Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Raccoon woes

I had hoped to fall asleep early tonight, but that's not going to happen. I was all snug in bed at 10:15 reading about dog aggression in Temple Grandin's book, Animals in Translation, and I heard a chicken squawking outside. I called downstairs and asked Jonathan to see what was happening because chickens go to bed with the sun, and hens like to get a good night's sleep, which means no squawking in the middle of the night unless something serious is happening.

A few seconds after hearing the sliding glass door close, Jonathan is yelling, but I can't understand what he's saying. I run to the window and yell, "What?" He yells for me to come right away and bring the gun. I grab a .22 pistol and run outside. He meets me at the chicken house door and says there is a raccoon that has climbed up to the rafters. I complain about not wanting to put a hole in the roof or the wall but don't see any alternatives. We can't just leave and say, "Have a nice dinner." Chickens are running around, squawking, flapping their wings, and dust is flying. I am incredibly grateful that we have a light in the chicken house.

I point the gun at the raccoon's head, then second guess my shooting ability and aim for the middle of his chest and pull the trigger. He falls, hits the ground, and starts running. I know I've hit him because I see blood. I pull the slide back on the gun and see a bullet fly out. I aim again, pull the trigger, and nothing happens. I realize the slide is stuck in the open position. I can't remember what I'm supposed to do now! I haven't held a gun in two or three years. Every now and then Mike tells me that I need to know what to do in case of an emergency, so I walk out to wherever he is shooting at a target, I take the gun, fire multiple rounds into the center of the target and hand the gun back to him, asking, "You happy now?" I had never realized until tonight how foolish I was to assume that I only needed to know how to shoot straight.

The raccoon is huddled in a corner of the chicken house, and I tell Jonathan to watch him while I run inside the house to call Mike, who is obviously not home. If he were home, he would be the one out here, and I would still be reading my book! He has barely said "hello" into the phone when I blurt out, "There is a coon in the chicken house. I shot him, but I need to shoot him again, and the gun isn't working." I'm still fiddling with the pistol, and at that moment, I realize what I need to do to get the slide to close. I hang up, run out to the chicken house, take aim at the raccoon again, pull the trigger and hear a faint click. Ugh! I try again and hear another faint click! The idea of leaving the raccoon until Mike got home briefly entered my mind, but I didn't want it to suffer for another hour.

I run back to the house to call Mike again. He suggests I grab the .45 pistol, which I don't want to do because that's overkill for a raccoon, and I really have visions of blowing a big hole in the wall of the chicken house. He suggests the rifle, but I haven't fired a rifle in I-don't-know-how-many years. And if I was doing so badly with a .22 pistol, which is what I've used the most, then a rifle sounded like a really bad idea. Somehow we finally come to the conclusion that the pistol was out of bullets. I could not figure out how to get the magazine out of the gun, which was very frustrating because I was sure that I had at least done that much in my infrequent practice sessions. Ultimately I learn that this is a gun that Mike inherited from his father after his Alzheimer's diagnosis. It is obviously different than the one that Mike has had since his days on the Naval Academy pistol team 30+ years ago -- the gun that I had always practiced with. On the bright side, I had never touched this gun before and was happy to know that I was not entirely senile!

Mike explains how to load a single round into the chamber, and I head back to the chicken house. This time, I aim at the raccoon's forehead and pull the trigger.

It is dead.

I walk to the door of the chicken house, never taking my eyes off the raccoon in the corner. I head back to the house and call Mike to tell him that it's over. I head upstairs, thinking about getting some sleep, but that's not happening.

I've learned a couple of really important things tonight. First, I need to know exactly how every part of a gun works if I'm going to use it. And I'm sure this won't be the last time that I need to do that. This was not the first predator that thought our farm looked like a nice buffet, and sometimes we have to put down one of our animals in an emergency situation, like when the lamb was born without an anus and was having seizures.

And second, if I'm going to shoot at a predator, I should shoot at the head. It was pretty terrifying to be in the same room with an injured animal that could have attacked me.

And I suppose there is a third thing that I've learned and that is that I need to have a refresher course every few months. The more you do something, the more it becomes second nature. I know that I don't have to pull the slide back after I fire the first shot, but in a panic, I forgot, pulled back the slide unnecessarily and ejected the second and final bullet. I never want to find myself face to face with a rabid fox or coyote and in a panic.

I often say that there were a lot of things that were not on my radar screen when we moved out here, but I give examples like tapping maple trees and making our own syrup. I certainly never expected to turn into Annie Oakley. I'm still not entirely comfortable with the idea, but you don't find too many people living on farms who don't use guns. And I'm certainly not going to beat an animal to death with a shovel like I heard one man talk about doing a few years ago. It is kind of odd that I was reading Temple Grandin's book when all of this started tonight. In the movie about her life, she says, "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be," which is true. I can't bear the thought of any type of predator tearing apart one of my chickens or sheep, but I still don't want to be as cruel as the predators.


Jenna said...

Very good read. I'm in the process of getting my first backyard chickens and, while I read a lot about how to stave off predators, I've never read anything about gun practice and safety.

Good to know!

Tidy Brown Wren said...

For Mother's Day, I asked Hubs and Son to teach me how to shoot. I've been the only one home when a fox repeatedly attacked our chickens and all I could do was run after it with a stick. I think your advice is good about practicing to be a better shot. Better shots are safer shots.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Thanks Deborah, you just reminded me that I need some more practice time with my own rifle a most essential tool for the homestead.

Michelle said...

I love Temple Grandin's work, and totally agree with her quote. And I've been there, done that with a gun in a panic - and shot a hole through my bedroom floor! (Luckily, just a .22 rifle's bullet.) I was trying to figure out how to load it to shoot a rattlesnake; by the time I figured it out, the snake was gone.

Anonymous said...

As with you I never thought I would handle a gun. Now I do. And the way to do it well is practice, practice, practice.
However I handle the issue of raccoons or other invaders in the hen house with a 18 inch pc. of hard maple cut from a tree branch. I keep it hanging on the wall by the door of the hen house. A swift smack on the back of the neck dispatches them as fast as a bullet and no holes in the walls. a second smack to make sure the job is done.

Anonymous said...

Just had a raccoon feast on a chicken dinner with a side of corn fresh from our garden!!! Talk about a sick feeling!! Set our live traps out and caught one of the gang last night . GAME ON !! Beth

Mary Ann said...

www.caI'm petrified of guns, totally petrified. The idea of the hard piece of maple hanging by the door did it for me, that I could do! I would hesitate to use it on a rabid coon, though, I admit... so it's a dilemma I'll have to think about. I'm glad you got the coon.

Ashley said...

I sat a firearms safety course this weekend. Best $125 I've spent in years.

Everything I thought I knew about safe handling... incorrect.

Also, I have never seen a coon be bludgeoned quickly. I have seen grown men armed with a 2x4 take 10 minutes to kill a coon; another grown man would die quicker. If they have distemper, they may as well be zombies.

And as soon as you strike, you are committed to killing it, because they go on the attack often. I would NEVER tangle with a coon without a firearm, personally.

Getting them to hold still in the preferred position to strike them 'just so'... that opportunity has never happened for me personally, and our coon tally THIS SPRING alone is over 20.

farmer_liz said...

Great post! First I want to read that book now, as I've seen the movie and didn't know there was a book. You did well to dispatch the raccoon eventually, I often find myself in these situations when home alone, thinking I'm sure husband showed me how to do this, but I'm missing a key step!! We are in the process of getting our gun licences, so this is good advice, we will have to make sure we keep practising and know our guns.


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