A Coon Hunting Story

Posted by Terry Beeson on May 13th, 2008
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The light dusting of snow had melted during the day, but as darkness began to fall, so did the temperature. This certainly made for prime coon hunting weather and a phone call from my neighbor, Buddy, had ended with me pulling my insulated coveralls out of the closet. I made the short trip across the dirt road to Buddy’s house just as he bolted out the back door and headed for the dog pen.

As we loaded the dogs, I asked Buddy if he had any idea where he wanted to hunt. We had taken coons that fall and winter in several areas in the northwest part of the county, so I assumed we would pick a spot in that geographic region. I was right, but was a bit surprised when Buddy told me that we were only going to make a half-mile drive to my cousin Barry’s house and hunt the woods and small creek behind his house. Barry was standing out on his porch as we pulled in the driveway, a puff of smoke escaping the hood of the military parka he had pulled over his head. I moved to the center of the truck seat as Barry closed the gate through which we had entered his land.

As he took his place in the passenger seat, Barry offered us a cup of coffee and his special coffee creamer. I answered by holding up our thermoses and patting the flask in the pocket of my coveralls. Barry just giggled and took another sip of his fresh brew.

Driving through the pasture towards the woods that bordered Barry’s farm and one of my dad’s places, we spotted a pair of glowing eyes ahead of us. It was a nice buck that had escaped the sting of our rifles yet another year. We stopped and admired the trophy with visions of a breakfast of fried venison, biscuits, and gravy. But we were in search of coon hides and let the big buck pass.

Almost to our parking spot, we spotted another set of eyes, these much closer to the ground. The headlights soon revealed a large coon making his way across our path. He ran into the high grass beside the trail and we were soon parked and unloading dogs and loading guns.

The two blue tick hounds almost knocked their master over as they exited their box in the back of the pickup. These two, Sally and Jake, were true hunters in the purest sense. A trip in the box meant one thing to them – coon hunting. After a few moments of hurried sniffing, circling, and relieving themselves on the truck tires, the pair began to span out and soon caught the trail of the coon we had spotted a few yards away.

Waiting for them to do their job, we each prepared our carbide lights and used the flame to light our cigarettes. Sipping fresh hot coffee, we took stance around the bed of the pickup listening to the dogs trail the coon, giving shouts of encouragement to them in between plans for the evening.

Soon, the familiar sound of the pair’s voice changed a bit and remained in one spot. This was a sure sign they were treed and we made our way towards the sound. It was pretty obvious to us that the dogs had steered the coon up into a tall persimmon tree on the fence row between the two properties. Sure enough, we arrived at the tree to find the hounds at the base crying and barking their tree calls and a few minutes of spot lighting the tree revealed our first take of the night. One shot from Buddy’s twenty-two took the coon to the ground and into his game vest.

We moved east along the fence towards the creek that we wanted to hunt that night encouraging the blue ticks, crossing the fence, and dodging briars. The trees lining the creek were prime for hunting coons. The point where we reached it was on the north edge of my dad’s pasture and the creek ran along the east boundary flowing due south for at least a mile before spilling into another creek. We took another hide at the creek and eradicated two armadillos as we moved south.

Two coons later, the dogs hit another trail causing us to stop and wait. It was best to let the dogs work and not run the risk of messing up their trailing with our scent or presence. We waited, commenting on how good the hunt had been so far and recalling previous hunts that Barry had not been on while he told tales of some of the hunts on which we had not joined him. But the stories were cut short when Buddy noticed the dogs voice had once again changed to their treed voice. We stood silent for a few moments verifying this and soon were on our way to the spot where they had their prey at bay.

The tall hickory on the edge of the creek leaned out over the water. Below was one of the deeper pools the creek had to offer. Several times, I had fished this section of the creek and knew its depth well. In the summer, it was shallower due to the lack of rain, but in the winter and spring, the creek would fill and bring this pool up to about five or six feet deep. A quick glance across the way and I calculated that at the rock the water’s surface rested meant a depth of just over six feet. I also noticed that the day’s rise in temperatures had not completely melted all the snow and had left ice on the edges of the pool.

Buddy and Barry were at the base of the tree looking up into the branches trying to spot the coon with their lights. I joined them, circling the tree with them and shining the light at different points in hopes of catching a glimpse of a pair of glowing eyes or a patch of fur. We circled several times with no luck and Barry commented that it looked as if there was a hole in the tree about 15 feet up where the coon might be able to hide.

Already having had one back surgery, Buddy was in no shape to do any climbing. Barry and I looked at each other and then the tree. I said I could probably make it, but it would be difficult. Barry was older and had more experience in climbing trees than I, but my youth was thought to be an advantage. Finally, we decided to flip coins, calling odd or even. “Best two out of three?” Barry asked.

