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A tale of poor man’s hunting

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POSTED September 2, 2010 2:35 a.m.
Depending on what kind of hunting you examine, hunting can be either a rich man’s sport or a poor man’s sport.

This week, I thought I’d relate an experience that leads one to believe hunting is definitely a poor man’s sport. Once upon a time I was lucky enough to have a brother-in-law who was a fanatical fancier of hound dogs.

We started the evening at Dave’s house in an east Stockton area more commonly known as “Oakieville.” After a dinner of pan fried pork chops and hash browns, we headed out back to the kennel to load up the hounds. I thought I knew a little about hounds since I read a number of outdoor publications, and have heard all about such exotic hound breeds as Blue Ticks, Red Bones, and Walkers.

“What kind of dogs are these, Dave?”

Dave looked at me as though I must be incredibly dumb. “They’re hounds.”

“I know that,” I replied, “but what kind of hounds are they?”
I got another one of those looks.

“Coon hounds.”

On the third try I asked what breed they were, and whether they were registered with the AKC or something like that. After another incredulous look, Dave patiently explained that no “true” coon hunter would have much to do with pedigreed dogs. Pedigreed dogs, it seems, are just pretty animals for rich folks to enter in dog shows, and really aren’t worth much when it comes to real coon hunting.

Dave told me in the truck as we drove to meet the other coon-doggers at Johnnie’s Waffle shop that Hank Johnson never had learned that pure bred dogs are next to useless. It seems that Hank had an entire pack of pure-bred Walkers.

Dave observed, “Now you watch what happens tonight, and you’ll see I’m right. I’ll guarantee you not one of Hank’s dogs does as well as mine. His fancy Walkers with their pretty black and white colors will be lucky if they get to the tree before we humans do.”

Treeing, for those of you not initiated in the sport of coon hunting, is the apex of the sport. Not only must a dog follow a cold trail (that’s one that’s quite old), until it turns hot (that means you’re getting closer), but in order to ever be a really good cooner, your dog has to get to the tree in which the coon takes refuge ahead of all the other dogs.

After riding the last ferry out to the island we were to hunt, I expected a fast and furious chase. Boy, was I surprised when the guys began to scatter and look for firewood to build a camp fire.

“Aren’t we going to go hunting?” I asked. “Patience, boy, we’ll get to that part.”

Soon, the fire was blazing merrily and the dogs were turned loose. I expected we’d take off after the dogs, but they all took off in different directions, and the hunters began to settle in around the fire. As the dogs worked farther and farther out into the darkness, the hunters began to relate tales of hunts long past.

All the while one could hear an occasional yip or snort from some distant dog. We laughed ’til we had tears in our eyes at tales of hunters who had to jump in the river to save some worthless dog from being drowned by a wiley coon, and who almost drowned the hunter in the process.

We got more tears in our eyes as we heard the story of the old coon hunter who wanted to go on “just one last hunt” and who died from a heart attack that very night. Everyone agreed that the fellow died in the second best way possible.

Someone passed a fruit jar around the fire that contained a concoction guaranteed to cure junglerot, or anything else. Suddenly, in mid-story, Dave jumped up as though he’d been snake bit. “Hot damn!” he cried in delight. “Ole Singer struck a hot trail, it won’t be long now.”

Soon, Fred’s Blue joined in the chorus, followed by a pair of dogs owned by an old boy named Will. Everyone was listening intently to the dog music now.

Fred nudged Hank in the ribs and said, “Still haven’t heard your Walkers yet, Hank.They get lost?” Everyone got a real laugh out of poor Hank’s embarrassment.

This time it was Will who broke the spell of the distant dog music. “You hear that? Do you hear that? That was my Queenie that just barked treed.”

Will was ecstatic. “Don’t you fellows wish you had a real dog like my Queenie?” Dave chimed in, “Yep, that’s Queenie all right, congratulations Will.”

One by one, the other dogs began to chime in, and one by one, the hunters knew who’s dog got there second, and third and finally last.

“Let’s go guys,” someone yelled and we began to take off into the darkness toward the sound of the baying dogs. I began to get more and more excited, as we got closer and closer. Before I knew it I was on a dead run.

Wham! Something hit my ankles that felt like a baseball bat. I was falling. My God, that water was cold!

I had run into a downed sapling and fallen into a ditch. Fortunately all of the others were too busy trying not to make the same mistake and would have to wait till later to laugh at my plight.

Finally we arrived at the bedlam that had to be where the coon was treed. Sure enough shining a light up into the tree revealed a pair of eyes shining back at us. “Oh, damn, it’s only a little one,” someone lamented.

Everyone agreed that we ought to let him go.

The dogs were leashed and appropriately praised and we headed back to the campfire to await the coming of dawn.

Cost? Almost none — just a tank full of gas and a jar or two of moonshine.

Rewards? Plenty, as well as camaraderie, laughter, excitement, and exercise. No, sir, there’s no two ways about it; hunting is a poor man’s sport.

Until Next Week,
Tight Lines!
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