How to track a raccoon

STEP 1: Set up trail cameras
To locate the raccoons living in Laramie, we first use trail cameras that allow us to take pictures and videos of the raccoons when we are not present. The cameras are motion censored and begin recording when any movement takes place in the camera’s field of vision. We often set these cameras up in parks or in the backyards of Laramie residents and business owners!

(left) UWRP technicians setting up a trail camera at a residential location. (right) A raccoon caught on one of our trail cameras walking through a Laramie, WY, resident's backyard!

Step 2 : Trapping and processing raccoons
Once we confirm the presence of a raccoon in an area, we then place a humane live trap out to capture the individual. Once safely secured in our live traps, we then immobilize the raccoon so that we may safely handle it to record information about that individual, such as: body length, weight, age, and sex. We also collect important biological samples like, whiskers, feces, and blood, in addition to marking the raccoon with ear tags and a PIT tag so we can identify that individual in later studies. The PIT tags are similar to the microchips that are inserted in household pets so that they may be identified if they get lost. We can identify raccoons we mark with PIT tags based off of their unique ID. We are currently in collaboration with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and we share our biological samples with them so they can conduct zoonotic disease testing. Raccoons that are large enough are fitted with Very High Frequency (VHF) radio collars so that we can track their locations once they are released back into the wild.

(left) A raccoon in a humane live-trap before being transferred to research facility owned by the University of Wyoming. (right) Dr. Benson-Amram along with graduate students, Lauren and Sarah, drawing blood from a raccoon.

STEP 3: Radio Tememetry

Each VHF collar has its own frequency, which allows us to use radio telemetry to track the raccoon's location in Laramie once they are released. We use a receiver and antennas to pick-up a signal from the raccoon’s collar. The signal we hear from the receiver sounds like a beep and gets louder the closer we get to the raccoon. Once the signal is loud enough we attempt to triangulate the raccoon’s location. Triangulation involves finding three separate points surrounding the possible location of the signal, while recording GPS coordinates and bearings of the direction where the signal was heard the loudest. Once we have at least three points we enter them into a program called Locate III which plots the points and determines if we have found an accurate location of the radio collared raccoon. Once we have enough location points we will begin to build home ranges for each individual.

One of our undergraduate members, Emily, out tracking raccoons with radio telemetry equipment. This will allow us to establish the home range sizes of the raccoons we have fitted with radio collars.

Finding Raccoon Signs in Your Neighborhood!
Raccoon signs are easy to find once you know what to look for!

Raccoons have very obvious tracks that are easily seen in moist soil, snow, or banks along rivers. Their paw prints differ from their front and back feet. Their front paw prints are 2 to 3 inches long and their back paw prints are 3 to 4 inches long on average. Their hind feet also have a larger heel mark than the front. All of their prints will have claw marks because their claws are not retractable. Raccoons have very noticeable long and slender digits1.

Raccoon tracks found along a creek that runs through residential neighborhoods in Laramie, WY.

Where to Look for Tracks:
When looking for raccoon tracks search around river or creek banks for prints left in soft soil and sand. If you believe you have raccoons around your house or in your attic look for scratch marks on trees or the gutters of your house. Raccoons have long digits that make it easy for them to climb gutters and other structures1.
Raccoon droppings:
Raccoons tend to defecate before entering a structure or den area. Therefore raccoon droppings are usually left at the base of trees or roofs of houses, which are referred to as latrine sites. Raccoon scat is usually split up into segments and may contain various contents due to their omnivorous diet. The length of the average raccoon scat is around 3 to 5 inches1. **Please Note: Be sure to not touch or handle raccoon droppings because raccoons can carry a parasite called raccoon roundworm, which can be transmitted to humans through ingestion or inhalation and cause severe health problems. For more information on raccoon-related diseases take a look at the information available from the CDC. **

Disturbances are another great way to locate raccoons. Raccoon forepaws are highly dexterous, which allows them to easily open man-made containers like trashcans. They are opportunistic forgers, making an easily accessible trashcan a prime choice. If you see a trashcan knocked over with the contents dragged out of it, take a look around to see if you can spot any tracks that could identify the culprit as a raccoon. If you want to prevent raccoons from getting into your trash, try placing a large, heavy stone on top top of the lid. This will make it more difficult for them to push over or get inside the trashcan.

Think you're a good tracker?
The only way you can improve your tracking skills is to go outdoors and practice! If you think you've found evidence of raccoons in an area, please contact us! Learn more about how you can Get Involved with the University of Wyoming Raccoon Project!

1. Link, R. (2004). Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press.