Some Lessons Bite Hard!

Late February on my trapline, I had an incident that gave me all the more respect for Mother Nature. That’s not to say I wasn’t respectful already. I’m a very resourceful trapper who uses everything I can from what I catch, and I consider each of those catches to be a gift in what they provide. All catches can teach you a lesson, too, if only you pay attention.

The lesson given to me by the big boar raccoon was just that: about paying attention. It was a warmer and beautifully sunlit morning as I was checking my traps out on a newer tract of private property I’d just recently gotten access to. I had caught several coyotes there already, a good number of prime coons, and even my first bobcat! My success on this new trapline was already giving me ideas for articles, although little did I realize this was what I’d finally end up writing about.

The big coon was captured along a sandy road between a large pond and a stand of planted young oaks. He growled and puffed up as I approached him, though at the time I had somehow failed to realize he was caught by a hind foot, and therefore was able to reach out a couple of feet further from the chain’s already long length. Before I knew it, he had lunged forward at me, grappling with his front paws and latched his teeth into my right knee!

It was more startling than painful at that moment, and I jumped back, kicking him off my leg and shot him as he turned around to face me again. It all happened so fast.  I stood back as his body reflexed, and it was then I realized there was blood coming through my pant leg. When I rolled up my jeans to the knee, there were definite, deep puncture wounds. I knew I’d gotten myself in a bad spot. Raccoons, especially here in the southern states, can often carry the rabies virus even if they do not outwardly show symptoms. I threw the coon in the back of my truck and drove out straight toward the Emergency Room. It was miles out of my way, but I knew the other alternative would be worse.

Rabies is an incurable virus that is deadly once symptoms begin to show. It attacks the brain and nervous system and is primarily passed along through the salivary glands of the host. Rabid animals often become abnormally bold and aggressive because the virus quite literally alters their cognitive behavior in such a way to spread the virus to another host. Symptoms can occur in as little as a few days to almost a year in humans so any exposure risk needs to be treated immediately to prevent any major progression of the virus from the wound.

But rabies shots are no walk in the park, either. Because I’d never been pre-vaccinated before, the initial set of shots involved six injections of Rabies Immune Globulin (RIG) around the bite wound in my knee and two in my thigh above it. This was to prevent the virus from spreading past the wound or getting into my bloodstream. The actual Rabies Vaccination shot was given in my left arm, and a Tetanus shot in my right. So all in all, I had to get ten shots that day, because of that raccoon! They also put me on antibiotics that needed to be taken twice daily for ten days.

The RIG injections alone are particularly powerful and the side effects can make one feel very sickly.  Throughout the last week of Feburary I still managed to do some more trapping but definitely wasn’t at the top of my game.

And in the following weeks I had to go back for three more shots in the arms, and each time the shots made me feel a bit ill for a few days afterwards. And yet, rough as it all was, I knew the raccoon had taught me a good lesson, a harsh reminder on the importance of watching your own footing around trapped furbearers, paying attention to their behavior at all times, how they are caught and their reach within the set. No matter how comfortable you are on your trapline, no matter how many times you walk the same paths, or drive the same roads, or harvest many animals from the same sets, never let your guard down or become too complacent – because bad things can happen in an instant before you even realize it. And also, always have a plan in mind for emergency situations, in case something does unexpectedly go wrong out in the field.

To be a trapper is a wonderful privilege in life that very few people get to experience anymore – so play it safe out there so you can continue to be a part of it, and to share your experiences and lessons learned to our future generations!


-Ellie Willingham