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.




46 Comments

  1. I was in cat rescue for years, and of course sometimes a feral cat would show up on the property. A humane trap (I have two types) usually does the job so that kitty could go to the vet for spay or neuter/worming and shots. I have kept these two types of traps that would hold a racoon size critter and told younger relatives to keep them just for the purpose of catching “varmints” for food here in Connecticut. We have a LOT of raccoons, skunks, bobcats, possums, and for those wanting LARGE animals estimated at least 800 Black Bears which have become a real nuisance, the no hunting of them yet allowed. The live traps are part of the preparedness supplies I am leaving to younger relatives who think me a little wacky, but NOW with the Wuhan Virus, they are beginning to realize that I am not quite so stupid! As my Dad would say, “you cannot put an old head on young shoulders”. With age, SOMETIMES comes wisdom.

    1. Black bears are a nuisance in SE NY and NW NJ. Someone in NW NJ bagged a world record 700 pound black bear in October 2019. (Bear tastes like a gamey type of beef.)

      The tree huggers tried to stop the brief, but effective, NJ bear hunt last year. There were 550 culled from the herd after a judge allowed it. The year before three students were hiking in the woods and came across a baby black bear. They ran in opposite directions and mama bear caught one of them — they found pieces of him strewn about the woods the next day.

      1. We can and eat many, many quarts of black bear (and grill the backstrap). I have not eaten any I would describe as gamey tasting. Here, the brown bears command the creeks, so the black bears eat mostly berries.

  2. I, too,eat coon. Get it from a trapper friend when he finds live ones in his traps. He removes the tail for me. I bring the carcass to a boil several times then discard the water to remove the gamey taste. Then simmer the meat in Mexican spices to make tamales. Lots of work, but we’ll worth the effort.

    Would love to have you do a post of tanning.

  3. The menu will greatly change in hard times. Cleaning skunks is an art and generally not the best option. Possum, robins, crows and even the dog might be a part of it.
    You are definitely on the right path with traps and trying things.

  4. I’ve had squirrel, never raccoon. Always thought it a bridge too far. Your article most definitely make a convince case for harvesting this game. Certainly the feasibility grows exponentially in survival situations. Good stuff, keep up the good work

  5. As a side note trapping helped my Grandparents prosper during the Great Depression. Protein is the hardest part in feeding chickens as to get healthy eggs, chicks and eventually a “Chicken in Every Pot” as the Political Slogans went back then. Grandmothers ability to keep her chickens producing well when other chicken flocks were failing due to lack of corn and other feeds was important.

    Chickens are omnivores but they are not well equipped to tear through hide and fur, if you cut the varmint in half they will clean it up aside from a furry chicken toy leftover. More efficient method is the soldier fly grub system. Worth some research to turn road kill into high protein chicken treats. They even clean up the furry bits.

    Reading your article I am pretty sure some of the meals Grandmother fed me included trap line meats. Beef broth, Chicken broth is easily made from scraps and bones, onions grown, chopped, dried and powdered is also something Grandmother had us help with AND those were common seasonings at her kitchen.

    Thanks for the memories and the idea of using two dog proof traps for those hard to catch big raccoon boars.

    1. I’ve had raccoon and also think it tastes like roast beef. Squirrel meat is commonly fried, barbequed, or stewed with dumplings in Arkansas. However, opossum was awful! Around here the joke is it needs to be aged on the roof for a couple of weeks. Seriously, parboiling several times before final cooking is the preferred method for less-desirable meats. I have never tried armadillo, but friends tell me it’s very good, and is definitely increasingly common here.

  6. This is fascinating to me. One of my neighbors traps. I’ve often thought what would the dogs eat when you can’t get a 35 lb of dog food from Costco? If you can’t stomach wild game yourself, I’m sure the dogs who might be necessary for protection of home and livestock, would appreciate such a meal. I recall in one of JWR’s novels, having to kill the family dogs because the poor things were starving (if I remember that right).

  7. My hubby says a guy he worked with loved possum, but the trick is to catch them alive and grain feed them for a while to clear out all the junk. Then harvest and eat. I’ve heard it’s greasy. On this same note, our cat brought us a perfectly intact fully grown squirrel this morning.

  8. “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.” + “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.”

    A ‘buyer’ pays for the quality of the fur and type (species). ….. This is the price a ‘fur buyer-seller’ [Not the trapper] receives for the fur in Idaho. = idahotrappersassociation(dot)com/fur-sale-results.
    *********************
    *********************
    I’ve never trapped fur animals. … But like hunting and catching big fish, it can be a bloody business. The people that do it are part of the elemental aspect of life. … I lived on a farm for a couple of years, and watched a high school kid work his traps before school.
    The fur has to be properly processed and handled before the buyer will pay for it. … NOT much money for the trapper, but for a young man, it’s better than playing video games. A person has to be suited for it. [Sort of like hunting] Not everyone can do it. Like all things productive in life, trapping fur requires personal discipline.

