Of all the animals in the southern part of the United States, the raccoon is perhaps the most difficult to pursue and to catch, so that among the multitude of sportsmen coon hunting is not a very popular pastime.
To the coon, nature has given most excellent protection; his physical prowess, his courage, his habits and his uncanny slyness make him a most worthy foe. The coon is a tighter of no mean ability, not seeking combat but when cornered he manages to give a most excellent account of himself—this fact is attested to by split ears, clawed faces and chewed legs—all marks of honor borne by the hound.
The coon, to an extent at least, might be classed as an hibernating animal; that is, as cold weather approaches he stores up food and energy in the form of subcutaneous fat and when the chilling winds and snows come he comfortably sleeps in his hollow tree, emerging only on the warm damp nights. While he takes advantage of a break in the cold spell of mid-winter, he is so possessed of the hibernating tendency that should the mild weather continue he is very apt after the first two or three nights to again lay in.
He seeks as his home, forests where large timber abounds, where underbrush and rocks are plentiful and where water is accessible. The roughest ground is his boulevard; he travels over rocks, through the underbrush and in the water as a matter of choice. In jumping from rock to rock, running on the tops of laurel bushes and on fallen trees and fences, swimming amid-streams, circling, doubling and tree tapping, he has a repertoire of tricks that often brings ill luck to the hunter and safety to the coon.
The love of coon hunting appears in part at least to be inherited; most of us recall the thrilling tales of the coon hunts of our fathers and grandfathers; it is deepened by a love of nature and the great outdoors with the excitement of the anxious hounds, the moments of expectant silence, the strike, the tree and the kill.
The coon hunter must first of all be an optimist, how often after an all night's hunt have we literally crawled in at four in the morning without so much as a "mingo possum," it is discouraging hut with a good hot breakfast and the rising of the sun our enthusiasm mounts so that by nightfall we are as anxious as ever to renew the chase. How often after a hard run the coon takes to the rocks or to an inaccessible den. Indeed, we all recall instances where after hours of laborious hacking and sawing with borrowed tools—and they are notoriously dull—the coon jumps from the falling tree to a convenient crevice in the rocks or into the water to his freedom.
Aching muscles, wet feet, bleeding skin and the fear of ridicule at poor luck are sufficient to discourage those who lack patience and persistency in this game that requires endurance and grit.
There is one thing sure, that to catch coons one must hunt not merely to escort the hounds to the nearest woods and there select a rustic seat for repose 'but to exhibit to the hound — and this intelligent animal soon shapes his methods to fit those of his master — a very active and encouraging interest in the hunt. Of course, one is not expected to outrun the hounds, nor is he required to drown their notes with his cries of encouragement but I have yet to see the hound that does not profit by judicious encouragement. Often after a hard chase when the coon has taken to water or is running the fence or on the rocks, a shout to the hound gives him renewed confidence and losses are often quickly picked up.
One must "stick" if he wishes his hounds to hold the trail, too often because the chase leads through swamps or over rocky hills we are inclined to lay back trusting that the dogs will lose and come in, so that we can get home; this procedure loses many a possible catch and ruins many a promising hound. How often, when the trail becomes difficult and the young hounds quit, are we content to give up the chase knowing that the old dog will get tired and come home sometime; and again how often, when we overcome the inclination to quit, when we follow and drive the young hounds in, how the trail warms up, the tree is made and the largest coon of the season is our reward.
Indeed, much of the success of coon hunting depends on the coon hunter himself, he must not only know the habits and haunts of the coon but he must be equipped and prepared to do his part at the tree. Many a coon that has been treed by the faithful hound escapes 'because the tree is too high or its girth is too great for the half hearted hunter to surmount; he circles the tree a few times with the lantern perched upon his head and because he cannot "shine" the coon at once decides that it is a false tree and drags away the hounds at the end of a chain. Such treatment of a hound is, practically speaking, criminal. It is true of course that sometimes the coon takes to a den and nothing short of cutting the tree will result in his capture; here a disappointment of the hounds is justified, for the cutting of den trees means a departure of the coons. Persistence in the practice of "shining" is essential: we can recall numerous instances where the hounds have barked up, on a tree without the vestige of a leaf and yet continued shining fails to show an eye. In these instances tapping on the butt of the tree or starting the climber up, usually stirs up the coon so that he can be located. A little ingenuity, such as notching, sulfur smoking and the like will often dislodge a coon from what seems an inaccessible den.
It is amusing to hear the would-be coon hunter unfold his tale of hardships encountered on his first and only coon hunt and to hear him pathetically end his narrative with the words, "Never again."
The joy of coon hunting is not for the man who is unwilling to endure exposure to the elements, nor for the man who is unable to bear up under fatigue and disappointment.
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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