The Protein All Around Us, by Oregon Bill

It was the fifth raccoon that I had permanently discouraged from killing our chickens. “If we ever had to eat these in an emergency, our family would put on weight” I said to my wife. I was joking of course. She surprised me with her reply: “Well, why don’t we give them a try so we know if it would ever be worth it?” She had grown up eating wild meat, and our family commonly ate what we raised or hunted, so it sounded kind of like a new adventure. Here is some of what we learned that might be of benefit in tough times.

On our small farm we often have troubles with skunks, opossum, squirrels, and raccoons. Effective ways to deal with all of these are important, and it helped me realize the sheer volume of protein around us. I’m going to focus on the opportunities of squirrels and raccoons in difficult times and leave the skunks and opossum to someone else for exploration.

Raccoons seem to be everywhere, and if you have poultry you know how much trouble they can cause. One year I trapped eight out of our back woods trying to keep them under control and protect my chickens, and there were plenty more around to take up the slack. I’ve helped many of my friends in town trap nuisance animals. In the town and in the country, they are plentiful and reproduce quickly.

Squirrels are the same – they are everywhere. During the months of May and November, they are all over the roadways in their pursuit of new space. They cause problems on our place trying to nest in buildings and harassing the chickens in their theft of feed.

Practical, Ethical Tapping

Both are actively hunted and used as food, but our family had never tried eating either of them. I usually trap them in the winter as part of a short trapline. Both raccoons and squirrels are easy to trap and so are worth paying more attention to for future need. Trapping is a great option for anyone to consider for their emergency planning. Traps work 24/7 without any supervision, work quietly, and are very effective. Traps are also inexpensive and fairly concealable so you can keep a low profile and not make others aware of your activity.

For raccoons, I recommend getting a few Duke “Dog Proof” traps – small tube traps that work great for raccoons but will avoid catching dogs, cats, or other animals you are not interested in. you can pick up a dog proof (DP) trap for $8 to $17 new, so having a couple on hand to practice with won’t cost much and pays off big-time. They are easy to set – simply chaining or wiring them to a tree and adding some bait. My favorite bait is dog or cat food soaked in maple syrup or tuna oil. A few pieces of bait in and around the trap is all it usually takes. I have caught a couple opossum in DP traps, so that is a possibility. Finally, DP traps are easy to remove an animal from if you don’t want to kill it and cause little or no injury to the animal.

The only other recommendation I have in trapping raccoons is if there are big ones around or a ‘coon escapes, use two DPs together. I’ve had great success with the larger animals getting both hands stuck in each trap from which they’ve never escaped. If you happen to have leg-hold traps, those work well for raccoons too, but are riskier for area pets.

For squirrels I like to use a small 110 conibear “body grip” killing trap. These small traps are also inexpensive ($10-15 each) and quickly kill a squirrel when collapsing on their body. I like to wire these in a favorite tree or up off the ground on something to avoid cats or other animals. Two small wires in the trap trigger it to catch the squirrel when the animal tries to run through the trap or take the bait on these wires. My favorite bait is to smear peanut butter on the trigger wires, or to impale a marshmallow on the wires with some peanut butter. Squirrels (and raccoons) both like marshmallows. Small amounts of corn or feed around the trap up on a rooftop also works well if you run out of marshmallows. Here’s one working on the marshmallow. Note I have the 110 wired to a heavy metal plate to keep it stable and upright. I’ve also wired them directly to a tree trunk with success.

When we first decided to try eating raccoon, I realized the most important part of the experiment was appearances. I was not going to bring a big carcass with a tail that looks like a jumbo cat into the house and put it in a pot. Some people are ok with that, but I discovered by butchering the animal outside, and boning off the meat that no one was squeamish or put off with the meal after they smelled and saw the cooked meat. I’ve uploaded a short video of cutting up the meat and cooking it to help give some idea.

Skinning and Butchering

Two important parts of cutting up the meat include removing all the fat and removing two dime-sized glands on the inside of each back leg. Removing the fat and glands avoids any gamey or taint they give the meat. Raccoons are very fatty animals, but the fat is usually outside the meat. The glands are easy to find and recognizable so that is easily done, too. After cutting up the meat into chunks or steaks, I tried soaking some of it in milk to see if that helped with the taste. Here is a picture of the gland, inside the upper thigh of the carcass.

My wife took the meat and put it in the slow-cooker for several hours to ensure it thoroughly cooked. She also added a packet of dry onion soup mix and a little beef broth – that was all so we could get an idea of the taste. As the meat cooked, it really started smelling and looking like beef pot-roast. We all started to get excited. And it tasted just as good! The meat looked and tasted just like beef. The only difference we could discover was that raccoon meat (cooked this way) had a denser texture. It was not tough or even chewy, just soft and delicious.

The May and June 2020 publications of the magazine Fur-Fish-Game both have recipes for raccoon including bratwurst. And of course, raccoon is the official mascot of the Covid-19 pandemic: they wash their hands frequently, always wear a mask, keep strict social distance with you, and re-arranging the letters spells “corona.” 😉

Useful Fat and Fur

Besides the meat, a raccoon’s fat can be rendered for a useful tallow or oil for leather and wood work. it has a minor, pleasant odor and you could even use it for candles or soap-making in an emergency. Coons have a LOT of fat on them and more experimentation could be done here. My dog also likes to eat it.

Raccoon fur is very nice. Fur prices are presently very low, so there isn’t much value in selling the fur to a buyer, but it is an option. I prefer to tan the furs myself and give them away as gifts. They are quite popular with friends and easy to do. I’ve also tanned a lot of the skunk and opossum which are popular as well, though take more work to tan because the hide is softer and the smell… Being plentiful, they are also a great teaching tool for the kids to learn to skin, scrap, tan, and work the hides.

Squirrel meat is also delicious, but not as plentiful. Again, I recommend boning off as much of the meat as possible because the carcass looks like a rat and is unappetizing. We slow-cooked the meat for a long time again with the broth and onion soup mix. The squirrel had a more distinct taste and less texture but was good. For the kids, any unique taste that outside of venison or beef brings on trepidation.

Squirrel fur is also a fun project and another great chance for the kids to learn skinning and tanning. Mepps, the fishing spinner company, also buys squirrel tails for ~$0.25 each. There is information on their web site on selling them tails if you are interested. Either way, there are options and benefits for someone in a touch situation.

This was another great adventure to try new things and practice fun skills that could help is in difficult circumstances. This much protein and furs available to someone in challenging times could really make the difference and even allow someone to thrive. With a small investment I think it is well worth every person to have a couple DP and 110 traps on-hand, and start practicing for themselves.

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