  9. Our big dogs keep the small critter population away from our property. Lots of coons but they prefer easier pickings down the road. Squirrels are another matter; they travel the tree tops of our huge oaks. Occasionally one gets brave enough to come down and the dogs/cats get them.

    When I lived in the suburbs squirrels got in the attic and did $1000 worth of damage to the wiring. So if I see any hanging around I get the .22 and shoot them. I gut them and throw them into the larger chicken yard and watch the show.

  10. I trapped a coon in the edge of the woods near the chicken coop two weeks ago, in a live trap that was set to catch a stray cat. I decided to sample the meat, so after cleaning it I pressure cooked it for 45 minutes and then deboned it. I pressure canned the meat. I have not sampled it yet, but it looks like dark beef, and it smells like a cross between beef and lamb.

  11. Having chickens I too needed help with coons. I had two live traps. Checking traps one morning I had a double. One coon looking at me in one trap the other laying in the other trap not moving. Odd. I went to check out the non mover and it was in fact dead. Then I noticed the extension cord that powers light to the chicken coop had been pulled into the trap and chewed through electrocuting the coon. The wiring in the barn was old so no groundfault breaker. I went and unplugged the cord so I wouldn’t get electrocuted myself and went and retrieved the roasted coon. When setting traps make sure there is nothing that they can reach out and grab. Also I use marshmallows and cheap grape jelly.

  12. Lots of squirrels, but no coons where I live. At least not that I’ve encountered. We do seem to have lots of coyotes though. I’ve often wondered what they would taste like, but to be honest, I’ve never been brave enough to find out.

  13. When my boys were young, we had a racoon get into the attic, had to kill it as it was not about to leave. So was teaching time, we skined it out and got the glands out. I boiled it until in fell off the bones and then boned it out and made racoon and gravy on biscuits. Well recieved by all. The next day the boys went to school, my youngest was in 1st grade. as (my) luck would have it, the teacher went around the class with the question “What did you have for supper last night ?” He was Very happy to tell what he had!!! After that the teacher called recess. She called him over and quietly asked him if he had Really had that. He said yes and explained the WHOLE process to her. She said, “That was very interesting, but please promise me you won’t bring any to school for your lunch.” I think she KNEW every kid would want to try some and she would be explaining to parents HOW their children had gotten a taste of IT. When he got home he was excited to tell me about it. I expected an uproar and 20 Child Protective Services to surround the house, but never heard a peep. Maybe she was told by the principle to let it go as we lived in rural farming, logging and trapping area and it was not considered a big deal. I made sure to try NEW foods on Friday nights so the memory wouldn’t be so fresh by Monday. Never a dull moment when you have kids!! LOL

    i

    1. Oh, what a great story, VCC.

      I laughed out loud.

      Your response to your child’s experience, NEW foods on Friday, was so practical. I admire your creativity in cooking the critter and adapting to cultural norms.

      Carry on in grace

  14. My experience with coon is skin it, gut it, freezing it rock hard, then take a butter knife and scrap off the fat( really easy) cut off the feet and tail, hack saw it in two, pressure cooker for 45 minutes, drain separate bones , mix the meat with BBQ sauce and dig in. Mmmm good stuff!

  15. My father and a friend used to racoon hunting. I remember eating barbecued coon. Pretty tasty. Interesting to know about the fat. Also interested in an article about tanning.

  16. Fried chicken also works well as bait for raccoons. My ex trapped extensively trying to keep the raccoons and possums down to prevent all the birds nests from being raided. He always had great results with fried chicken skin/bones, and with marshmallows. He would shoot red squirrels and use them for bait. Also had good success.

  17. Years ago a city paper in the Southwest had an article about how an elderly black lady asked a suburban butcher if she could get a ‘coon to roast for Thanksgiving. The butcher showed his classiness by apologizing for not having having any available, adding that a person needed to have a really good friend to trap one.

  18. Well of course if TSHTF you have to become a hunter gatherer. But don’t forget the grasshopper and the ant. Can, freeze, dehydrate. Summer’s coming with a bounty of food. There is time and there will be food to preserve. Pork is still a bargain and chicken isn’t too expensive yet. Home canned chicken is awesome, use the broth to make a gravy. Flour is back in the stores, sugar too. We need sugar to can some fruit. Watched an old Western a few months back where Tom Selleck played a cowboy. He would open a can of peaches and add a little whisky for taste. I had Bourbon and tried it, made those peaches we canned in 2014 taste even better. By the end of the Summer we expect to have enough canned food to feed the entire extended family. Hope we don’t have to, hope things don’t get that bad, but if the kids, spouses and grand kids show up at least we won’t starve.

