:: on the delicate art of locating a raccoon’s nuts ::
I had an awkward, intimate encounter with a raccoon and, for reasons unknown to me, I am now going to share that experience with you.
Before we go any further, is it okay if I call this animal a coon? This is kind of a backwoods story, so I’ll say coon during the story and you can imagine that I’m chewing on a length of straw while I tell it. Although I would never do that, because I always think straw might be dried wheat and I’m a celiac. But let’s pretend.
One day I got a call saying that my nephew had a dead coon for me. I was ecstatic. Since moving to the country, I’ve been trying my hand at many new skills and skinning animals is one of them. Several of my nephews were in attendance when I picked up my prize. As we all examined the specimen, I said to the boys gathered around, “Take note children: my favorite nephew is the one who brings me furs.”
My brother-in-law discreetly warned me to be prepared that I may have a pregnant female on my hands. I shuddered. But I reasoned that it was already dead, and not on my account – it would have been killed anyway, so I wasn’t going to do any further harm. I should note that raccoons are a huge nuisance animal in this area, and landowners are allowed to trap and shoot them. This particular beast had been trapped by a family member whose backyard it had been terrorizing.
The first animal I skinned was a small squirrel, the second was a hefty woodchuck. I had read that raccoons are one of the hardest animals to skin because they have a lot of greasy fat and their skin adheres to the muscle ardently. In addition, this sucker was heavy. So I was prepared for a challenge. I had learned from the squirrel that it’s best to hang the animal by the legs, as opposed to laying it flat on a table or the ground. And I had learned from the woodchuck that this hanging setup cannot be respectably accomplished on the retractable clothesline, which has no tension. When I hung the woodchuck on the clothesline, it promptly sank down to ankle height and I had to do most of my skinning while sitting on the ground. So this time I got sophisticated. I tied a nylon rope between two trees just above head height. To this rope I tied two shorter strings. Then I tied each of the shorter strings to one of the coon’s ankles and voila! I had a hanging animal spread eagle and ready for skinning. This was probably the most professional I looked at any point in this process.
I made the first cuts around each ankle. Almost immediately, I ran into a problem. After you cut around the ankles, you’re supposed to make a cut straight across the crotch area, from one ankle to the other. The instructions I had read in books say to locate the butthole and the front hole, and cut in between. Can I say butthole? Because, like I said, this is a backwoods story and I don’t think the word anus is appropriate. So anyway, locating the butthole on a coon is easy – it is grotesquely large. I mean seriously, it is one huge sphincter muscle. You would think this animal has gigantic poops, with how big it is. Someone could make a scary alien movie with that thing as the star.
Anyway, I looked and looked for the front hole but could not for the life of me find it. One problem was that a raccoon is abundantly furry in that region and the fur around a coon’s special area is different than the rest of its fur. It’s soft and fluffy like a teddy bear. Actually, I don’t know if it was especially soft – I was wisely wearing gloves. But it looked soft. Anyway, I parted the fur and tried to locate the front hole, but no dice. So I just made a cut somewhere in front of the butthole and hoped for the best.
Once that cut was made, I began pulling the flesh back a bit to open things up. To do this, you insert your knife carefully between the skin and the muscle and gently slice the membrane in between. Now I was ready for the next cut. At this point, you’re supposed to cut straight down from the crotch to the neck, so you end up with a T (across between the ankles, then down to the neck). I had done this cut on the squirrel (easy) and on the woodchuck (easy). But the coon presented a problem. My raccoon had some kind of mass right in the area where I was going to start my cut. I felt around a bit to determine what was going on. It was some kind of tumor! This was not going well. I was already uncomfortable about skinning a big greasy coon, and now my specimen appeared to have cancer. I hoped it wasn’t anything contagious.
I figured the best thing to do was cut around it, because I certainly did not want to cut into a tumor and see what was inside. So I felt around the lump, trying to find the edges of it. It was a lot bigger than I expected. Finally, I could tell where it ended so I cut around it to the left and around it to the right, leaving the whole mass intact and still fur-covered. I was ready now to cut straight down to the neck, but again I ran into a problem. There was some kind of hard line attached to the bottom of the tumor, right where I intended to make my cut. I had to feel along this growth to get to the end of it so I could cut around. It kept going and going. What is this thing? Finally, I found the end of it.
Now, if you are an astute reader I’m sure you’re way ahead of me. Large lump between the legs, attached to a long straight tube. Anyone who attended 4th grade and watched that weird movie about growing up has probably guessed what I had been feeling around for the past 20 minutes. I was dealing with the business end of a male raccoon. My day was not going well at this point. I just realized I had been fondling a raccoon’s nuts, trying to see how big they were, and then feeling my way down its john thomas to see where it ended. Not my best day. There are some things you never ever imagine you will be remotely involved in but then, here we are.
Now I had a decision to make. The books didn’t say anything about how to make this cut. Do I cut straight through it, do I go around it, do I make some kind of butterfly pattern? I recalled the diagram in the book and it was a very simple T shape. I wasn’t about to slice the penis in half. I’m sure that couldn’t be the right way to do it. And I didn’t want any part of the genital system anywhere near my finished fur. So I cut around the whole business, leaving all the important bits still attached to the man coon. He ended up looking a lot more modest than the other animals I’ve skinned, since he was still wearing his fur loin cloth. I don’t know if the squirrel and the woodchuck I skinned were girls, or if I just didn’t notice their parts. Judging by the butthole maybe the raccoon just has bigger, more noticeable parts.
Now that I felt like an idiot and hence back in my comfort zone, I moved on to the rest of the skinning job. It was hard work and slow going. The skin really does stick to the muscle, making it tedious work. When I got to the tail, I predictably broke it. If you have heard my skinning stories in person, you know that I have accidentally broken the tail of every animal I’ve worked on. This is the problem that prompted me to ask for a pocket knife for Mother’s Day, so that if I saw a fresh road kill I could hop out of the car and cut off the tail, taking it home to practice on. Stop looking at me like that.
In closing, I have to say something in my defense. Believe it or not, I do know the basics of mammal anatomy. But I think my brother-in-law’s comment about the coon possibly being a mother got lodged in my head and I was just not thinking about boy parts at all. Also, the boy parts on animals tend to be a lot further up toward the chest than they are on humans, not that I have done much scientific comparison. I just didn’t want you to think I’m THAT dumb, because at least 51% of the time I’m not. Give or take a couple percent.