Prepared by the National Wildlife Control Training Program.  http://WildlifeControlTraining.com
Research-based, certified wildlife control training programs to solve human – wildlife conflicts.
Your source for animal handling, control methods, and wildlife species information.

Fig 1 Raccoon
Figure 1. Raccoon (Procyon lotor). Photo by Greg Clements.



  1. Demonstrate the ability to educate clients about management options for raccoon damage.
  2. Identify 3 aspects of behavior that makes raccoons difficult to deal with.
  3. Identify the risks involved in working with raccoons.

Species Overview


Raccoons (Procyon lotor) cause considerable damage to several crops, especially sweet corn and sweet cherries.  They can cause significant damage to turf while foraging for soil-borne insects. They kill poultry and take eggs. Raccoons can damage structures when seeking access for denning in attics or chimneys.  They carry rabies, and spread raccoon roundworm and other diseases.

Legal Status

Raccoons are protected furbearers in most states with seasons established for running dogs, hunting, and trapping. Most states have provisions for landowners to control furbearers that are damaging their property. Check with your state wildlife agency before using any lethal control methods.


Raccoons, also called “coons,” are native to the northeastern US, and are common inhabitants of both rural and urban areas. Raccoons have a prominent black “mask” over their eyes, and a heavily furred, ringed tail (Figure 1).

Physical Description

Their color is grizzled salt-and-pepper gray and black above, although some individuals are strongly washed with yellow. Raccoons are stocky mammals about 2 to 3 feet long, and typically weigh 10 to 30 pounds.

Species Range

Raccoons are found throughout the northeastern US and are common in woodlands, suburban, and agricultural areas.

Health and Safety Concerns

The number of reported cases of rabies in raccoons and other wildlife has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. Raccoons are the primary vector species for rabies in the northeastern US.

Raccoon roundworm (Baylisasacris procyonis) can cause blindness, brain damage, and death. Raccoons are not the only carrier of this disease, but they are the definitive host. Avoid disturbing raccoon feces, and soil or other items contaminated by feces.

General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior


Raccoons mainly breed in February or March. Gestation lasts about 63 days. Most litters are born in April or May. Average litter size is 3 to 5 young. Young first open their eyes at about 3 weeks, and are weaned between 2 and 4 months of age.

Family groups of raccoons usually remain together for the first year with the young often denning with the adult female during winter. Raccoons may live up to 12 years in the wild, but such longevity is extremely rare.

Nesting/Denning Cover

Den sites typically include hollow trees, ground burrows, brush piles, muskrat houses, barns and abandoned buildings, dense clumps of cattails, haystacks, rock crevices, sewers, under sheds and porches, chimneys, and attics.


Raccoons are nocturnal. Adult males occupy territories of 3 to 20 square miles, compared to 1 to 6 square miles for females. Adult males tend to be territorial and their ranges overlap very little. Raccoons do not truly hibernate, but they “hole up” in dens and become inactive during severe winter weather.


Raccoons prefer hardwood forests near water. They also live around farmsteads and livestock watering areas, far from naturally occurring bodies of permanent water. They are frequently found in wooded parks, where they may find subsidized food sources in dumpsters.

Food Habits

Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Plant foods include fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn, and other types of grain. Animal foods include crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snails, insects, turtles and their eggs, mice, rabbits, muskrats, and the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and waterfowl. They will readily take garbage and other food wastes.

Voice, Sounds, Tracks, and Signs

Raccoons emit several sounds including chirps, coos, chatter, distress calls, purrs, and complaints.

Raccoons usually leave plenty of signs of their presence. Tracks are very distinctive (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Five long rear toes and “hand-like” front prints are characteristic of raccoon tracks. Image by Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (PCWD).

Figure 2. Five long rear toes and “hand-like” front prints are characteristic of raccoon tracks. Image by Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (PCWD).

Latrines, where raccoons regularly defecate (Figure 3), tend to be in areas open to the sky such as roofs, sand boxes, and fallen trees.

