Don is a Writer and a Storyteller. He has published over 9 books on varied subjects along with many articles and commentary on his blogs.
Raccoon Hunting on a cold Virginia night.
This particular brand of hunting, more commonly called COON HUNTIN' is very popular in rural areas around the country, especially the South.
And the true enthusiasts have a great time; setting up such hunts, training their dogs, and,of course on the actual hunt itself.
I ended up hunting for Raccoon, with my Father-in-Law, a number of times over the following years, but this was my first time, and it was the most memorable.
A Raccoon in the Wild
Getting Ready to hunt Raccoons
Damn it's cold!
I remember that!
This kept running through my head as I walked over to my Father-in-Law's house to go Coon Hunting with him for the first time.
That thought was quickly followed by "What the Hell was I doing this for?".
I was 24 at the time, so it was 40 years ago that I had my first taste of this strange form of hunting.
I seem to remember that these country in-laws of mine, and many of their friends, enjoyed this sport immensely. They told me that it had something to do with controlling the Raccoon population, Rabies, and "was a lot of fun".
That was OK with me, but I thought it was a little strange considering I had only seen one live Raccoon, and one Raccoon road-kill, in my whole life.
It was strange, but OK. I was killing several birds with one stone,so to speak. I was getting out of the house on a Fall night, and I was doing something to make my father-in-law happy, thus making my wife happy. It seemed like a win-win situation for me.
To say that my Father-in-law (Henry) and I did not get along then was an understatement. The first time I went to visit my wife's family, he essentially threw me out of the house. But that is another story for another time.
Let's just say that Helen and I spent a good amount of our time during this early part of our marriage, working to keep her dad, Henry, the biggest; Bigot, Redneck, and overall Ass, that I have ever met, off of our case.
Now, Henry did love to hunt.
And I mean hunt pretty much anything that lived in the woods and walked on all fours. It was all fair game to him. So, at the time, I wasn't really sure how safe a two-legged animal was in the woods when Henry was around with a loaded gun. This is said to help you appreciate the other side of my emotions that night.
As I walked over to Henry's house, I couldn't help but appreciate the beauty of the night. It was after eight so the temperature had already dropped into the 40's. Luckily there was absolutely no wind, and a big bright full moon was hanging over my head.It was just a great Autumn night.
I had on a warm pair of long-johns covered with an old faded pair of Jeans and a thick plaid shirt. Thick socks in an old pair of work boots protected my feet from the cold, and I was wrapped in my old work jacket, also faded and frayed at the sleeves.
I had been told not to wear "anything you care about, cause it will probably get snagged on something, and get wet to boot" by Henry, thus the snappy outfit.
I went around to the back of Henry's house and sure enough the lights were on in his garage, so I headed that way.
As I got closer I saw that a couple of pickup trucks I didn't recognize were pulled up in front. Both trucks had those wooden dog boxes you see sometimes on the back, that Hunters use to carry their prized hunting dogs around in.
Now, when I say prized, I mean prized.
I had no idea when I moved out into the far reaches of Amherst County, in the foothills of the BlueRidge Mountains, that people who looked so poor would spend so much money on dogs to hunt game with.
The two dogs I remember the best of Henry's was an Arkansas Ridgeback Redbone and a Bluetick. For the uneducated, these are (or were) two of the best breeds of hunting dog, according to Henry. He had papers that certified these poor ugly creatures as being of rare bloodlines and having been trained by the best Hunting Dog experts to be found.
And if anyone dared to question his claim as to the pedigree of his dogs, he would walk casually over to his truck, spitting a little "Chew-Juice" along the way, open the dirty truck's door, pop the glove box and flash his "official" papers to any doubters who would dare to question him when he was bragging on his dogs.
The Bluetick, named of course "Blue", was specifically trained for Coon Hunting and Henry had been "working him" for several weeks to get him used to Henry, his voice, and God only knows what else.
When I walked into the garage, everyone turned and gave me a friendly smile and Henry gruffly said
Come Here Boy and put some new batteries in your flashlight. You don't want to end up on the side of Turkey Mountain alone and in the dark do you?
This drew a round of laughter from the other men, at my expense, so I smiled and quietly loaded new batteries into an old beat up flashlight that Henry had handed me.
I then stood to the side and watched and listened to these veteran Coon Hunters discuss the nights hunt. They were obviously in the middle of a ritualistic round of lies about their dogs and big Coons, and of course those Racoons that got away.
After a few minutes of this, they ran out of lies, and I helped Henry load Blue onto his truck, and we all pulled out for the great hunt.
At the foot of a Virginia Mountain in the wild
After over a half-hour of driving around on single lane roads, and the occasional dirt road, we finally arrived a gate that led onto a beautiful field.
Even by moonlight, it stood out. There had been a corn crop grown here, and the stalks were stacked haphazardly around the field, just like you see in Autumn advertisements, and on greeting cards
I was loving this Coon Hunting so far!
Looking around the Corn Stalks in the field, I noticed that the field narrowed at the far end where I could see a muddy pair of tire tracks.
The tracks, in turn, reached into the woods in the general direction of a heavily wooded mountain. This, I was told, was Turkey Mountain.
