To hell with hunting season

I don’t think you have any perspective on your childhood until you’re an adult. When you’re a kid, it just is what it is (although instant worldwide access to everything may be changing this). When you grow up, you hear about different kinds of upbringings until, one day, it dawns on you that there is a wide spectrum of childhoods and yours fits in it somewhere.  What just was what it was turns out to be conventional or weird, oppressive or indulgent, abusive or magical.

I’m not sure when my light went on, but I’d been an adult long enough to have heard many stories of other people’s childhoods. I was deep into my thirties, probably, when I realized just how much freedom I had as a child.  I couldn’t remember my mother ever telling me I couldn’t do something I wanted to do. Not once.

My mother is a very sensible person, and I’m very sure she didn’t let me venture out of the house so she could have the freedom to score crack or hold Ku Klux Klan meetings. Although she was certainly a laissez-faire parent (“don’t get up until you smell blood”), it was a decision born of philosophy (“no child can withstand the full-time attention of an intelligent woman”), not laziness.

Still, it surprised me that I couldn’t remember one single solitary significant “no.”

So I called her up. “Mom,” I said, “I can’t remember your ever, over the entire course of my childhood, telling me I couldn’t do something I wanted to do.”

She didn’t even have to think about it. “You never asked to do anything unreasonable.”

And there you have it. I am an irredeemable goody two-shoes. I am a rule-following, line-toeing, convention-bound prig. And have been, from the jump.

This is not a decision born of philosophy. A slavish adherence to rules, even when they’re silly, stupid, or counter-productive, is silly, stupid, and counter-productive. I follow rules because I’m wired that way, and it is one of the many ways in which I wish I were wired differently. I believe it is sometimes reasonable – even optimal – to break the rules. I just have a hard time doing it.

Besides, there’s cachet in being a rule-breaker. Goody two-shoes? No cachet.

Kevin has plenty of cachet. A slavish adherence to rules has never been his problem, and he is gently and patiently trying to ease me over to the dark side. To show you just how far I have to come, I still remember as a red-letter day the day he and I ate sandwiches on the Low Library steps at Columbia University when there was masonry repair underway – inside the yellow tape that said “CAUTION: DO NOT ENTER.” Inside!

I swaggered for a week.

Since then, I’m sorry to report, I haven’t made all that much progress. It’s hard to stop a lifetime of rule-following. Today, though, I knowingly and willfully broke the law. Sort of.

It was because of the turkeys. Those of you following along at home know that this year’s turkeys have been nothing but trouble. Our source of poults fell through, so we took a chance on some fertilized eggs. Only one of the six hatched, and we ended up with a neurotic and alarmist singleton of indeterminate breeding. The hatchery poults we bought to supplement the flock got injured in shipping, and we ended up with only three healthy birds to keep our poor one-off company.

The older bird is much larger than the younger ones, and is an excellent flyer. I think she’s been giving lessons, because the little ones fly much better than our previous flocks did at that age. They fly so well that they can reach the turkey pen roost bar, six feet off the ground.

The way we’ve managed the flocks in the past is by locking them up at night in the treehouse until they’re big enough to fly to the roost bar. At that point, we figure they’re too big for a predator to go after (we’ve had raccoons come in the pen, but only for the feed), and can fly away if some ballsy predator decides to have a go anyway.

Our little turkeys are only five weeks old, but the first night we found them lined up on the roost bar with their big stepsister, we left them there overnight. And they were fine.

The second night, they weren’t. Something (we suspected a raccoon) got into the pen and managed to take one of the birds. The other three escaped, and we found the big one in a tree and the two little ones under a rhododendron, on the wrong side of the fence, in the morning.

We went back to Plan A – locking the little ones in the treehouse at night (by covering the door with the compost sieve). And we put the VarmintCam out to see what was going on in there.

Sure enough, it was a raccoon.

Last fall, when raccoons were trying to break into our chicken coop, we borrowed a Hav-A-Hart trap and had a series of discussions about the best way to kill a trapped raccoon. We concluded that a gun to the head was best, and bought a very high-powered 22-calibre pellet gun (it’s illegal to discharge a firearm on our property) for the purpose. Because we didn’t catch a raccoon – only a hapless opossum – we never put our method to the test.

We stopped trying when hunting season for raccoons came to an end but, when the raccoons invaded the turkey pen, out of season, I decided I was willing to color outside the lines.

