No Joking: Raccoon Excrement Should Be No Laughing Matter

Deer hunters, in particular, know how raccoons can be famous for leaving their “calling cards” behind in some peculiar places.   In fact, on my property I have several permanent tree stands that seem to quite regularly attract these little masked bandits with their telltale mess of leaving fecal matter behind.   Let’s face it…it’s gross, it’s an inconvenience at best…but long ago I’ve concluded it’s the price a deer hunter using a tree stand must occasionally pay to interact out-of-doors with nature.

Ah, but not so fast.   Up until recently I always considered the presence of raccoon poop (OK, there I finally said it) to be fairly benign and certainly not hazardous in any way.   Turns out I was quite wrong.

What I discovered was that raccoon feces have been known to harbor microscopic eggs from an intestinal parasite commonly known as raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis).   These parasites release millions of eggs that are then passed in the infected raccoon’s fecal matter.   After two to four weeks under the right conditions, the fecal eggs can become infective to other animals, including humans thru direct contact (primarily ingestion).   Worse yet, these eggs have been known to thrive and remain infective within contaminated soil up to several years later.IMG5__00360

Last October a small child from upstate New York was infected by raccoon roundworm and developed severe neurological problems resulting in permanent brain damage.   Earlier this year a teenager, also from New York, suffered effects from raccoon roundworm causing blindness in one eye.   According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reports of this emerging threat first date back to 1984 when a 10–month old child eventually died.   Reports further indicate that as many as 30 medical cases have been reported over the years with 4 documented deaths directly related to raccoon roundworm.

OK, before I get you too worked up about this medical condition let’s put things in proper perspective.   First, raccoon roundworm primarily impacts children to a much greater extent than adults.   The main reason is kids are more apt to put things in their mouths and generally don’t appreciate the concept of hand washing the same way most of us adults do.

Moreover, not all raccoons are host to the parasite, yet a high percentage of the population does seem to be positive carriers.   And while human infection with raccoon roundworm does not appear to be a widespread problem, it’s certainly prudent to have a fundamental understanding that the disease threat exists — particularly to hunters and trappers.

So, the next time you discover a rebel raccoon has turned your tree stand (or perhaps even some outdoor building) into a latrine…think twice about the little gift it left behind.   It may seem weather-beaten, old and otherwise harmless…but now you certainly should know better.

The bottom line is nature can pass along several nasty diseases to us outdoors folks via different routes of exposure.   Most of us are familiar with disease transmission through direct contact, such as with an animal bite.   Yet, many sportsmen fail to recognize how what seems like an inconsequential exposure(contact with feces) can have a threat lingering for weeks, months or even years later.

When I chose to write this blog posting I figured the subject matter would generate a few chuckles from readers…and that’s perfectly fine with me.   Yet, I somehow suspect from now on you’ll view raccoon droppings in a much more enlightened way.   Come this fall, I know I sure will when deer hunting from up in a tree.

For additional readings on this topic:

Baylisascaris procyonis: An Emerging Helminthic Zoonosis
Raccoon Roundworm Infection Fact Sheet
MN DNR: Living With Wildlife – Raccoons
Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services — Fact Sheet

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Should Tree Stand Safety Harness Use Be Mandatory?

In a former career I worked on an Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance service for about a dozen years.   During that time, I responded on thousands of 911 calls ranging from the utterly ridiculous to the downright deadly serious.   Oddly enough, there were two calls that continue to stick out rather vividly in my mind.   Both emergencies involved hunters who had fallen from their tree stand.

I suppose one of the big reasons these incidents struck a deep chord with me was because I, too, am a hunter and could easily imagine myself as the unfortunate victim lying there.   Let’s face it…spend enough time out in the woods and accidents will happen.

Sometimes you get lucky, then again, sometimes you don’t.   Problem with tree stands is the margin for error is rather slim.   One wrong move or misstep and down to the ground you go.

Back 30+ years ago hunter restraint systems were rather basic and functionally inadequate.   In most cases they consisted of a web strap wrapping around the hunter’s waist with another strap tied off to the tree.   I suppose at the time this seemed sufficient as a safety mechanism, but in reality the early designs often constituted a different sort of hazard to hunters who had taken a misstep.   At times a hunter would be left hanging with so much pressure on the straps they were unable to release the adjustment mechanism.

Well, fortunately those days are long gone.   Today’s modern tree stand safety harness systems have become so high-tech and comfortable it just makes good sense to use them.   Besides, not only are they much more functional…but maybe it’s time we also consider them to be even fashionable.   Consider this.

This past week the Sportsman Channel announced that beginning in 2010 all programming on their popular network must include hunters using appropriate tree stand safety devices and approved procedures.   In fact, the network’s official policy states that any scheduled episode that does not adhere to guidelines set forth by the Treestand Manufacturers Association will be removed from the weekly programming slot.   That’s a serious stance.

“We’ve received positive feedback from our producers and manufacturers on this move and we hope that other manufacturers will join the effort,” said Willy Burkhardt, President of Sportsman Channel. “Sportsman Channel is setting the standard in the outdoor industry for others to follow. We want to ensure that all sportsmen watching our programming are shown the safe and ethical ways to hunt, shoot and fish.”

While I certainly applaud the Sportsman Channel’s efforts…it makes me wonder what might be next for those of us who enjoy deer hunting from elevated tree stands without any cameras rolling.   Is it possible that Fall-Arrest Systems(FAS) or Full Body Harness(FBH) devices might someday become mandated for our use, too?   I certainly wouldn’t rule out that possibility.

HSSvestIn the meantime, with Minnesota’s archery deer hunting season only four weeks away now is a good time to consider how you might start playing it a bit safer out in the woods this season–especially when using elevated tree stands.   Keep in mind a good FAS or FBH system will likely set you back upwards of $150 or more.   Sure, that sounds like a lot of money…but it’s probably still less than the deductible on your medical coverage if you need to have a broken arm set in a cast (or worse) at the emergency room.

Believe me, I understand how practices such as wearing seat belts in a car or protective devices in a tree stand can be perceived as restricting your freedom of movement.   Ultimately, the choice will always be yours to make whether or not you want to use any kind of safety device.

Yet, if you haven’t taken a closer look lately at the type of safety equipment available for the deer hunter it’s time to check it out. 

As I recall, in both instances when I responded in the ambulance the hunters involved would have fared much better had they followed safety procedures and employed the correct protective equipment.   More importantly, both hunters suffered such debilitating injuries that their deer hunting was curtailed for the remainder of that particular hunting season.   I guess eventually we all have to ask ourselves…is it worth continuing to take those unnecessary health risks?

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.