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Notes From The Farm: Attack of the Rabid Raccoon

Raccoon-bad-300x236“That’s a big bitch.” Those words exploded into my head as soon as I laid eyes upon it. Growing up on a farm has exposed (and still exposes) me to a wide variety of domesticated animals and wildlife in general. The frequency in which these interactions occur is most certainly far and above the average fellow’s percentages to be sure. Most of those interactions happen without incident, but there are cases from time to time that end up creating good stories. Those stories routinely involve at least one party receiving some type of physical or psychological harm and unfortunately, it most often claims yours truly as the main character. Although I’d like to think I’m no more inclined to be the victim of encounters with ill-tempered mammalia than the next gentleman, it is the very stories such as the one I’m about to expound upon that have started to sway my thinking on the subject. This particular incident happened several years ago but still resides in my memories as if it were to have taken place yesterday.

I had just walked out of the shower and was getting ready for a track meet that was set to start in an hour. At this particular time in my life I was coaching football, wrestling, and track at a local middle school. I greatly enjoyed coaching football and wrestling as it they had been my sports of choice growing up. I admit my track coaching skills were probably not honed nearly as much as the typical fearless leader of middle school track and field. But this was due to my difficulties adapting to a more laid back sport. Please don’t misunderstand me, track and field can certainly be an intense sport at times, but it simply does not hold a candle to the intensity of football or wrestling. But let’s get back to the story at hand. So I was milling about the kitchen when my granddad burst through the door. I could tell there was a sense of urgency even before he spoke. “Grab your gun!” Now, any firearm owner will tell you that when a person (especially a loved one) bursts wildly through your door and starts yelling to retrieve your firearm, you do so without hesitation. There will be time to sort out the reasons later. About 15 seconds had passed and I was standing before him with my Smith and Wesson 9mm. He immediately started claiming that he had “seen that durned raccoon again out behind the shed”. 

Before we go any further, I suppose I should catch the reader up on this particular raccoon. The previous afternoon my granddad had seen it behind his home wandering and stumbling about. There are two details in that sentence that should be noted. One is the fact that it was conducting its business during the daylight hours. This is significant due to the fact that that all raccoons (Procyon lotor) are nocturnal by nature. If you should happen to be so unfortunate to cross paths with a raccoon during the day, you should understand that this is a good indicator the animal is potentially carrying rabies. The second detail in the sentence was that it was “stumbling about”. This is a tell-tale indicator the animal is in the latter stages of rabies. Rabies will kill over 55,000 people this year. That’s about one person every ten minutes. However, the U.S. only attributes rabies deaths to about two people per year. This is due to our life saving vaccines and accessible medical treatment. Although it should be noted that only one person in the United States has ever been recorded as recovering from rabies without vaccines. But back to the raccoon behind my tractor shed. My granddad had not been able to get a good shot off yesterday and eventually lost sight of it as it meandered into a large gulley that we use to throw away dead trees. He was outside feeding my flock of fowl when he looked up and noticed it plugging across the field.

After hearing the raccoon had already started making its way across the field and had potentially crossed under the fence, I knew a pistol would be of no use. I needed a shotgun or a rifle. Both of these were readily available for use, but the issue was not being able to shoulder them. I had just received surgery on my right shoulder to rebuild my AC joint, remedy my rotator cuff, and reattach a torn bicep. As I stated earlier, I greatly enjoyed my days playing football and wrestling and I still lift weights, but my body continues to pay the price. But it’s all well and good. The memories and experiences are well worth the physical discomfort I still find myself feeling from time to time. But my current situation called for me to not only shoulder a rifle, but to hold it steady and absorb the recoil upon firing the shell. Normally this would be no problem, but I couldn’t raise my right arm and much less pick up a rifle. No, it was bound tightly to my side in a sling that had completely restricted its movement. My only other option was to use the pistol with my weaker hand and pray the circus shot gods would smile upon me. I’ve had worse odds against my favor, why not try my hand? Do it for America.

