that are up to the challenge of chasing these vermin.
Coon Hunting in Practice
Finding good hunting ground for coon hunting is sometimes a catch 22. Many of the densest populations of raccoons are found in urban areas that are either closed to hunting or won’t take kindly to hearing dogs bay up a bear raccoon in their back yard.
Raccoons nest mostly in hollowed out trees and in large limbs of hard wood trees, high off the ground. Finding these nest trees is hard to do and very hard to tell if they’re active. You’d be much better off running your dogs through these mature timber stands adjacent to food sources that raccoons hammer. Food like standing grain, fruit fields, orchards, clear cuts, swamps and thick cover offer food sources for raccoons.
Being omnivorous they’ll eat just about anything but they congregate on high protein high carbohydrate foods. Don’t overlook ponds and streams as potential food sources. While bodies of water don’t offer much for whitetails or hogs, raccoons have been known to eat crayfish, small fish and pondweeds.
Make sure you get access to land in areas with lots of edge habitat, swamp thickets unbroken by fencerows. Some of the best areas to hunt are farm fields with CRP or bordering state lands with old growth timber. The coons sleep in the timber and sneak into the fields at night to fill their bellies and then have just a short walk back to their tree.
Your job, as a hunter, is to get the coon before they head back on their short walk and arrive back to their nest tree.
When to Hunt Raccoons: Season Tips
- Raccoons will be hungry after a rough winter and coon hunting can be a great way to scout for fall deer hunting
- Offering to landowners to get raccoons before they get turkey eggs and summer crops builds relationships with farmers and opens hunting opportunities
- Focus on food and nest sites which are easy to spot with no leaves on the trees
- Target water sources and creek bottoms where the coons trap aquatic food and cool off
- Squalling works great when raccoons are protecting their young
- Be careful of over exerting dogs in the hot weather, especially when away from water
- Follow the coons for food sources and you'll likely find deer as well
- Raccoons will be more active fattening up for winter and will be out longer at night
- Try running dogs following frosts and cold fronts. Animals get scared just like us and they'll be looking for food
- Pelts will be good for sale if you don't shoot them up too bad
- With heavy snow it's best to give it up. Coons will move little and the heavy snow can make cutting a track hard
- Be VERY careful and speak with landowners concerning trapping for coons on properties. They can be lethal to dogs and impossible to detect until it's too late
Using Dogs to Coon Hunt
Raccoon hunting is unique in that a hunter’s success is largely tied to how well their dogs perform under pressure. Dogs are an essential part of the raccoon hunt and their training can’t be over emphasized.
Coon dogs must be able to firstly obey the hunter so they don’t endlessly run off for miles and are lost. Secondly, dogs must be able to find, chase and bay a coon for long enough for a kill shot. Training dogs can be a rough time for first timers and dogs bred specifically for coon hunting work best:
- Sleek body and soft coat, slender build, and topping out at about 70lbs. They are considered one of the best coonhounds in the world
- Need to be kept in groups, prefer packs with strong leadership
- Need to run them daily as they need a lot of exercise
- One of the most skilled sniffers of all hounds, but can be difficult to train
- Can live indoors and very good with kids and other dogs
- Their build closely resembles the Redbone. They are slightly bigger and top out at around 85lbs
BLACK & TAN COONHOUND
- Very popular hounds; They are better in hot weather than most and very healthy
- Sleek and slender body, jet black coat with rusty colored face
- Needs a lot of exercise, they have more energy than most dog breeds
TREEING WALKER COONHOUND
- Stocky and slightly smaller as far as hounds go, but very powerful and tops out at 65lbs
- Extremely loyal and gentle in everyday life, they make great farm dogs overall
- They need exercise as many of them won't sleep if they have energy left over before bedtime
Baying is when a raccoon has run up into a tree in an attempt to get away from the hounds chasing it. This is a pivotal moment and the excitement is extremely high. It's also the most dangerous part and the one most people get wrong. Here are raccoon hunting tips for when you’ve bayed the animal:
- Have light on the animal as quickly as possible
- One one person should have a gun; anymore and it can get deadly
- Try not to scream at each other. The dogs will be barking and the coon squalling, so communication is key here
- Be absolutely certain about what you're shooting at
- Don't shoot until the raccoon has stopped moving and your shot, if missed or over penetrated, will go into the trunk of the tree
- Never, ever, assume the animal is dead after one shot. Assume every animal will gore you out until it's skin is off!
- Look for hazards around the bay tree. More than once I've bayed a coon directly underneath a hornet's nest
What’s a dog-less coon hunter to do when they've got cabin fever? Well you could try a coon hunting method called squalling. A coon squall is a call that raises the bat signal for the mature members of the social hierarchy to come in for help. It can be a fight between two boss coons or a distress call from a pup. Either way it’s sure to get attention.
Coons squalling can be a down right deadly tactic especially just after the sun goes down while the raccoons are waking up and getting stirred. The way it’s done is to get about 30 or 50 yards from a brush pile, a blowdown or a suspected nest tree and let it rip. This is calling raccoons out instead of catching them while they’re out of their protective nests and it can work like a charm.
Mouth operated calls made for general predator calling, specialized calls made for raccoons, or realistic recordings of animals paired with decoys can all be used. The raccoon hunting equipment used isn’t too important but different methods yield different results.
