When I was growing up in rural Western Michigan, I maintained a rather complex relationship to the raccoon. Over the years I kept a number of raccoons as pets; I’d get them really young, before their eyes were open, and then I’d hand-feed them with a bottle until they were weaned. I found the animals to be fiercely loyal as cubs, but the pet/owner dynamic would begin to sour when they were about a year old. First they’d become increasingly nocturnal; then they’d stop coming home even during the daytime; and eventually they’d run away when you attempted to approach them or attack you when you attempted to snuggle them. Soon they were fending for themselves by harvesting acorns in the tops of oak trees and killing crayfish along the shores of the region’s lakes.
I’d trap raccoons for their hides from mid-October to early December. (Not my own raccoons, mind you, but ones from outlying farms that would get themselves into trouble in the late summer by destroying crops of sweet corn). I’d sell the pelts to regional fur buyers who would usher them along to large Canadian auction houses that would ultimately usher them along to retail garment markets in Russia and China. Some years I’d sell over fifty raccoons, for prices ranging from eight dollars to fifty dollars apiece. When you figure that I found regular employment in log home construction, doing the back-breaking and hand-killing work of peeling tree bark from logs at the paltry fee of thirty-five cents per linear foot, you can see why fur-trapping had a certain appeal.
Through all this, I somehow never managed to eat a raccoon. It’s as though my relationship to the animal was complicated enough already without throwing physical consumption into the mix. But I eventually got away from both keeping raccoons as pets and catching them for money. The former because I simply outgrew the childish desire to tame wild animals; the latter because I decided that, at least for me, killing should be primarily about food and meat rather than pelts and money.
With my raccoon relationship cleared up, I began to develop a sort of craving for raccoon meat. Or at least an intense curiosity about what they actually taste like. I didn’t want to hunt one for this purpose, not only because I’d gotten away from raccoon hunting but also because there seemed to be an abundance of the creatures already dead along the nation’s highways. All it would take to satisfy my desires was the perfect fresh specimen that happened to get hit—but not hit too badly—along a road just ahead of my vehicle’s arrival. That this quest of mine should come to fruition while filming The Wild Within, my series on the Travel Channel, was a great stroke of luck. Watch this clip to see how it went: http://bit.ly/tTI8Gk