Retired truck driver Glemie Beasley of Detroit is a seasoned hunter who sells and cooks raccoons and other critters on Detroit's west side. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Detroit - When selecting the best raccoon carcass for the special holiday roast, both the connoisseur and the curious should remember this simple guideline: Look for the paw.
"The paw is old school," says Glemie Dean Beasley, a Detroit raccoon hunter and meat salesman. "It lets the customers know it's not a cat or dog."
Beasley, a 69-year-old retired truck driver who modestly refers to himself as the Coon Man, supplements his Social Security check with the sale of raccoon carcasses that go for as much $12 and can serve up to four. The pelts, too, are good for coats and hats and fetch up to $10 a hide.
While economic times are tough across Michigan as its people slog through a difficult and protracted deindustrialization, Beasley remains upbeat.
Where one man sees a vacant lot, Beasley sees a buffet.
"Starvation is cheap," he says as he prepares an afternoon lunch of barbecue coon and red pop at his west side home.
His little Cape Cod is an urban Appalachia of coon dogs and funny smells. The interior paint has the faded sepia tones of an old man's teeth; the wallpaper is as flaky and dry as an old woman's hand.
Beasley peers out his living room window. A sushi cooking show plays on the television. The neighborhood outside is a wreck of ruined houses and weedy lots.
"Today people got no skill and things is getting worse," he laments. "What people gonna do? They gonna eat each other up is what they gonna do."
A licensed hunter and furrier, Beasley says he hunts coons and rabbit and squirrel for a clientele who hail mainly from the South, where the wild critters are considered something of a delicacy.
Though the flesh is not USDA inspected, if it is thoroughly cooked, there is small chance of contracting rabies from the meat, and distemper and Parvo cannot be passed onto humans, experts say.
Doing for yourself, eating what's natural, that was Creation's intention, Beasley believes. He says he learned that growing up in Three Creeks, Ark.
"Coon or rabbit. God put them there to eat. When men get hold of animals he blows them up and then he blows up. Fill 'em so full of chemicals and steroids it ruins the people. It makes them sick. Like the pigs on the farm. They's 3 months old and weighing 400 pounds. They's all blowed up. And the chil'ren who eat it, they's all blowed up. Don't make no sense."
Hunting is prohibited within Detroit city limits and Beasley insists he does not do so. Still, he says that life in the city has gone so retrograde that he could easily feed himself with the wildlife in his backyard, which abuts an old cement factory.
He procures the coons with the help of the hound dogs who chase the animal up a tree, where Beasley harvests them with a .22 caliber rifle. A true outdoorsman, Beasley refuses to disclose his hunting grounds.
"This city is going back to the wild," he says. "That's bad for people but that's good for me. I can catch wild rabbit and pheasant and coon in my backyard."
Detroit was once home to nearly 2 million people but has shrunk to a population of perhaps less than 900,000. It is estimated that a city the size of San Francisco could fit neatly within its empty lots. As nature abhors a vacuum, wildlife has moved in.
A beaver was spotted recently in the Detroit River. Wild fox skulk the 15th hole at the Palmer Park golf course. There is bald eagle, hawk and falcon that roam the city skies. Wild Turkeys roam the grasses. A coyote was snared two years ago roaming the Federal Court House downtown. And Beasley keeps a gaze of skinned coon in the freezer.
With the beast fresh from the oven, Beasley invites a guest to lunch.
He believes coon meat tastes something like mutton or pork, but to the uneducated palate, it has the aroma and texture of opossum.
While Beasley preps his coon with simple vinegar brine and spices, there are 100 ways to cook a coon.
There is roast coon with sweet potato, sausage and corn bread stuffing; raccoon cobbler and roast marinated raccoon with liver and onion. It is this reporter's opinion that the best sauce for coon may very well be hunger.
The story of Glemie Dean Beasley plays like a country song. The son of a sharecropper, Beasley left school at 13 to pick cotton. He came to Detroit in 1958. His woman left him in 1970 for a man he calls Slick Willy.
Someone stole his pickup truck and then someone killed his best dog.
"I knowed some hard times," Beasley says. "But a man's got to know how to get hisself through them hard times. Part of that is eating right."