I am both a law-abiding citizen and a conscientious hunter. I never take an animal’s life without careful consideration, and I am scrupulous in obeying hunting regulations. But, in this case, other considerations trumped concern for the raccoon season dates. We raise turkeys for food, and the raccoons are clearly a threat to them. The raccoons themselves can be food, and to make dinner out of something that’s threatening your livestock seems like a win-win.

We set the trap. We caught a raccoon. Kevin shot it.

It was only after the fact that I learned it was perfectly legal. According to the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Chapter 131, Section 37, “An owner or tenant of land … may, upon such land: hunt or take by other means, except by poison or snare, any mammal which he finds damaging his property.” Ripping down our nets and eating our turkeys definitely qualifies. And we have photographic proof.

The law requires that we report any mammals taken this way to the environmental police, which we will do. And that will put us in full compliance. We are, still, law-abiding citizens.

But here’s the thing – I still want the cachet. I don’t want to lose on a technicality. I thought it was illegal, and I did it anyway. That counts, right?

What I’m afraid of is that it makes me the goodiest goody two-shoes of all time. Even my law-breaking is so damned reasonable that it turns out to be legal after all.


We tied our legally acquired raccoon to our official skinning tree (it’s where I skinned the rabbit, and it still has the rabbit feet on it, for good luck), and removed the pelt. I gutted it, cleaned it, and put it in a brine of vinegar, salt, and sugar.

Tomorrow, I’m going to cook it, and Kevin and I are going to eat it for dinner.

That has cachet, doesn’t it?

33 people are having a conversation about “To hell with hunting season

  1. Loved this post. Congratulations.

    Although my goody-two-shoes nature clearly did not start until much later in life, I remember skinning and prepping coon… …and it is a lot of really greasy work! Wherever your skinning post is, make sure to bring something to catch all the slippery white stuff.

    And then, I used to pan roast them just to be able to render off more of the fat!

    Good for you, glad that you got this marauder. There are racoons that are very very hard to trap. I spent two weeks trying alternate methods on an old sow once; when I finally caught her she was huge, blonde, and haggard. the locals explained that she had raised a large litter that summer and was undernourished.

    I had a buddy who lives in a suburban area, but had a coon that was stripping his sweet corn. He eventually caught it with a live trap and marshmallows. He slid the trap into a large cardboard box, then administered ether to knock out the coon, take it to the country, and dispatch it.

  2. I think you’re a badass after reading that you’re going to cook a raccoon. Almost fainted at the thought of skinning it too! Guess I’m a true city slicker. Promise to make pizza—a vegetarian one, if I finally see you this summer?

  3. Steve — We considered the knock-out method, but with carbon monoxide. Decided the bullet was cleaner and surer after hearing some horror stories.

    Our raccoon was young, and doesn’t seem greasy — but I may change my opinion when I stew it.

    Jen — I promise no raccoon pizza! And I sure hope you’ll stop by, even if the oven isn’t done yet (although we’re working on it …)

    Tom — Didn’t eat the possum. Didn’t kill the possum. As far as I could tell, the possum wasn’t bothering us or our livestock, so I just let it go. Since you’re an experienced game eater, don’t suppose I could get you to share a recipe …

  4. PLEASE post a picture of your meal when you enjoy this raccoon. I’d be very interested to see how it turns out, and to hear the recipe you use.

  5. You were not a goody-two-shoes or a mindless rule-follower. What you were (and still are) was a reliable maker of good decisions. Sensible, honest and trustworthy. We’re glad we had you!

  6. You need at least one detractor in the thread for the purposes of page-views, right? 🙂 So I’ll just say, don’t be surprised if that biological niche is filled by even more aggressive or territorial raccoons. It tends to work that way, which is why eradication generally doesn’t have the desired effect. Given my position of wildlife advocacy, I still maintain that predator-proof aviaries and coops (which I’ve been party to maintaining, it can be done) are the best and most humane solution for all animals involved. But, putting aside my general misgivings, I’m at least grateful you deliberated over the suggestions in your previous post and didn’t use CO2. When you work with them, you realize that raccoons are amazing, intelligent animals and they do not deserve some of what is inflicted on them in the way of suffering, including some of the solutions that were being proposed in that original comment thread.

    • Ingrid, I’m always glad to have the other side of the issue, whatever it is. And, while I know that a predator-proof turkey pen would solve this problem, a predator-proof turkey pen needs enough room for turkeys to fly and a roof so they don’t fly out, and it is a time-consuming and expensive thing to build (unlike a chicken coop). So much so that it comes close to making keeping turkeys too expensive to justify.

