One of the best things about being in the woods or on the water is watching the different wildlife that Mississippi has to offer. I have spent many hours just sitting in the stand watching all of the different critters walk by. You never know what you might see sitting in a stand or taking a boat ride down the river. You also never know what you might see driving into your own neighborhood.
As a kid, one of my favorite movies was Old Yeller. What little boy in the 80’s didn’t enjoy it? The movie had everything you wanted: a loyal dog, a little bit of hunting, adventure, and…..rabies. Of all the critters that I’ve watched while in the woods and on the water over the years, I don’t remember seeing anything that resembled having rabies. You hear stories of coyotes and raccoons foaming at the mouth and staggering around like they’d drained a liquor store, but I’d never personally seen anything that resembled this type of behavior. I finally got a glimpse of what that looks like, but not where I expected to see it.
As I pulled into our subdivision from work this evening, I noticed a raccoon in the first yard in the neighborhood. My initial thought was that it was odd to see one this time of the day out in the open. I backed the car up to get a picture to show the kids when I got home. That’s when I noticed that something was wrong. The raccoon wasn’t the least bit afraid of me. It walked slowly around, noticeably staggering as it moved. It was drooling, as well. The only thing I could think of upon seeing this was Old Yeller.
I drove on to the house and grabbed my .22 rifle (for any government officials reading this, I borrowed the rifle because I lost all of mine in a boating accident) and headed back toward the front of the subdivision. By the time I arrived, it was beginning to rain and I didn’t see the raccoon anywhere. I went back home somewhat concerned by what I’d seen. I’m not an expert, but I wouldn’t think it’s a good thing to have a potential rabid raccoon wandering around a subdivision. As I began to eat dinner, my phone rang. Another resident in the subdivision saw the same raccoon and thought the exact same thing that I did. I told him to keep eyes on it and I’d be right there.
I jumped up from the dinner table and grabbed my, uh friend’s, rifle and went back to the front of the subdivision. The raccoon was on the front porch and certainly wasn’t afraid of our presence. The trash panda eventually left the porch and went staggering into the yard, giving me a clean shot. I was able to dispatch the raccoon with no injuries to myself or anyone else, which is a miracle in itself.
When I went back home, I was amazed at some of the articles on rabies in raccoons that I found. Depending on the source, raccoons made up between 30-40% of rabies cases in America. Bats accounted for the highest number of rabies carriers, which made sense to me. Seeing these numbers, though, made me surprised that I’d never seen a raccoon that I suspected had the rabies virus. This obviously doesn’t mean that I’ve never seen one that had it, I probably have, but I’ve never noticed any unusual behavior.
While on the topic of unusual animal behavior, something else to look for in the fall when you head back into the woods is Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD for short. While CWD is relatively new to Mississippi, it has been around for quite a while. The first known case was in Colorado in the late 1960’s. The first case in Mississippi was in January 2018 and there have been at least 68 confirmed cases since, with the majority coming from the Northeast zone along the Mississippi/Tennessee border. Deer with CWD will show severe weight loss, as well as a lack of social interaction with other deer. Like an animal with rabies, deer will also show signs of salivation along with increased thirst. Also like rabies, they may tend to lose their fear of humans.
You can visit mdwfp.com for more information regarding CWD in our state. There are numerous sites across the state to drop off any deer that you may suspect has CWD. Be sure to check where you hunt to see if you are in a “CWD Zone” before the season begins, as you may have different protocols to follow when you harvest a deer.
These are things that we don’t necessarily need to over-worry about when we traverse the outdoors, but they are certainly things to keep in mind. I believe it’s our duty to do all that we can to ensure that the next generation gets to enjoy the outdoors like we have. Just like if you saw someone stealing a catalytic converter, you’d say something, do the same if you see an animal acting abnormal.