Figure 3. Latrine of a raccoon. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.
Figure 3. Latrine of a raccoon. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.


Damage Identification

Raccoons may cause damage or nuisance problems in a variety of ways. Raccoons are superb climbers. They frequently enter buildings by climbing trees or downspouts, or by shimmying up the side of a building. Look for smudge or scratch marks on trees or at the corners of buildings (Figure 4). Latrines on roofs and in attics are classic signs of raccoons.

Damage to Landscapes

Raccoons roll up sod in search of earthworms and grubs. This may occur in early summer when soils are damp and worms are near the surface, or during droughts in late summer.

Damage to Crops and Livestock

Raccoons can cause considerable damage to garden or truck crops, particularly sweet corn. Damage to sweet corn is characterized by partially eaten ears with the husks pulled back. Raccoons also break stalks as they climb to get to the ears. Raccoons damage watermelons by digging a small hole in the melon and raking out the contents with a front paw.

Raccoons often attack and kill poultry inside coops after tearing their way through doors or light woven wire. Dead birds often are mangled, with many feathers being bitten through.  Eggs will be broken and chewed thoroughly.

Damage to Structures

Raccoons cause problems around houses and outbuildings when they try to enter attics or chimneys. Raccoons learn that uncapped chimneys are good substitutes for traditional hollow trees used for denning sites. In extreme cases, raccoons may tear off shingles or fascia boards to gain access to an attic or wall space. Raccoons need only a 4-inch gap to enter a space (Figure 5).

Raccoons often raid garbage cans and dumpsters in search of food. They will also take food scraps from compost piles, or consume pet food from dishes left out overnight.

Figure 4. Arrows point to smudges indicative of climbing by raccoons. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.
Figure 4. Arrows point to smudges indicative of climbing by raccoons. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.






Figure 5. A raccoon entered this attic through the vent. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.
Figure 5. A raccoon entered this attic through the vent. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.












Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Habitat Modification

Protect property by removing as many potential sources of food as possible. Only place plant matter (e.g., leaves and grass clippings) in compost piles to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums, skunks, and other scavengers. Avoid leaving food and water out overnight for pets. Put free-ranging poultry in fenced, predator-proof coops overnight. Avoid planting sweet corn patches near creek bottoms or other wooded areas.

Hang bird feeders on wire between trees, or on baffled poles to prevent raiding. Reduce the amount of seed that falls to the ground by using a single type of seed per feeder and using feeders that recapture fallen seed.

When raccoons are rolling up freshly laid sod to find grubs, pin the strips of sod down with long wire pins, wooden stakes, or nylon netting to allow the grass to take root. Application of insecticides to control grubs is effective only if done before damage by raccoons begins.


Exclusion usually is the best method for managing damage by raccoons. Damage to sweet corn or watermelons can be stopped almost immediately by excluding raccoons with an electric fence (Figure 6). Use electric fences with care and install appropriate caution signs to warn people.

Figure 6. Electric fences, where legal, are effective in protecting property from damage by raccoons. Image by PCWD.
Figure 6. Electric fences, where legal, are effective in protecting property from damage by raccoons. Image by PCWD.


Prevent damage to poultry by excluding raccoons with tightly covered doors and windows on buildings, or heavy mesh-wire fences with an overhang surrounding poultry yards. Raccoons are excellent climbers and can gain access by climbing conventional fences. Use a fence charger to electrify a wire placed at the top of a fence to increase effectiveness.

Clients should store garbage in metal or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. If a lid does not fit tightly, wire, weight, or clamp it down. Secure trash cans to a rack above ground, or tie them to a post. If possible, store trash cans in a secure building.

Limit access to rooftops by removing overhanging branches.  Wrap sheet metal (at least 3 feet square) around building corners to prevent a raccoon from getting a toehold for climbing. Prevent access to chimneys by securely fastening a commercial chimney cap over the top of the chimney (Figure 7). Raccoons may pull off caps held by spring clips, so use a cap that screws against the flue.