    Strawberries are next, I love Strawberry jam on top of hot pancakes. Then comes blackberry season. I am positive I could pick 5 gallons of blackberries in half a day by myself. Raspberries just a little after blackberries. Then come the peaches and pears, apples too but we dehydrate about as much as we can up. Meantime I keep looking for a decent priced hamburger to can Spaghetti sauce and meat loaf. I also buy at least two packages/boxes of pasta every time I go in the store. Pasta and rice; Rice and pasta; everything tastes good with those.

    1. Monty (Montelious sp?) Walsh! great movie!

      We also have a raccoon problem. Learned that really quickly when I planted corn our first year! I’ve tried talking my better half into trying the meat and now I might have a better chance after reading this article.

      I would also LOVE an article on tanning the hides. I tried when I was a teen, but started out with a full cow hide (I was enamored with the American Indian way of life). Needless to say, that is NOT the way to start out learning how to tan a hide. 🙁

  19. Let’s not forget Davey Crocket hats! Making and selling those would get a person way more than .25 cents. In the 90’s, I ordered real fur Davey Crocket hats for my four kids. They loved traipsing through the woods for hours with their hats and their (fake) rifles, hunting and making forest camps. Back then it was catalog mail order, and they circled what they wanted for Christmas. Remember those days? Of course, the oldest, had his Red Ryder BB gun to go with his coon cap.

    Time does fly by, doesn’t it? I just realized I need to buy some Davey Crocket hats for my grandkids!

  20. Had “squirrel wings” at camp before .. . . squirrel legs covered in hot sauce and cooked in the oven like chicken wings. Very good . . . . especially with a barley pop.

  21. What about parasites, worms or other diseases? What should we be looking for? I have a friend at work who grew up on a farm in rural NC. He said there were times of the year when you didn’t want to eat squirrel because of worms. His brothers would still rather go out and shoot something for dinner than visit the store.

    1. Greg, you have a good question. … A local State Department of Fish and Game generally lists the diseases found in and on Game animals, and often other Wildlife in certain areas.
      *****************************

      “Ground squirrel deaths near Gowen Field prompt testing for plague bacteria.” … “Dogs and cats can be infected with plague through hunting rodents, playing with or consuming their carcasses, or by exposure to their fleas.” from idfg(dot)idaho(dot)gov [Idaho Fish and Game]

      This from the CDC: “Raccoons are the primary, or definitive, host of Baylisascaris procyonis, a roundworm.” [Picture of a child playing in dirt included with article]
      ************************************

      There were some problems with government agencies, Wuhan Virus~Covid 19 alerts. But, in the USA, government information is always more dependable, that just chatter elsewhere. … … Some people think the perfidy of the Communist China government, and its USA cronies are part of the problem too, with the spread of the Wuhan Virus/Covid 19.

      A rural area is much ~safer than a big city. … What parent would want their kids to play on the sidewalks of any big city now days? . [In some cities a person would need hip-waders to walk the sidewalks]
      Know the local problems in a rural area; mitigate the nuisances. The information is readily available about animal carried diseases.
      ***********************************

      Many big-channel hunting programs discuss animal diseases, and demonstrate cleaning animals. Sometimes you’ll see the big reusable rubber gloves with a gravelly surface on the glove grip areas; NOT just the disposable gloves, which are very good too.

      Here’s a sample article: ~Doctor’s Rx To Stay Safe From Wild-Game-Borne Diseases~ by George Dvorchak, M.D. Tuesday, October 8, 2019 [nrafamily(dot)org]

    2. Greg, your friend is correct. During the summer months, there are parasites like ticks and deerflies that live on wild animals like raccoons, squirrels, deer, coyotes and such. These can cause you to get tularemia when handling the animals. Research tularemia to learn more. Also, rabbits are subject to another parasite called a “wolf” that burrows under their skin. These parasites are much more prevalent in the warmer months, and that’s why folks usually hunt in the fall and winter.

  22. Had an uncle in eastern Kansas BBQ A raccoon for us some 30 years ago, he had several critters in his freezer. He said in those parts you kept one hind foot on so everyone what it was. Long time ago, but as I remember it tasted like any pulled meat BBQ. I have brought home two road kill raccoons, cooler weather, thought about eating but did not, tanned the hides, first was with the orange bottle from a big sports store, second was from one of several recipes from the book Tan Your Hide! by Phyllis Hobson, both turned out pretty well, considering making hats.

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