I found myself running towards the tractor shed with my granddad in tow. That’s not a slight to my speed, but more of a compliment to my granddad’s good physical condition. He’s closing in on a spritely 80yrs old but still works the farm and is in excellent physical health. I turned the corner and immediately locked in on the raccoon. “That’s a big bitch!” It was just a natural reaction to the sheer size of the creature. It left little doubt as to whether a raccoon has ample food sources in the area. This one was so big it could’ve easily been mistaken for a small child wearing a Halloween costume of sorts. At about 40 yards and increasing, I soon recognized that it was out of range considering the firearm I was wielding. However, I thought I owed myself at least one pot shot. So I drew my firearm in my weak hand and aimed as best I could. I fired and immediately saw the dirt spray up next to the raccoon. It was actually an impressive shot considering all the variables weighed against me. But instead of trying to run away, the raccoon stopped, looked over its shoulder and turned to face me. It started walking in my direction. At this point, I wasn’t panicking. I was actually thinking I had some fair luck. I would just wait until the rabid monster walked close enough and then I would put a round in its hide. I fired three more shots as it neared me. I started to realize it was more difficult to hit my target that what I initially expected due to its stumbling about and speed changes. I continued to fire until my magazine was empty. By this point, it was within 25 ft. of me. To my horror, I realized my other magazine was in my left pocket. The first problem was that I couldn’t hit the magazine release button with my left hand because it was on the left side of the firearm and covered by, well, my left hand. The other issue was that I put the loaded magazine in my left pocket in my rush out the door. So I had to switch the weapon to my right hand in the sling, unload it, dig for my loaded magazine, place it back in the firearm, put a shell in the chamber, and then transfer the weapon back into my weak hand to start firing once again. All of this is strenuous enough and requires a fair amount of planning and dexterity of the hands. The next problem that arose was that good for nothing louse had found itself a runner’s pace and headed straight for me. So now I was trying to reload while running from the raccoon.

The humor of the entire episode was not escaping my granddad as his posture resembled a jumbo shrimp with his hands on his knees while he laughed uncontrollably. I on the other hand did not share his enthusiasm. You could liken the situation to a wild-west hero on horseback being chased by a tribe of disgruntled savages as he rode saucer eyed with the reigns in his mouth and firing wildly behind him. At least I would like for you to picture it this way. However, the reality was much different. There was no background theme music, no sounds of the bullets zinging off the surroundings, and certainly no well-groomed Hollywood actors playing the part. But I can assure you the urgency and panic in my eyes would make even the best performances of our time look like a grade school play done by small female children during a 30 minute recess. I was simultaneously yelling four letter words that I had invented right there on the spot whilst flawlessly performing the Green Bean High Step. In case you’re wondering, the Green Bean High Step is when an individual steps high and quick as if he were running through a row of large well-tended green beans. Not to be confused with the Sugar Cane Walk of course. I was finally able to get a shot into the ‘coon and knocked it off its feet. Normally I would consider this a lucky shot, but considering the entirety of the circumstances, me thinks lady luck had sashayed out the door about the same time I got out of the shower. I fully expected the ragamuffin to lie where it fell. So much for expectations. It popped up and made a gallant run for the hay bales. We file these giant hay bales in orderly rows to store for winter feeding. They come in varying sizes according to the size of the baler of course. Ours are about face height and weigh in upwards of 2,000lbs a piece. In this case there were probably 20 odd rows with approximately 30 bales in each. When the rows are stacked side by side, they create narrow alleys in between. These alleys are perfect for animals to sleep, eat, and generally stay well protected regardless of their disposition. But now I’ve found myself in close quarters with a wounded and rabid raccoon that was certainly none too happy about his luck and would want nothing more than to share a coke and a smile with me. Fortunately, my granddad jumped onto the bales and began hopping from row to row whilst looking down to locate the animal. He was finally able to run it out. Once again, it was coming straight for me. This time however, I was able to place a steadied shot right betweenst the eyes. I would give more detail of exactly how it happened, but out of respect for the animal I’ll politely decline. I was only later informed after calling the animal control that a shot to the head renders the animal useless for rabies testing. Apparently it’s the brain stem that must be harvested to get results. My final shot left this avenue useless. Now, I don’t like killing animals. I never have. But if I do kill them it’s to harvest their meat or in this case, try to prevent the spread of disease. Of course there are times when it’s solely to put an animal out of its misery. This particular case met two of those criteria. In truth, it was a beautiful animal.

So that’s the story of how I was able to thwart an attack by a rabid raccoon. Like I mentioned previously, living on a farm greatly increases my chances of interactions (or spectacles) such as these. I’m in no shortage of these stories and will most likely continue to share them. And as always, they will continue to unfold as I have no plans to leave the farm. I hope you’ve enjoyed your read at my expense. Y’all come back now.

Paul Craft
Paul was born, raised in the historic town of Fincastle, Va (just outside of Roanoke). He lives on a registered “Century Farm” that has been in his family since 1906 in a house that was built in the 1790s. His farm has over 300 hundred head of cattle, 6 donkeys, 17 chickens and various other animals along with his dogs, Mike, Buster, and Loki. Paul is married and has three step-children. Paul graduated from Emory and Henry College in 2004 with a degree in Geography and an emphasis in environmental studies. Paul works as a Mental Health Counselor and is currently working towards his Masters Degree in Counseling through Liberty University and will soon be a Christian Counselor.

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