Figure 7. A cap will keep raccoons and other animals out of a chimney. Photo by Hy-C Co., Inc.

Figure 7. A cap will keep raccoons and other animals out of a chimney. Photo by Hy-C Co., Inc.

Homeowners that attempt to exclude or remove raccoons in the spring and summer should be aware that young also may be present. Do not complete exclusion procedures until you are certain that all raccoons have been removed from the area. Contact a Wildlife Control Operator (WCO) for assistance.

Frightening Devices

Frightening devices such as lights, radios, dogs, scarecrows, and pie pans may discourage raccoons temporarily, but none will provide adequate long-term protection in most situations.


Ro-Pel® is a contact/taste repellent that is applied directly to surfaces to keep chewing animals, including raccoons, from causing damage. Do not apply Ro-Pel® to edible plants or crops that bear fruit because it will impart a bitter taste.


No toxicants are registered for the control of raccoons.


Healthy raccoons are seldom seen during the day because of their nocturnal habits. Raccoons can be shot at night with proper lighting, and trained dogs can be used to tree the raccoons. A .22-caliber rifle will effectively kill treed raccoons if shot placement is restricted to the head. Otherwise, use a shotgun with No.6 shot, if legal in your state. Shooting is prohibited in most towns and cities. Check with state and local authorities before using any lethal control methods for raccoons.


Raccoons are relatively easy to catch in traps, but it takes a sturdy trap to hold a raccoon. For homeowners with pets, and in urban areas, cage and box traps (Figure 8) usually are preferable to foothold traps.

Figure 8. A cage trap with a captured raccoon. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.
Figure 8. A cage trap with a captured raccoon. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Cage Traps

Cage and box traps for raccoons should be at least 10 x 12 x 32 inches and constructed with sturdy materials. Bait traps with sweet items to reduce non-target captures. Commercial sweet pastes are good, along with sweet fruits (e.g., cherries or grapes), marshmallows, or jelly spread on a coffee filter.

Place a pile of bait behind the treadle and scatter a few small bits of bait outside the opening of the trap and just inside the entrance. The back portion of the trap should be tightly screened with ½-inch or smaller mesh wire to prevent raccoons from reaching through the wire to pull out the bait.

Pay special attention to the 12-inch area around the trap. Cage-trapped raccoons will reach for anything they can and pull it into the trap, including shingles, grass, dirt, siding, and garden hose. Cage traps with ½- x 1-inch mesh, particularly in the lower portions of the trap, help reduce the risk of this problem. Secure traps to solid objects. Trapped raccoons have been known to move and flip traps over.

Direct Capture

Sometimes a raccoon is sick, or in a location where immediate removal is required. Raccoons present special challenges due to their mobility and ability to climb. Required equipment includes gloves, a catch pole, cat grasper, hand net, and a raccoon-sized cage or box trap. If you are unsure of what to do, contact a WCO for assistance



Raccoons can be released on-site if it is legal in your state. Try to release them where they will not run into traffic or cause other disturbances. Typically, raccoons will climb a nearby tree or scurry to cover. Keep children and pets away. Raccoons may reinvade the home or a nearby residence.


Translocation is not recommended for raccoons. Survival rates are low for transported raccoons, and they may move up to 25 miles from their release site to return to their home area. It is illegal to translocate raccoons in many states because of the risk of transmitting rabies and other diseases.


Carbon dioxide is the preferred method of euthanasia for raccoons. Adult raccoons die relatively quickly, but juvenile raccoons may last 30 minutes or more, particularly when placed in a chamber with less than 100% carbon dioxide. A gunshot to the head is a safe and humane way to euthanize raccoons in a rural area. However, don’t shoot raccoons in the head if rabies testing is required.


Dispose of raccoons by deep burial or incineration. Consult your state regulations regarding disposal of carcasses.


Web Resources




Key Words

Raccoon, NWCO, wildlife control, wildlife damage management