The Case of the Clever Raccoon

This you should know: raccoons love corn above all other things.

When I first planted a garden in Sharon I caused an eight foot high chainlink fence to be erected around it.  This was to deter deer and other local herbivores.  Deer could probably clear it, but are just as happy to eat other things so why bother?  For a number of years, the fence did the job.  I have had to contend with voles and mice and chipmunks that can go through or under the fence but that’s a story for another day.

For a number of years I grew corn untroubled by raccoons but five or six years ago they found a way.  They do not tunnel under – I would see that – so they must go over.  But how?  Do they climb the fence itself or do they come up the wooden posts that support the fence?  There are diagonal posts at the corners and these seem to have little claw marks.  Maybe that’s their method. But somehow they get in and wipe out the corn crop.  I think we got two or three ears last summer, but not very good ones.  I have tried all sorts of remedies – repellent spray, auxiliary fences, etc.  Nothing works.  They get the corn and I don’t.  This is annoying.

This year they have come by early to check the product.  The corn isn’t even in tassel yet but ten days ago I found a stalk or two bent down as if they had come to check.  A few days later more were bent over.

Meanwhile, planning ahead, I had decided this was the year to upgrade the outer fence.  I’ve thought of ribbon wire at the top but don’t know where to get it.  Instead, with the assistance of a visiting son-in-law, I have caused beams to be fastened to the top of each fence post to make an L with the intention of putting chicken wire along the Ls so that the raccoon climbing the fence finds itself facing a fence at the top that projects out over him so that he would have to hang on to the wire and pull himself out and over it – which I think is hard for raccoons to do.  This is a big project since it’s a big garden.  I have three-quarters of it up but that leaves a good deal of opportunity for a motivated raccoon.

Meanwhile, I have two raccoon traps.  One is open at both ends but closes with a whang when the raccoon steps on a plate in the middle.  I took it down to the garden and discovered something was out of whack and it wouldn’t spring.  I left a piece of banana in it thinking I would at least familiarize the raccoon with the concept of walking into a trap.  The banana was gone the next day.

Next I took down the second trap that only opens at one end.  It’s old and rusty but it works.  I put a piece of banana in it and came back the next day to find the trap turned on its side so that the door wouldn’t close.  The banana was gone and a couple more stalks were broken down.

Ha!  I can fix that, I thought.  I will drive a fence post in on either side of the trap so he can’t turn it over.  So I did.  The next night he had other business to attend to and the garden was undisturbed but the second day – this morning – I arrived at the garden to find that he had pushed or pulled the trap out from between the fence posts, turned it on its side, and gone off with the banana.

Now this is a clever raccoon!  It would seem that he has had experience of traps and knows how they work.  Perhaps he is one of those I trapped another year and took to the other side of the Housatonic five miles away.  There is a highway bridge and the river freezes over in the winter.  Maybe he has come back.  That’s the trouble with the hav-a-heart trap concept.  They live and learn.

OK.  It’s a war.  I have several moves still to make.  I can drive a stake through the back of the trap to prevent it being moved.  I can also finish putting up the L fencing.  And I have this day ordered to be sent post haste a device that is motion sensitive and emits a high pitched sound that (it says) drives raccoons away.  (I suspect this raccoon is too motivated to care about high pitched sounds but I will try almost anything.)

After that?  I could rent a coon dog from the local animal shelter – but I don’t think they do that..  I could pitch a tent in the garden and sleep there through the season – but he would wait for me to fall asleep. I could dig a deep trench around the garden and fill it with water – but we’ve been having a drought.  I could put up an electric fence – but my father-in-law did that and found that the raccoons knew how to short it out with a stick.  I could call General Petraeus for advice –  but he’s out of the country.  I could also give up and buy my corn at a local farmer’s market – but none of them grows Golden Cross Bantam which is the best corn for eating.

Or I could post my problem on the internet and wait for a better idea from someone smart enough to out-think a raccoon.  I await your advice.

1 Comment

Clark HendleyJuly 16th, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I wish we had met when I was in the Diocese of Connecticut. Alas, now I am living out the retirement dream in the Texas Hill Country. Judging from this post, you and I are fellow travelers! It was just yesterday morning, when I got up before dark to go to an early morning Bible study that I spotted “Ricky,” sitting just outside the sliding glass door of the kitchen (with our cat posted on the other side of the door, intently peering out, tail switching back and forth.) I have never been so surprised! “Ricky,” on the other hand, seemed rather blase about having the light turned on and the presence of a rather tall biped.

Now I understood the little mysteries of the garden. The bark scratched off the persimmon tree and the hummingbird feeder on the ground. The heavy stone water bowl in the garden turned on its side. AND–the total theft of every peach on the peach tree–the very night before I was planning to pick them for myself! All of them! In this, our first year of gardening in our new country, in the first year of life of the peach tree, we got four. Four only. Four that happened to fall on the ground and thus ripened inside. Guess what? At least in Texas, raccoons LOVE peaches.

Do you see why I said we are fellow travelers? If not, please take a minute when you have time to go to my blog: I have before and after pictures of the garden and several stories of wildlife. And, incidentally, knowing the athletic prowess of area deer, our garden fence is TWELVE feet high!

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