Animals -> Mammals -> Furbearers -> Raccoon


Northern raccoon was not a central food source for most Indigenous Peoples of North America; however, the animal was important in maintaining food security for some cultures and acted as an important commodity for some. Kitsumkalum is one of the few cultures that hunted raccoon as a large part of their subsistence [1, 2]. Puget Sound, Chinookans of Lower Columbia River, Southern Coast Salish, Lower Lillooet, Potawatomi and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) are reported to have consumed raccoon [3-9]. Raccoon was a key small game animal for Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Richibucto; the flesh and fur was used [6]. Raccoon was occasionally hunted or trapped by Nootka of Vancouver Island, Stalo, Mohawk, Penobscot, Iroquois and Rappahannock [10-19]. Iroquois used ‘wildcat’ as another name for raccoon [18].


Coast Salish, Stalo and Micmac hunted raccoon in winter when they were in their best condition [6, 13, 16, 19]. Algonquian also hunted raccoon in winter so they could focus their time on planting during summer [13]. Kitsumkalum hunted small game such as raccoon in early autumn and Mohawk hunted them in autumn, winter and spring [2, 18]. The raccoon is nocturnal and a semi-hibernator, spending its days and sometimes weeks inactive in dens, where hunters would locate and catch them [16].

Raccoons were caught in deadfalls by the Chinookans of Lower Columbia, Coast Salish, Nootka, Stalo, Micmac and Mohawk; this technique limited pelt damage and kept the pelt in good condition for use as material goods [5, 11, 18-20]. Nootka from Vancouver Island used a deadfall that consisted of a stick, on which a platform of cedar splints rested that held the trigger pin on the inside of the trap. When the raccoon went for the bait and stepped on the platform, it would release the pin bringing down the deadfall [10, 20]. Coast Salish used beaver musk to lure the animal into a trap, consisting of a chamber made of pieces of wood with a weight on top. One of the four sides was open and above the box hung a heavy log: when the raccoon took the bait the log would fall on its neck or back [11, 16].

Southern Coast Salish used deadfalls and or snares to trap raccoon [7]. Lower Lillooet used a hollow log method whereby one end of a log was closed while the other end had a door of bark held open by a string. When the raccoon went inside for the bait, the string triggered the door shut closing the animal inside until the trapper rolled the log over and clubbed or shot it when it came out [9]. Lower Lillooet used “flat-bows” and arrows with detachable heads made of stone, beaver teeth, bone of deer’s legs, copper or iron, to hunt the ground game [8]. Nootka used bow and arrow as their most popular weapons [20], but also shot raccoons and caught them in traps [12].

Mohawk hunted raccoon most effectively in small groups of men. In winter, they would smoke them out of their dens; hunters would kill them when they tried to escape the smoke. In spring, Mohawk would trap raccoons with deadfalls [18]. Mohawk trapped raccoon along watercourses where the animal scavenged for food [18]. The Algonquian used bow and arrows, war clubs, tomahawks, and spears for hunting and the [13]. Micmac generally used deadfalls or pit traps, spears and bow and arrows to hunt game, however few fortunate hunters had the use of muskets [6].


Northern raccoon was most often roasted, steamed or boiled [4, 11]. Oil/grease was often collected during cooking. Both Penobscot and Iroquois used raccoon fat and grease for frying and medicinal purposes [14, 17]. Women would often butcher, skin and prepare the meat for cooking [18].

Coast Salish had three methods of preparing meat: roasting, boiling or steaming. Roasting was the most common method as it was the simplest: the meat was either placed directly on the coals or on a stick that was bent over the coals. This method was most commonly used for small quantities of fresh meat. Boiling was done by placing fire-hot rocks into a box containing water and meat; when the rocks were cooled they were substituted with hot ones. On occasion, Coast Salish made a specialty stew by boiling fresh blood with entrails and organs. An earth oven was used to steam meat. Hot coals were placed in a pit in the ground, covered with leaves, meat placed on top, covered with leaves again, sprinkled with water and then covered with dirt. The meat was left overnight or longer to steam the food [11, 12].

Nootka found raccoon more palatable after the flesh had been soaked in fresh water over night, to decrease the odor. Cooking was relatively simple for the Nootka and Puget Sound; neither culture used salt, despite the large body of salt water present nearby. Coast Salish and Puget Sound did not believe that flesh of mammals such as raccoons should be dried [4, 12].

