Are you game to serve raccoon stew tonight?
By Bill Wundram | Monday, October 27, 2008
JOHN Wilson was gearing up for a big season when we visited by phone. He’s a school bus driver, but a profitable sideline is raccoon for the dining table and raccoon pelts to make fur coats and hats for chilly Chinese.
He’ll handle 25,000 raccoons in a good trapping season that is coming up in a week.
Raccoon meat? Don’t say ugh until you’ve tried it. It finds its way to more crockpots and skillets than you think.
WILSON LIVES in Freeport, Ill., which is near Galena, and about 90 miles from the Quad-Cities. The raccoons that he handles are brought to him by a network of trappers and hunters in northwestern Illinois and eastern Iowa. He sponsors a trappers’ rendezvous each year for 20 or 25 trappers.
Raccoons are coveted by some for their meat. It’s the hides, though, that bring the bucks. Trappers come to Wilson with trunks of their cars loaded, or the back of their pickups packed with dead raccoons they’ve trapped.
Raccoon is good, but you won’t find it at the supermarket meat counter or your favorite butcher shop. You’ll have to ask a trapper or contact Wilson at (815) 232-8059.
I’ve dined on raccoon at Izaak Walton League dinners and found it good, not gamey, but not gourmet. Fred Lorenzen, a retired sportsman from Davenport who once wrote an outdoors column called “The Nomad” for this paper, says, “Raccoon always tasted a lot like pork to me.”
People from the Quad-Cities buy raccoon meat from Wilson. Also, he says, “Customers come from the Chicago area and especially the south. People drive all the way to Freeport from the south. I pack the meat in ice.” A 12-pound carcass may cost $5.
After dressing out the raccoons, Wilson stores the meat in plastic bags in a big cooler. Carcasses must be fresh when brought to him; no road kill. They must have been trapped or shot. A special raccoon license must be obtained; dates are Nov. 1 in Iowa, Nov. 5 in Illinois.
THE PELTS are the biggest part of his part-time business. Wilson, a supplier to the North American Fur Auction of Toronto, Canada, will handle 25,000 stretched and dried pelts in a year.
“Last year, raccoon pelts at market brought from the mid-$30s to $64. This year, with the market the way it is, who can say? We won’t know until about January,” he says.
With the shaky economic, Wilson is hedgy about what he’ll pay for raccoons this season.
Whatever the market for pelts and meat, there will be no shortage of raccoons.
‘I’d say the population is heavy,” says Kevin Baskins, of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “They’re not trapped the way they used to be trapped, so there are plenty of raccoons around.”
BICYCLIST Carter LeBeau, of Davenport, says, “When I began biking the highways of Scott and Rock Island counties in the 1960s and 1970s, the road kill was mostly rabbits. Raccoons were rare. Now, it’s 90 percent raccoons. They must be making a comeback.”
They sure are; the Canadian auction house goes through 800,000 raccoon pelts a year.
“Raccoon pelts are not for fashion, but garments to keep warm,” Wilson says. “They go to Russia and China, especially China. The pelts make especially warm hats.”
Come to think of it, didn’t Davey Crockett, our king of the wild frontier, wear a raccoon skin hat?
Bill Wundram can be contacted at (563) 383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.