      Believe me, I have the utmost respect for raccoons’ intelligence, and the fact that they are eating my livestock rather increases it than otherwise. But they are a robust population (clearly), and it’s hard to see the downside of eating an animal that is both A)eminently sustainable and B) threatening my turkeys. If you’re going to eat meat at all, it’s hard to find a better choice.

      If you’re not going to eat meat, then of course we’re back to the discussion of first principles.

  7. I was raised to understand that defense of my livestock from predators of all sorts was a primary responsibility to my livestock. Everywhere I have lived has recognized that responsibility, and empowered the livestock owner to protect against predators.

    In Oklahoma, the law states that if a dog harms livestock, the judge must require the owner to put the dog down within 24 hours. I haven’t resorted to the regs and statues about wildlife, but the neighborhood consensus seems to run, “Huh? That fox/possum/raccoon/armadillo/feral dog or cat is still running around?”

    I have had a snake strangle a half-grown chicken, and another is stealing all the eggs over the last few weeks. I have learned to deal with opossums in the nests (pitchfork and hammer) that eat eggs and the occasional chicken. I never did get the foxes that cleaned me out a few years back.

    To Ingrid,

    I live in farming country. Even the undeveloped spaces are far from wildlife habitat. Any varmint that approaches my livestock is fair game. I won’t go out of my way to bother the rest. I like snakes out there eating mice and bugs — but let me see one in the chicken house and will be attempting to end it.

    And I didn’t see anyone here talking about eradicating the population of anything, merely controlling critters that try to include domestic sites and domestic livestock in their range.

    • I think that’s the way it’s going to be if humans are to exist. No matter what our diet, there are species we have to push out in order to grow our food (whether it’s animal or vegetable) and build our communities. We can’t afford to let them take our turkeys any more than we can afford to let them eat our squash or invade our houses. At some point, it’s us vs. them.

    • Brad, I meant “eradication” in the most general sense of wildlife control and as an “effort,” not as a viable possibility. It’s the method most often employed, and it’s the method that’s often least effective and which tends to bring the most amount of harm to the animals. It’s not effective in the long run because nature shows, time and again, that animals will fill biological niches, often in greater numbers than prior to the eradication effort. The things people do to “varmint” animals runs the gamut in terms of actual torturous methodology, and because of my background, I simply have to advocate for better means and more a more humane ethic toward these animals with whom we co-exist … and against whom we already perpetrate so many assaults, including reducing their habitat to the point where they are forced to exploit the niches in ours.

      Exclusion is what most wildlife hospitals would recommend, including issues like roof rats, where the rats will repopulate after extermination, as long as the portals to entry exist. And, my point was that exclusion of predators for caged birds is, indeed, possible. Yes, it is more difficult for larger birds. And, I suspect that Tamar and her husband will persist in their current system, given the construction constraints they both see as insurmountable. There are obviously accidents or breaches at times in even the best systems. But my point is, why not do your best to not have to harm another creature wherever possible — and simultaneously protect your own animals and birds from harm? I do have a problem with the wanton “us vs. them” mentality that wages war on nature in a way that precludes genuine attempts at coexistence.

      I’ve seen and worked in more aviaries, coops and enclosures than I can possibly count, and although the initial effort to create a predator-proof enclosure can be large, I’ve also been party to a group effort in short-term aviary construction (with roof and buried chicken wire and so forth to prevent burrowing), and in situations where the owners did not have a lot of money but were able to re-purpose materials and so forth.

  8. This was so funny. I tend to follow the rules to a fault, but when one of my animals is threatened all bets are off. I love that you are going to eat him. No waste, no guilt 🙂

  9. I bet that raccoon didn’t think you were a goody two-shoes. I second Jacki’s request of a picture and recipe.

  10. Whether you think you are a goody two shoes or not, your posts always amuse me. I always thought growing up I was pretty bad-ass untill I grew up and realized I was quite tame. So I am going to say that if you thought you were breaking the law, it counts.

    I love that you are going to eat the racoon. Now that is bad-ass!

  11. I promise to tell you what I do with this raccoon, and post a picture if it looks reasonable. But nobody should give me too much credit for being badass — it’s funny how circumstances color what you think of as normal.

    And I have a confession: the idea of eating the raccoon doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but I’m going to do it anyway.

