September 2017 Archives

Scoreboard: Raccoons - 2, Me - 2
September 26, 2017 6:10 PM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers will recall that I was feeling pretty triumphant after the capture of not one, but two marauding raccoons who had been brutalizing our lawn. I'll admit that I was sure the human race could be proud of the way I was representing it in the mammalian biped-vs-quadruped battle.

Alas, pride goeth before a fall, and this West Texas city boy is learning some hard lessons about raccoons. Namely...

They will penalize your complacency.

Yesterday I awoke to find a third trapped raccoon in the back yard. But while the other two had appeared resigned to their fate, this one was the Steve McQueen of raccoons (Not old enough to get the reference? Grow up and get some culture, wouldja?). It was trapped, but not cowed, and our lawn had paid the price. Sometime during its incarceration, the creature had managed to turn the cage over and frantically dug up twice the area of lawn in an attempt to escape (once while the trap was upright, and again after it was capsized). 

It was still jumping around when I went out to check on it, so I moved the trap over to a bare spot so it couldn't do anymore damage while I went back inside to finish my coffee. But when I got ready to load it up for transport to the release area...the trap was empty. It had somehow banged around enough to hit the trap door in just the right spot to open it.

Let's recap. One, our lawn was damaged twice as much as usual. Two, the raccoon escaped. Three, he ate all the sardines. And not only did I still have a raccoon on the loose, I was sure he would never again be tricked into going into the cage, regardless of the lure of more sardines.

Score: Me - 2; Raccoons - 1

They will capitalize on your mistakes.

The lesson was hard, but I thought I learned it well. I would not place the cage in an area where the captive could do additional damage to the lawn, nor would I allow the cage to be rolled around by an over-stimulated occupant.

I placed the cage next to the wrought iron fence, in a spot where the grass hadn't spread, so it was resting on bare dirt. In a stroke of genius, I used nylon zip ties to firmly attach it to the bars of the fence, ensuring that it would not be shifted, regardless of the enthusiasm of the prisoner. I then slid a fresh can (partly opened, of course) of sardines into the trap and armed it.

I awoke the next morning to find an empty cage containing an empty can of sardines. Well, #$^$#$%.

As it turned out, I had a good idea, but it was poorly executed. Allow me to rationalize explain. I'm using a HavahartĀ® Easy SetĀ® trap, which is an excellent design when not thwarted by an idiot owner. The design is pretty straightforward: the animal, lured into the cage by the promise of a gourmet meal, steps on a flat plate which releases a rod which in turn allows the door to drop behind the unsuspecting diner and said door [theoretically] locks in place, engendering feelings of deep regret on the part of the trapped animal.

However, a problem occurs when some fool fastens the cage so tightly against something -- say, theoretically, the bars of a wrought iron fence --  that the door-dropping mechanism is placed in a bind so that the door drop, which is a fairly critical step in the whole trapping-the-raccoon plan, fails to materialize.

Let's recap. One, the raccoon got a free meal, without the usual stress of a human leering at it through the bars of the cage. Two...well, that pretty much sums it up.

The upside was that (1) the lawn was not subject to further humiliation, and (b) possibly that particular raccoon might view the trap as a variation on a Furr's Cafeteria and will return for another free meal.

Score: Me - 2; Raccoons - 2

More lessons learned. I have now repositioned the trap -- loosened the bonds so that it's still tied to the fence, but not in a bind -- and rearmed it with a fresh can of sardines. And now we wait.

I wonder what the raccoons are thinking...


Raccoons are enjoying new celebrity, thanks to Rocket Raccoon and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Rocket even has his own Wikipedia page (and there you'll learn that he's actually more than forty years old). But raccoons are really better in theory (and movies) than in reality. Many of you already know this.

We thought that after we trapped four armadillos in five nights, our back yard would no longer look like a herd of drunken golfers (OK, perhaps that's redundant) with pitching wedges had descended on it. Boy, were we wrong.

As it turned out, the Armadillo Mafia was good at two things: digging up grubs, and keeping the raccoons at bay. And once the 'dillos were gone, the 'coons were free to muscle into their territory.

I had applied grub control to the lawn with no apparent effect, so my last resort was to buy a trap and use the same strategy that had been successful with the armadillos. My first try using canned cat food and marshmallows was a flop (thanks a bunch, Internet!). Even the flies weren't impressed.

My brother and his wife said that they'd heard that the best bait for raccoons was a slightly opened can of sardines. Apparently, they're smart enough to discern that a fully opened can meant it was a trap. I was skeptical, but also desperate, so that's what I tried.

I placed the trap in the middle of the back yard, and slid a can of sardines (in oil, of course; I'm not a barbarian) into the back of the trap. I left it with a silent prayer that skunks don't like sardines.

Here's what showed up the next morning.

Raccoon in cage

Cute little guy, isn't he? Unlike the armadillos who, once they determined they were trapped, immediately went to sleep, the raccoon was alert and...well...a bit agitated. He'd apparently spent a restless night trying to dig through the bottom of the cage, which was now layered with shredded St. Augustine. The lawn under the cage looked like a new grave:

Damaged lawn under cage

I was happy to (1) see a raccoon and (b) not see a skunk. But I was puzzled: there was no sign of the sardine can. It wasn't in the cage; it wasn't in the yard. It wasn't anywhere in view over the fence. I'm pretty sure the raccoon didn't swallow it.

Here's my theory. We actually had TWO raccoons in the cage, and the door wouldn't close completely because of the close quarters. One of them was able to back out of the trap with the sardines, and the door slammed shut behind him, leaving the other trapped and sad and sardine-less.