By contrast, if raccoon meat was not consumed immediately, Potawatomi sliced, dried and smoked it [3]. Penobscot kept raccoon grease cold in bark vessels ready to be eaten at any time; it was sometimes mixed with maple sap. Penobscot made stew out of boiled raccoon meat with fat, or pork, and vegetables or beans. Before they had access to pork, Penobscot used raccoon fat for frying [14].

Uses other than food

Northern raccoon was frequently trapped for its pelt. Coast Salish used the pelt for fur caps and quivers, while other cultures used them as part of robes [16]. Chinookans of the Lower Columbia, Puget Sound, Lower Lillooet and Micmac trapped raccoon for its meat as well as the hide [4-6, 9]. Raccoon pelts were often traded with other cultures [8].

Beliefs and taboos

Coast Salish and Tsimshian, among others, felt it necessary for hunters to purify themselves before hunting game; otherwise the animals would refuse to be caught if they were offended by unclean hunters [2]. Purification usually involved bathing, fasting and sexual abstinence. Coast Salish drank the root juice of devil’s club [11]. Neither the hunter nor his wife was allowed to comb their hair while the man hunted [16]. Iroquois decided that meat, including raccoon, was prohibited when certain medicines were being taken [17].

Iroquois used oil from raccoon for medicinal purposes. For example, oil was put on the back and chest of someone with cramps and it was applied to newborn infants [17]. Micmac also used raccoon grease for medicinal purposes [6].

For Nootka on Vancouver Island, in order for a hunter to be successful, he had to be careful not to anger the animal he was trying to catch. For example, a woman who was pregnant or menstruating was considered unclean. If the hunter was associated with a woman in this condition the animal he wanted to hunt would be angry [10].


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2.         Halpin MM, Seguin M: Tsimshian Peoples: Southern Tsimshian, Coast Tsimshian, Nishga, and Gitksan. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990: 267-271.

3.         Clifton JA: Potawatomi. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15: Northeast. edn. Edited by Trigger BG. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1978: 725-736.

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5.         Silverstein M: Chinookans of the Lower Columbia. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990: 533-536.

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7.         Suttles W, Lane B: Southern Coast Salish. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990: 485-490.

8.         Teit JA: Part V The Lillooet Indians, vol. II. New York; 1906.

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11.       Barnett HG: Food; Occupations. In: The Coast Salish of British Columbia. Volume 1st edition, edn. Eugene: University of Oregon; 1955: 59-107.

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16.       Suttles WP: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians. In: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians The Economic Life of the Coast Salish of Haro and Rosario Straits. edn. New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc.; 1974.

17.       Waugh FW. In: Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation. edn. Ottawa: Department of Mines. Government Printing Bureau; 1973.

18.       Webster GS: Northern Iroquoian Hunting: An Optimization Approach. n/a: The Pennsylvania State University; 1983.

19.       Duff W: The Upper Stalo Indians of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. Victoria,B.C.: British Columbia Provincial Museum; 1952.

20.       Arima EY: The West Coast People: The Nootka of Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery, vol. Special Publication No. 6. Victoria, B.C.: British Columbia Provincial Musem; 1983.

The northern raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a medium-sized mammalian carnivore, member of a small family, including only two other species in North America. They are widespread and common coast to coast from southern Canada up to Mexico and occupy any habitats, as long as there is water.

Raccoons have a chunky cat-like body shape and a dog-like face with dark fur around their eyes contrasting whitish gray eyebrows. They have dense dark gray fur with yellowish or reddish tints and a striped pattern on their tail. Raccoon can accumulate important fat reserves, up to 50% of their total body weigh in more northern parts of their range. Males are larger than females and adults typically weigh 6 kg.

Raccoons mate from February to June and produce one litter of around 4 cubs after around 65 days. Raccoons feed at night, on almost anything that is available, and spend the day resting in tree dens, while in the winter they can spend many days inactive in their dens until temperature are more favorable.


Wilson DE, Ruff S: The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press; 1999.


Images provided below were obtained from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History - North American Mammals. Available from
Northern raccoon
Credit: painting by Consie Powell from Kays and Wilson's Mammals of North America, © Princeton University Press (2002)
Credit: Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy — Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International — CABS, World Wildlife Fund — US, and Environment Canada — WILDSPACE.