  12. Up here the bears are very hungry because of the short winter. They woke up too early and think it should be late summer. Last night they ate all of my lettuce down to the ground. I wouldn’t think there is much food value in lettuce for bears. They also have been rooting around in my oak leaf compost digging out the acorns. That makes sense.
    I’m just trying to get the blueberries before they do. There will be a run for the grapes also. Not to mention the apples. Don’t think they’ll go for the garlic though they could surprise me.
    One year a long time ago I had just weeded my whole garden and it was perfect and gorgeous and ripe. The next morning it was gone. The whole garden, down to the ground. Groundhogs. My husband was stunned when I took our rifle and nailed that critter from our back porch. There’s still a hole in the screen.
    Then he shot a dog who had just mauled my forty half grown chickens. Didn’t kill it but we found out who it was by calling the vet’s office.
    These days, even though I mourn the loss of my butter crunch, I am less willing to dispatch wildlife. They’re hungry and we’re hungry. I don’t have chickens these days but if I did I know I would have to deal with bears, raccoon and foxes getting into the coop.
    Yesterday my husband saw a 20 pound black bear cub get killed by a car. The mother was distraught and tried to wake it. Yes, we have too many black bears in our area this summer but they could say the same of us.
    so it goes.

    • That’s the issue, in a nutshell. We’re all competing for the same resources. And, at some point, we have to defend those resources with our lives, or we die out as a species. But we don’t have to do it all the time, and there’s often some kind of equilibrium.

      I have no interest in wiping out all the varmints on our land. I know we’re going to lose parts of the garden to rabbits, and the occasional chicken to a hawk or raccoon. But sometimes there’s a very specific problem with an identifiable perpetrator, and I’ll have to take action.

      Although, if I could just click my heels three times and say “No more raccoons!” and they’d disappear, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

      • If you could not just pop out to the store, you would feel differently. If all your sustenance comes in one way or another from what you produce, then it becomes imperative to protect your livelihood and eliminate your competition. It is a luxury to be tolerant of varmints.

        Come the zombie apocalypse we will all be eating raccoons, so you are blazing the trail for us, Tamar!

  13. It occurs to me — are the raccoons actually wildlife, if they are eating food set out by people (i.e. turkeys, in this case). That makes harvesting a normal farm operation. Just check with the state wildlife folk, to see if you need to register as a raccoon operation.

  14. I just wanted to thank Brad K. for making me snort coffee out my nose I laughed so hard. Fabulous.

    In addition, I’m a totally pacifist vegetarian Tamar. I once trapped and relocated a pregnant coon because I couldn’t stand to have her killed. I know if she has those babies under my deck I’m never getting anything to eat out of my garden again. Driving with a ticked off coon in a cage was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had and next time I’m calling in a professional!

  15. Hi Aaron,
    We’re glad we had you too, although your lack of a glossy coat was always a source of sorrow.

  16. I live in a NYC suburb. A few years ago, we were plagued by bunnies, as were our neighbors. The neighbors were transplants from the midwest – hardy stock, good around the house. One day, we caught the next door neighbor shooting bunnies with a pellet gun – OUT THE BEDROOM WINDOW. It kind of made my day. Also, they ate the bunny for dinner, as well they should have.

  17. Brad and Karen — It makes my day when a wiseass carnivore makes a pacifist vegetarian snort coffee out her nose on my site.

    Magpie — I’m not at all sure how I feel about the fact that shooting bunnies and having them for dinner has become the new normal around here. Although I think you get extra points for doing it out the bedroom window. (My friend Jen once shot a fox that way — in her underwear!)

    • I grew up on a farm in Europe. We raised and named the animals. The we had them killed, or killed them ourselves and ate them as I watched as a child. Only humans carry such a broad range of emotions.
      Perhaps the inherent violence which humans display in many areas is somehow connected to all this.
      My childhood experiences have overshadowed my long life. I have tried to be kind to all creatures.

      • Helen, I think we can do this without brutality. We take no joy in catching and killing a raccoon, but we recognize it as necessary if we’re going to eat meat and raise it ourselves. Any killing, no matter how humane, is inherently violent, of course. But that “violence” is deployed thoughtfully and deliberately.

  18. I have never been a bit fan of “shoot and release”, aka varmint hunting, but I understand the necessity.
    I am currently doing battle with the insect world over my winter squashes. I mercilessly hunt down and kill squash bugs and southern green stink bugs.
    I am also engaged in a skirmish with powdery mildew on the mustard.
    As I left for work, one of the cats (Shiloh the Wookie) was stalking something in the corn & beans this morning.
    The other cat, Kimber, found and killed a tomato hornwom the other day. Much praise was lavished on her. She tried to bite it but it must taste gross to her. The wasps and the ants enjoyed her gift.
    This is the way of growing living things that other living things want to eat before we get the chance to eat.
    I hope your raccoon pie turns out great and the fur cap is comfy and warm this winter.

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