- Make sure to be as still as possible when calling raccoons. Also try to use lights as little as possible
- Decoys work great after raccoons get out of their nest, but they won't get them out. It's best to plan ahead
- Don't move after you get the first coon. Instead, look for more coons because good spots hold multiple animals
Raccoon Hunting Supplies
Certain supplies and equipment will make a coon hunt even easier. Some of the following could even be considered necessities for raccoon hunting.
Raccoon Hunting Lights
Absolutely indispensable for coon hunting is several bright lights. Bright lights that throw a long distance are useful for spotting the hounds but a terrible idea up close. The light is so bright that when you try to use it up against a tree the light reflected off ruins your night vision making it harder to see.
Be very, doubly sure of your intentions when using these lights. Using lights at night is seen as probable cause for searching a truck for poaching. It can draw law enforcement, who 99% of the time will instantly think you are spotlighting for deer. Some game wardens won’t buy that you're coon hunting if you’ve got a loaded .30-06 in the truck. It's best to carry only rimfire rifles when hunting coons. You just might end up with a huge fine and record with the law if you don't.
As a minimum I’d shoot for three kinds of light:
A big spotlight that throws at least 1000 lumens should ride around in the truck. These things are great. Sometimes before the dogs even cut a track you can spot the eyes of animals in open fields and along creek bottoms. Rechargeable models with AC plug ins for the truck should be the only ones you buy. The D cell ones are heavy and expensive to run.
Having a headlamp with a red filter is extremely important because once you leave the truck you need a compact light for up close work. Look for a model that swivels down so you don’t blind your hunting party. Headlamps win over a flashlight in the mouth and can be taken off if you need a handheld light.
Weapon Mounted light:
This is a nice to have item, but with weapon mounted lights becoming so cheap these days it’s hard to pass them up. A quality weapon light makes aiming easier, even when using a headlamp. A lot of these lights come with filters, lasers and other doo dads that work well. Just remember to turn it off while you’re running around the field. They tend to be low on battery life and you’ll look like a haunted Christmas tree swinging it as you run.
Carrying a GPS to track you, your truck and your dogs is an affordable necessity for all serious coon hunters. Especially when hunting on other people’s land, you need to be an ambassador of the hunting culture to the world and that starts with being accountable for your dogs and everyone in your party.
Lightweight and rugged GPS collars for dogs are cheap enough that you can outfit a pack for less than a set of tires. The master controllers aren’t out of reach either. This is an item that really should be on every hunter’s dogs. If for no other reason, you can be certain all the members of the hunt will be coming in at the end of the hunt.
Electronic hunting calls for predators that come with built in decoys are all the rage these days. Some of them cost as much as a good rifle and some are as simple as an iPhone speaker. When looking for a call to go coon squalling, mouth blown calls can be just fine and picked up for just a few dollars. It's wise to look for them on sale at the end of season. Even general predator calls can be pressed into service with a little bit of practice. Search YouTube videos on calling and imitate the sounds you hear, then try different things while you’re in the field.
If you’re leaning towards an electronic call, battery life and durability are the two biggest features you should be concerned with. The major companies that offer the calls offer mix tapes of calling sequences for coons and I’ve found them to be very useful for hunting. It doesn’t matter how loud a call is, you won’t kill anything if it’s dead and in the truck.
Raccoon Hunting Guns
As a general rule, use rimfire only. Centerfire rounds above the .204 Ruger aren’t a good idea to be shooting at night in the air with people surrounding you. Plus, a hunting posse at night with deer rifles draws law enforcement and it smells fishy. Finally, long barrels and heavy actions are hard to run with.
The .22WMR is perhaps the best round for raccoon hunting and a light weight youth model .22mag is an ideal coon gun. The .22lr can work well on small coons down south but up north where they get fat the .22lr is an expert’s gun.
If you are an expert, consider a handgun. An old school .38special revolver is damn fun to hunt coons with and plain jane .38 rounds are cheap and available. Anything bigger is just a waste and will chew up too much meat.
Definitely an optional piece but when looking for your hounds at the end of the night, or finding the coon that fell into the tall grass, night vision can be indispensable. Thermal vision, similar to night vision but senses heat instead of ambient light, is probably better but is as much as quadruple the cost.
Forget what you have seen in the movies, these aren’t flashlights. You have to have ambient moonlight to push through the night vision in order to get a clear reticle. As always check your local regulations before you buy a set. Some states strictly and outright ban these items for hunting but allow them for animal recovery. If push comes to shove, take all the guns back to the truck and head out with your night eyes.
A good small knife made specifically for skinning can be a great tool to have. Some hunters, when getting to the hard parts around bone, use utility blades that are replaceable. The key here is small and thin. Large blades that work well for big game don’t lend themselves to the detail oriented work of skinning coons.
Coon Hunting Etiquette
Coon hunting is a rowdy sport. Big groups of people, loud dogs and it all going down in pitch black dark doesn’t bode well for the public. Please, be an ambassador for our sport. Work to improve relations with the public and be accountable for your actions. Respect landowners, keep good company on the hunt and take responsibility if you break a law or anger neighboring land owners. Make certain that your dogs are up to the hunt and well trained and you’ll have a great hunt regardless if you are successful or not.
Chasing coons through a swamp thicket late at night with dogs barking and coons squalling is an experience that many hunters will regrettably never get. Raccoon hunting was once commonplace but has since fallen out of vogue. That’s a shame because populations of these little bandits are expanding while farmers and landowners are becoming tired of these bandits stealing turkey poults, deer fawns and agriculture.
The only answer is for hunters to do what they do best, hunt raccoons!