I called the first toss correctly, much to Barry’s dismay. But his call on the second toss resulted in a look of disgust on his face, followed by a shake of his head and a grin as I let out a good laugh. I negated his request for a three out of five change and Barry asked me to help him remove his parka for easier climbing ability.

Hot coffee, coveralls, and a walk through the woods had kept the mid-forty degree temperatures of the evening at bay for the three of us, but when Barry removed his parka and insulated overalls, the chill of the night air began to seep through his flannel shirt, jeans, and even the insulated underwear beneath. He looked up the tree with a shiver and a slight “ugh” from his lips again soliciting for another chance at beating me at matching coins. I simply smiled and offered my hands as a foot up for the first part of the climb.

The trunk of the tree offered very little in the way of hand or foot holds for the first several feet of the climb. Barry began to inch his way up and it was obvious it would be a while before we had sign of the coon. With that, Buddy and I turned our backs to the breeze that had come up and the tree Barry was climbing to light a smoke and wait for word on the progress. Grunts and groans came from every higher spots on the tree as we puffed and talked while filling our cups from the thermos and flask.

From over our shoulders, we heard an update stating that the coon was sure enough in the spot we had suspected. If he could just get his foot on that one branch, he would be able to get to the coon. But before we could turn to watch, we heard another set of noises. The first was a grunt, then a loud crack. I raised my head up, looking straight ahead as the sound of a man screaming was interrupted with a large splash. Buddy turned to me and nonchalantly suggested I start the fire as he pulled Barry from the frigid waters.

Without a response, I made my way around the area gathering up as much dry wood, limbs, twigs, and other flammable material as I could find. Luckily I always carried some fire starting material in my coveralls for just such occasions. I stacked what dry leaves, twigs, and increasing size dry wood I could find in the area in a spot I had cleared for the fire and touched the flame of my torch to the fire starter. Buddy was pouring up a cup of hot java for Barry as he shucked wet clothes and shivered. Finally down to his briefs, the fire began to blaze and Barry embraced the heat while swigging the hot liquid Buddy had poured for him.

He stood around the fire while Buddy and I began to fashion make-shift clothes racks to hang his wet clothing close enough to the fire to dry in the heat and smoke. As we stood there watching the steam begin to rise from the drying items, it was silent except for Barry’s stomping, shivering, and groans. We added dry limbs and logs to the fire watching for signs of any hypothermia that might be setting in on our partner. The dogs had joined us in the warmth, lying a safe, but warm distance from the fire, occasionally lifting a head to look at Barry and every once in a while making their way to the base of the Hickory to sniff, bark, and let us know the coon was still there.

Soon, his shivering began to subside and we knew he would be okay. The situation was a serious one up to that point and we had remained silent up until a point when it was finally broken as I commented, “You know, you picked a hell of a time to go swimmin’. Don’t you know we’re coon huntin’ and not on a swimmin’ trip?” Buddy let out a laugh as I chuckled, keeping an eye on my cousin. After a moment, Barry joined in with a belly laugh that seemed to bring his temperature up to normal. He gathered up the only two dry items he had – his overalls and parka – and removed his briefs to allow them to dry more while putting on the other two articles. He was a bit of a sight standing there, his parka hood over his head and his overalls but with bare feet.

It was then that he began to relive the experience and complain that had I accepted the three out of five challenge, it might be me standing there freezing my derriere off. My response reminded him that it was not my idea to make it two out of three and he accepted this with a bit of disgust.

We spent the next couple of hours adding wood to the fire, smoking cigarettes, and drinking hot coffee with special creamer while the rest of Barry’s clothes dried. We told tales of similar incidents in our pasts, inciting laughter every few seconds that helped Barry warm even more. Finally, after all the coffee and creamer was gone, the clothes dry, and the fire dying down, we decided to call it a night.

Walking back up the creek, I told Barry that the next time we decided to go coon hunting with us, I would remind him to bring his swim trunks. He asked me to just be sure and bring plenty of fire starter and hot coffee.

“And special creamer,” Buddy added.

That brought one final big laugh just as we reached the truck. Although the night had been cut short, we had a few coons to add to the collection we would sell to the furrier later that year.

As we pulled out of Barry’s driveway, I turned back and noticed him gathering firewood to add to the wood heater that heated his home. I commented to Buddy that he must still be pretty chilled. We left him alone for a day or two, but then let only four or five hundred of our closest friends know about the incident soon thereafter. The story is still recalled every now and again at family gatherings. But Barry is a good sport about it all.

I bet if he has lived that long, that coon still chuckles every once in a while when he recalls that crazy human going for a cold swim.

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