One of the other hunters opened the gate, let us through into the field, closed the old gate, and we all drove across the field and onto the trail of those tire tracks.
As we moved forward, into the woods, the temperature seemed to drop another ten degrees, the air hung heavy with moisture, and the trees slowly bent over us and blocked out the Moonlight.
We bounced over those ruts for about ten minutes and finally came to a small clearing beside a dark creek. There was just enough Moonlight to see around this clearing and everyone pulled the trucks up to the trees on the other side of the clearing. We all got out of the trucks, and a few of them brought their guns out with them. We then congregated at the tailgates of the trucks.
The dogs knew something was up, because they had started jumping around in their boxes. One of them would occasionally give one of those long low Hound Dog moans that just seem to run right up your spine. It would be immediately followed by the signature bark of one the other dogs, and everyone would shout "Down Boy".
The dogs would quieten down, for about a minute, and then that anxious, soulful barking would start again.
Meanwhile everyone had moved over to the creek and were planning the actual Hunt. I walked over and learned that the plan was for me and two of the men to go part of the way up one side of the mountain, and wait.
Then at a set time, the remaining guy would release the dogs and run them up the creek. The plan was that the dogs would come across the scent of a Coon, the Coon would run up the mountain, and the dogs would "tree" the Coon.
Now to "Tree a Coon", is to chase it, regardless of, in what direction it decides to run, until the Coon tires and decides to climb a tree to rest. At which point the dogs surround the tree and bark profusely. Eventually one of the dog owners gets there and pulls them away from the tree and Coon until the whole party arrives.
At this point, according to Coon-Hunting rules, the Coon itself, which I had always assumed was a wily creature, is supposed to become stupid and make himself visible to the Hunters.
Then the Hunters are obliged to quickly dispatch him with their rifles. Once shot, the Coon is then supposed to again oblige everyone by dropping clear of the tree, and wait for the dogs to attack him and finish him off.
This, I had been told was the definition of the perfect Hunt.
A drawing of a Raccoon by the Author
Starting out on the Coon Hunt itself
OK, let's stop here for a moment while I explain some things.
I was raised in a city, not a large city, but a city none the less. I married a Country Girl. We moved into a basement apartment in the large house owned by my Father-in-Law. The goal being for us to save some money to buy our own house. And, by the way, I had never actually hunted anything, except maybe cheap gas or a good restaurant before marrying my wife.
I just wanted to clear this up before I go on with this story.
So,to the actual Hunt.
I followed as the other two hunters wound their way up the side of the mountain, in the dark.
Oh yeah, and the flashlight was a very necessary item by this time, as I tripped over dead tree trunks, as tree limbs reached out and grabbed my pant legs and also occasionally slapped me in the face. Not to mention the occasional dark unseen hole in the ground that I would uncannily find and step into.
I was having a grand time already!
Finally, the guys took mercy on me and placed me beside a large Oak tree, in an area with what they called a decent open view of maybe twenty feet in any direction.
They then gave me my instructions ......... You just stand there and wait for the dogs.
The look on my face must said a lot because they said ..... You just stand there! When the chase starts you will hear all of the dogs howling to beat Hell.
I thought: I can do that!
I was told me that if the dogs got close that I was to make a lot of noise, so the Coon would hear me, and thus would turn back up the mountain.
I thought: I can do that ... I think!
They then told me that once the dogs were up the mountain, or had stopped and were barking in one place, I was supposed to run "like Hell" to keep up with the dogs, and get to where the Coon was "tree'd".
I thought: Oh Shit ..... Run ..... in the dark ..... on the side of a mountain? I'm in trouble!
Both of them disappeared up the mountain to their own personal "stands".
So, here I was, alone, on the side of some mountain, way out in the country, in the middle of the night, in dense woods.
Oh Yeah, everyone else had a gun of some sort on them. When I had asked earlier about a gun for me, they said that for my first hunt I would be better off not carrying a gun. And smiled?
No worry though, I told myself sarcastically, I could slay pretty much anything with my trusty flashlight ..... right?
I was reviewing all of this and the overall situation carefully when suddenly there was an enormous ruckus from down the mountain, where we had parked the trucks.
The noise was a combination of dog howls combined with the sounds of things running through the woods below me.
This was all just like the master plan that had been explained to me earlier, so I was really tuned in to this new sport, and thinking:
All right, just as planned ..... on to the kill!
Something is wrong!
All of a sudden, I heard the most horrendous howl from one of the dogs. This howl sounded like a low and long moan of agony. It sent chills up my spine! I didn't know what was happening, but no dog puts out a sound like that unless it is very angry.
Listening closer, I could tell that the other dogs were running up the mountain, while at the same time the miserable one seemed to be running away from us, judging by the receding level of the howls it was emitting.
This was confirmed a few minutes later when I could hear the pack of dogs and whatever they were chasing, pass by me and continue up the mountain.
This was while the sounds from the lone dog continued to fade away down the mountain.
Suddenly, I heard one of my fellow hunters yell ..... Come on men! I think they got it Tree'd!
As instructed earlier, I started to run up the mountain after the dogs that were still howling, continuing my personal level of self-flagellation with the unseen limbs and trees.