It was about nine years ago when my eyes were opened to hunting raccoons. Up to that point I had only shot the animal opportunistically around grain bins, trash cans, or up in the trees. My approach toward raccoons had been in the context of pest control. There’s no doubt airguns are great for this application because airguns are quiet and effective and can be used in more populated areas — this is exactly the type of environment where you’ll often find raccoons.
After this initial experience, I started approaching raccoons as a predator rather than a garbage raiding pest, and began working in earnest to call them in. I had some immediate success with distress sounds produced on simple mouth blown calls. I then started hunting with an outstanding predator hunter, Brian Beck, who was already seriously into calling coons. Brian introduced me to using the raccoon fight sequences on my FOXPRO, which until then I’d only used occasionally when trying to throw something new at coyotes. I now prefer the e-caller for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the only practical way to get a coon fight sequence (at least for me), and it allows the sound source to be moved away from where I am sitting. This appeals to me because that first raccoon was not the only one that has almost landed in my lap!
You can hunt raccoons in daylight or at night, though hunting at night is far more productive if it’s allowed. However, I’ve had pretty good results early in the morning and later in the afternoon leading into dusk. I’ve even managed to coax them in, though infrequently, in the middle of the day — especially when it’s overcast. I like calling at night when there is snow on the ground and the moon is reflecting enough light to allow them to be picked up in the scope without artificial light. If I’m calling in daylight, I try to find a den tree. I do this because I have found that a fight sequence will bring the big boars charging down the tree in daylight — that is, if he’s in an aggressive mood.
Lamping is an effective means of hunting raccoons. I’ve often lamped on the large ranches in Texas where the use of spotlights is legal. Lamping falls into the category of pest control, but it is a more active approach than shooting pest animals off the trash heap. This method consists of covering large areas in a truck while lamping the treetops, brush and agricultural areas. This can be done with or without the use of a call, however, combining lamping and calling will often produce the best results. When the glow of eyes are spotted, the hunter jumps out and follows up on foot. I have taken some of my biggest hauls of raccoons this way. On several occasions I have racked up well over a dozen in a night.
The airguns I think are appropriate for these tough little critters generate at least 25 ft./lbs. of energy and can be either spring piston or pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) power plants. My preference, however, is a PCP generating 35 ft./lbs. or more. While I have taken many with .22s, I prefer the .25 caliber. More recently, the .30 calibers are impressing me with their outstanding terminal performance. One reason I prefer a PCP is that they’re more powerful and easier to shoot accurately, but more importantly springers are single shot and many of the PCPs are magazine-fed multi-shot guns. In the cold weather and dark shooting hours, when coons are often hunted, you don’t want to fumble for pellets with frozen fingers or when there’s not enough light to see what you’re doing. Additionally, raccoons will often come in two or more at a time and a fast follow-up shot can be a good thing to have.
Just about any air rifle generating 35 ft./lbs. or better, with the accuracy to print sub-1-inch groups at 50 yards, would be a reasonable coon-hunting option. As a point of reference, I’ll give examples of guns I use and would recommend for those wanting to hunt raccoons.
My little AirForce Talon-P was designed as an air pistol, but I feel it serves much better as an ultra-compact carbine. Though it’s a single shot, this .25-caliber gun has adjustable power and is capable of generating around 50 ft./lbs. It’s perfect for jumping in and out of trucks, has an accessory rail for mounting lights, and the accuracy to deliver consistent kills up to 60 yards.
The Hatsan AT-44 QE and the Benjamin Marauder in .25 are both moderately powered, quiet, full-sized rifles that are attractively priced. I’ve taken many raccoons out with both of these guns. Though not as compact as the Talon P, both the Hatsan AT-44 QE and the Benjamin Marauder are so quiet it makes them the perfect options for use in suburban settings or around small farms where you want to keep the noise down.
I’ve also been using the .30 and .35-caliber guns more frequently — I like these mid-bores a lot. A rifle that has become my predator hunting go-to gun is the .35 Evanix Sniper, which has earned a place in my hunting line up because it’s powerful (100 ft./lbs.), accurate, capable of multishots and reliable. It’s also good for any predator — from coon to coyote — that comes to my call.
The scopes I use on my raccoon rigs are in the lower magnification range as shooting can be close and fast and this type of optic deploys quickly. Quality glass that has good low-light transmitting characteristics is a must. An illuminated reticle is also helpful. On a moonlit night with snow on the ground, it’s bright enough to hunt without artificial light. However, with these guns, it is easy to lose the crosshair against the dark silhouette of your quarry. No worries, a red or green illuminated wire can fix that problem right away!
For projectiles, my choice is generally a Diabolo roundnose of mid- to heavy-weight — think along the lines of the JSB Jumbo/Kings. These are accurate, hit with authority and provide the right balance of penetration and energy transfer. As always, accuracy is the primary concern, so achieve that first then worry about other factors. I have been using a couple of the hollowpoints recently with good results. H&N Hunter Extremes are a hollow point with a small mouth and a crosshatch cut into them. I have found this pellet very effective on heavier-bodied quarry when coupled with a powerful gun — they hit hard, penetrate well and expand to increase the size of the wound channel. Another pellet worth looking at for use with mid-powered guns is the Predator Polymag, which is a hollowpoint that has a polymer tip bonded to the head. This pellet penetrates well and expands on heavier-bodied animals.
With respect to shot placement, my preference is a headshot when available. However, with the more powerful rifles, a chest shot will work fine as long as there is not an immediate risk of losing the animal if it runs a few yards before dropping. Whether you are doing pest control in an urban environment or calling in the wide open spaces, airguns are an effective, efficient and quiet method of take. The raccoon is the perfect starter predator for airgun hunting. They’re the right size, can be found almost anywhere in the country and in sizable populations — and they come aggressively to the call.