In any event, as with the armadillos, my plan was catch-and-release, with the release part occurring far, far away. As I have absolutely no experience with raccoons, I wasn't sure how miffed and adversarial this one might be once uncaged, so I rigged up a remote trap door release, consisting of a long rope hooked onto the release handle.

I loaded the trap into the pickup bed (the caged occupant wasn't amused by the trip from the back yard to the truck) and strapped it down. MLB agreed to act as videographer and EMT. We drove to an undisclosed location, close to live water where the little guy might have a chance to thrive, and put my release plan into action.

The results were...umm...sub-optimal. Well, see for yourself.


Obviously, I had nothing to fear from this particular raccoon, as he disappeared faster than Sean Spicer's acting career. I still think my remote-release theory is sound; I just need to work on the application part.

Of course, if my other theory is correct -- the one about the double raccoon appearance -- we still have at least one more to trap. I've rebaited the trap with a fresh can of sardines, and this time it's zipped-tied to the bottom of the cage. I let you know how it turns out.

In the meantime, I hope I don't dream about a certain weapondized and vindictive raccoon.

Rocket Raccoon

Update: After composing the preceding account last night, I set the trap again, hoping to catch the companion raccoon that had managed to abscond with the sardines while abandoning his unfortunate partner. I didn't want a repeat of the mangled lawn under the cage so I placed it in the vacant lot next door.

I went out with a flashlight before daylight this morning to check the trap, and sure enough, another one had succumbed to the siren song of the sardine; his eyes were glowing accusingly in the glare of the flashlight. I returned to my cup of coffee.

After daybreak, here's what I found.

Photo - the second victim

This time, the victim occupant had practically filled the cage with debris, including a fairly large twig that baffled me as to how he had possibly dragged it inside. The trap was also on its side, evidencing a spirited attempt at an escape.

More impressive was the fact that while I had tightly secured the can of sardines to the bottom of the cage with nylon zip ties threaded through the ring tab, the raccoon had still managed to break the can free, peel the lid completely away from the can, and in the process snap off the ring tab. And, of course, the sardine can was clean as a whistle (however clean that may be). Never underestimate the ingenuity and commitment of a trapped raccoon.

Photo - The trap and remnants of the sardine can

The release went smoothly, as again the freed captive gave us not a second glance as it scurried into the woods. I do wonder if it will meet up with its partner, and what the ensuing conversation might entail.


It's a zoo around here...
September 21, 2017 6:26 PM | Posted in: ,

Note: I realize that what follows is pretty much business as usual for some of you who live in regions where these encounters are commonplace, but for West Texas folks like us, it's a brand new day, full of wondrous natural delights...and some things that are not quite so delightful.

The Hill Country weather has been abnormally hot and humid lately. This seems to have made the wildlife around our house more active, given the nearby creek's attraction as a water and food source.

Tuesday provided some interesting (and disturbing) interactions with that wildlife. My wife commented that if there had been two of each of the animals we encountered, she would have started looking for an ark.

It began around 8:30 a.m. as MLB and I walked to the mailbox to drop off a couple of letters. As we rounded the corner, I saw what I thought was a tree branch lying in the street a few yards before the creek crossing. I joked to her that there was a snake in the road...but instantly realized that, well, yes...it IS a snake. As we got closer, I realized that it wasn't just any snake. It was a water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus, for you herp experts).

Photo - Water moccasin

Growing up and living in West Texas, I have never seen a cottonmouth in real life. We had heard stories that they had been spotted in our new neighborhood in the past (one of our neighbors across the creek said they had killed one in their back yard), but I assumed those were very isolated cases. And perhaps they were, but as with stocks, past performance doesn't necessarily predict future results.

We cautiously approached the snake and my initial identification was confirmed as it opened its mouth and I could see the fangs as well as the coloring that gives it its nickname. My usual initial reaction kicked in and I grabbed my phone and began videoing the encounter (see below). You can hear me instruct my wife to go back to the house and retrieve a hoe so that I could deal with the moccasin in a safe manner.

By the way, all of the videos here were taken with my 3-year-old iPhone, hence the weird layout and sub-optimal resolution. I wish they were better quality, but the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it.


It wasn't until a pickup drove past that the snake began to move away, about the same time MLB arrived with the hoe. I took a couple of futile swings at it as it slithered into the grass heading back toward the creek, and finally connected. That slowed it down enough for me to eventually shorten its length by a head.

As alert Gazette readers may recall, this isn't our first encounter with a poisonous snake in Horseshoe Bay, and as I said then, I take no pleasure in killing an animal. But as with that rattler, this creature posed an immediate danger to people and pets and letting it go was simply not a wise option.

Here's an interesting (to me, anyway) side note. I never realized that water moccasins are in the same genus as copperheads. I knew they were both pit vipers (as are rattlesnakes), but I had no idea they are that closely related. I suppose it's only a matter of time before we encounter a copperhead.

This was just the beginning of our wildlife encounters on Tuesday.

Later, around dusk, I spied something sniffing around the armadillo trap in the back yard. It was a skunk! Without getting too close, I was able to observe him over the course of ten or fifteen minutes. I'd never gotten that close to one, and it was interesting to watch the unconscious lifting of the tail in response to unusual sounds or movement, while the animal never stopped sniffing and digging for food.

Photo - Skunk

If the skunk was ever aware of my presence, it gave no indication.


I set out our raccoon trap shortly after dusk, and a couple of hours later, we looked out the back window and spotted something moving around it. We couldn't tell if it was inside or outside the trap, so I grabbed a flashlight (and, of course, my phone) to investigate. Here's what I found: 


While I'm not crazy about the idea of possums roaming through our yard, I much prefer the live roaming kind to the dead stinking kind.

That was the last of our wildlife encounters for the day...but not for the week. Remember the raccoon trap I mentioned above? Check back...

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2017 listed from newest to oldest.

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