July 17, 2010 9:34:00 PM
One night a couple weeks ago we were awakened at 3:30 in the morning by a clatter from the back porch.
Two full-grown raccoons had removed the lid of a small aluminum can where we store cat food and were helping themselves to the eatables within. The two weren''t alarmed in the least when I flicked on the light. They paused, unsure whether to keep on dining or move on. Mainly, they seemed irritated by the interruption. When I opened the back door, they grudgingly retreated to the shadows and then up a tree to the roof of the house.
Two nights later they returned; this time they brought the kids. One of the youngsters came up to the window and peered inside when I flicked on the lights.
With some trepidation, I rattled the door and again the four of them reluctantly surrendered the porch and again took cover in a nearby river birch.
We borrowed a trap from my mother and on the way back to town from Saturday''s dirt track races, I stopped at the Shell convenience store at the 45S exit for a can of sardines, raccoon bait.
That night we caught a feral cat. An angry feral cat.
The next night, with the other half can of sardines, we landed a possum. That morning Beth took him in trap to White''s Slough. Unfamiliar with the mechanism and intimidated by the hissing marsupial, she returned home for the instructions to the trap and moral support from daughter Tanner. The two of them returned to the Island and were able to release the creature without incident, that is if you don''t count the tailgate falling off the pickup.
Tuesday morning around 2:30 we finally hit pay dirt, a full-grown raccoon. Thrilled by my success, I dressed out right then and drove him to the Island. The scene was like that in a horror movie. A dark night, a swamp full of croaking frogs, a dirt road illuminated by the headlights of a beat-up pickup and a scruffy fellow with a wild animal in a cage. The coon wasn''t sticking around for his screen test; he was running when he hit the ground.
After returning home and buoyed by my success, I rebaited the trap and went back to bed. The next morning peering out the bedroom window into the dawn light, I was excited to see we''d made another capture.
"Looks like we might have two raccoons," I announced.
Turns out, it was one of our three cats, Miss Prissy, waiting impatiently for release. The tuna fish bait must have outweighed the inconvenience of spending part of the night in a trap; Miss Prissy returned the following night for seconds. The other three raccoons are either lying low or have moved on.
At a library meeting the subject of raccoon trapping somehow came up and Jane Hinton allowed that her husband, Cal Stegall, has been a prolific trapper of coons.
Jane and Cal live on Prince George, a quiet, two-block long street just north of Lee Park.
According to Cal, most of his neighbors have cats.
"The raccoons would have a buffet. They would knock flower pots off the deck; they would make a mess," said Cal, a retired financial advisor who plays the dulcimer.
He got a Havahart trap and started putting the cat food in the trap. Cal estimates he''s caught about 80 raccoons.
"We stopped counting at 40," said Jane, a retired Mississippi University for Women English professor.
Cal also took his captives to White''s Slough.
"Felder Rushing had a program on raccoons," said Jane. "I don''t remember how far he said you should take them so they won''t come back."
I''d wanted to release ours near the end of the Riverwalk in hopes we''d meet again during a night walk, but Beth said that was too close. I was skeptical until I read from an Internet source that you need to take the fellow five to 10 miles away.
"We thought about spray painting an orange dot on their tail to see if they come back," Cal said.
Jane says the larger coons will bark like a dog.
Cal and Jane store their cat food inside their gas grill, a detail Jane forgot one night when they were cooking out.
"We had smoked, dried cat food that night," she said.
As for all those raccoons on the Island ... I wonder. Think someone might be trapping them and dropping them off in town ... maybe at Lee Park?
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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