As the evolving landscape of agriculture changes, the life-long enjoyment of raccoon hunting is changing right along with it. I married a dyed-in-the-wool coon hunter, who once sneaked out of the house as a little boy to tag along with his dad and his maternal grandfather after realizing they were going hunting without him.
Why sleep when you can chase raccoon through the woods?
His mother was wise enough to know the very best thing to do the minute she realized her little boy wasn’t in the house. She stepped outside and began calling for his dog, and noted the direction from which it came, then let the dog lead her to the preschooler. She knew a thing or two about following a trail. She was a coon hunter’s daughter, after all.
Years later, my father told us normal people were in warm, soft beds while coon hunters trudged through cold terrain filled with thorns. I tagged along anyway, many times, before our babies came along.
Dad offered us plenty of good acreage to hunt, and Doug had permission on a great deal of additional acreage back in the day.
Playing a large part in the current change is the number of landowners now leasing their ground to deer hunters, shutting out the sportsmen who simply love the thrill of the hunt with dogs they have trained to track and tree raccoon.
Add to that the changing interests of a younger generation, and the recreational sport of training and keeping a hunting dog is fading across the heartland. And trained dogs play a very large part in the sport. Coon hunters are notorious for chiding one another about the breed of pup they have chosen.
For Doug, the Black and Tan was top dog. He enjoyed competition coon hunting with some impressive hounds and loved and lost some of the best hunting partners over the years.
When the night air began to chill each September, the spark of hunts to look forward to began to simmer.
November was a month to look forward to, with opening day of coon season noted on the calendar. During the season, after a hearty supper, Doug would get the dogs loaded in the box in the bed of his pickup truck and gather up the essentials for the hunt. No matter that he had done this thousands of times throughout his life; every season was exciting.
Things began changing as farms changed hands or were sold into lots, with new homes built in or near woods he knew by heart. It was a punch to the spirit to know he would never hunt in some of his favorite haunts.
Even if he had permission on neighboring ground, it wasn’t worth riling a new homeowner on a dark winter night if his dog ran a track too close to homes. As the years went by, those night hunts have become fewer and farther apart, but the coon hunter still runs deep in his bones.
Next week: the rugged, early days of the hunt remembered.
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