Raccoon tracks are some of the most common footprints found in north america.
These masked bandits love to hunt for tasty morsels along the edges of creeks and wet areas where they have no fear of getting their feet muddy.
Raccoons are also a common visitor of garbage cans and compost bins, leaving plenty of opportunities to track raccoons close to home.
Because they’re so common, knowing how to identify raccoon tracks is a really important step on the wildlife tracking journey.
I’ve had a lot of fun tracking these critters over the years, and today we’ll explore some key things to help you identify their tracks in a variety of possible scenarios:
- Raccoon tracks have 5 toes on both the front and hind feet.
- Their footprints are hand-like with an obvious asymmetrical shape and the claws are often visible in the tracks.
- Tracks measure 1.5-3.2 inches across and 1.7-3.1 inches in length.
Most people can get pretty good at identifying raccoon tracks by the front foot simply because it looks so much like a human hand.
However a common point of confusion is when you’re dealing with partial tracks, or when all you have is the hind foot.
It’s amazing how often raccoon tracks can be confused with things like cats, skunks and opossums.
So if you really want to get good at identifying raccoon tracks in all situations, it’s important to look at the differences between front and hind tracks, as well as how these compare to other types of animal tracks.
Differences Between Front & Hind Raccoon Tracks
One of the main differences between front and hind tracks of raccoons is the size their inner toe.
In tracking terminology the inner toe is sometimes referred to as toe #1 (in human terms, it’s the thumb) and in raccoons it’s much shorter on the hind foot compared to the front.
Because raccoons have such a short inner toe on the hind foot, it’s quite common for beginners to misread the track as having 4 toes when there are actually 5.
This short toe combined with less overall splaying of the foot is what makes the hind track appear much less hand-like than the front.
The best way to practice identifying these differences is to find a clear raccoon trail in the sand, mud, or snow, then study all the tracks very carefully until you can discern both the hinds and the fronts.
A useful trick to remember is that raccoons have an unusual gait pattern where the right hind often lands next to the left front, and the left hind lands next to right front.
This means typically when you see a raccoon trail, you’ll often see two tracks side by side that includes a front and hind.
You might also notice the hind track is a bit larger than the front, although this is easiest to see in ideal substrates like snow or mud.
Knowing how to identify both the front and hind tracks of raccoons will give you a massive upgrade in your ability to identify raccoon tracks from a single track.
So next let’s explore some of the most common misidentifications with raccoon tracks like cat, skunk & opossum tracks.
Raccoon vs Cat Tracks
Generally, the easiest way to tell raccoon tracks from cat tracks is to count the toes. Raccoons have 5 toes while cats only have 4.
This is true for all bobcats, house cats, mountain lions, tigers, etc.
For this reason whenever you’re dealing with clear tracks that show all the toes, it’s basically impossible to confuse raccoons and cats.
However, it is possible to confuse raccoons with cats in situations when the tracks are only partially registering.
This mistake is most likely to be made when you find a raccoon track that doesn’t register toe #1 (as discussed in the above section).
When you’re dealing with partial tracks, the best way to identify raccoon vs cat tracks is by looking at the negative space between the toes and the palm.
Raccoon tracks have no negative space so the toes connect directly into the palm like fingers, while cat toes will have an obvious space between.
Raccoons are also much more likely to register claws, while cats typically do not register claws.
In many cases, size is another good way to tell them apart. House cats are also usually much too small to confuse with raccoons, and anything larger than a bobcat is too big.
Raccoon vs Skunk Tracks
In the case of raccoon vs skunk tracks, both animals have 5 toes with claws that could potentially cause confusion.
However, raccoon tracks are noticeably larger than skunk tracks which usually makes them fairly easy to tell them apart.
I always recommend trackers buy a field guide with life-size tracks, like Mark Elbroch’s Mammal Tracks & Sign.
Practice sketching life-size skunk and raccoon tracks to get a feel for how their size compares and this difference will become very clear.
Similar to the cat example from above, another big difference between skunks & raccoon tracks is the long fingerlike toes of a raccoon that connect directly into the palm without leaving any negative space.
Skunk toes (except the front thumb) will be disconnected from the palm, with an obvious negative space.
Skunk tracks also have the middle 3 toes clumped together in a set and an extra heel pad at the back of the front foot, while raccoon toes are more evenly spaced.
Look for these features and telling raccoon from skunk tracks is super easy!
Raccoon vs Opossum Tracks
When it comes to raccoon vs opossum tracks, again we’re dealing with two animals that both have 5 toes and claws that sometimes register in the track.
To make it more confusing, opossum tracks have the similar feature of long toes that connect directly into the palm without any negative space (just like raccoons).
However, the big difference here is opossum tracks have very sharply angled toes that splay out much more prominently and asymmetrically than raccoons.
Opossum tracks are sometimes described as having a more starlike appearance with toes emanating out from the center, while raccoon tracks have toes that mostly point forward in comparison.
Another big difference is opossums frequently move in a partial direct register which means their hind foot lands on top of (or very close to) the front foot.
The result is opossum tracks are typically overall much more confusing and distorted than raccoon tracks, making it hard to sort out how many toes and feet you’re actually seeing.
One thing a tracking instructor of mine said that helped me a lot with opossum track identification was to look for that big parallel thumb that sticks out to the side on the hind foot. This is often one of the best clues to look for.
In contrast, raccoons almost never have tracks that overlap so it’s usually fairly easy to get a clear read as long as the substrate is semi-decent.
Practice Exercises For Raccoon Track Identification
- Get outside and check around the muddy or sandy edges of water for raccoon tracks.
- Always remember to count the toes and check for negative space.
- Look for that hand-like shape on the front foot.
- Find a trail and practice labeling the front and hind tracks of raccoons.
- Practice sketching life-size tracks with measuring tools.
- Study the tracks AND the overall trail. Look for that left hind landing next to the right front.
- Keep learning more about raccoon behavior including what raccoons eat.
- Go learn some more tracks to sharpen your seeing skills!