A SKEPTICAL COON HUNTER'S STORY
By CHAS. BEGIN
I have been a reader of this good old magazine for a number of years, and while I enjoy reading all stories, its editorials and even its advertisements, yet its references to the coon hunter's experiences and the detailed accounts of his thrilling night chases are the things that rivet my attention to your columns more than anything else.
Why is this so? Because I have played the game almost ever since I was big enough to walk. When I was too young to accompany my father and my elder brothers I can remember that my mother and I would sit at a window in one of the upper rooms of our old country home and listen to the hounds bellow while they chased the coon over the field and through the wooded lands, until I would at last fall asleep and revel in the most beautiful dreams of exciting drives with my little self as the leader of the pursuing gang. But in my waking hours how I did wish that I could have been in that hunting posse.
I have not missed reading a coon hunting story for many years, and if the reader of a story is a coon hunter, experienced and seasoned, he will be able to tell quite readily by the gist of the story whether the writer is capable of distinguishing a good dog from a good-for-nothing cur.
In a recent number of your valued magazine I observed a story entitled "A coon hunt in the Hoosier State", by F. P. Raichart. A casual glance at this story would lead one to the conclusion that the man is a real coon hunter, yet remember that he has owned only three No. 1 coon dogs during his fifty years of experience: and to see so many A No. 1 coon dogs advertised for sale through the columns of this magazine, makes me skeptical.
I came at once to this conclusion that seventy-five per cent of the coon hunters do not know what are the qualities of an A No. 1 coon dog and if they did and would take their so-called coon dogs out to hunt along with a real dog they would see their camouflage cur shown up like a lead nickel.
I have had some of my coon hunting friends out with me when my dogs would strike a cold trail and while we might be waiting to give him the time to straighten it out my friend would perhaps say to me. "Well, we will hear my dog away on ahead," or "We will hear him barking treed," and all that sort of thing. And then very suddenly and unexpectedly, we would hear him whining for us to go on; he would be just as ignorant of the start my dog had made of a coon as though he had not been in the hunting squad.
I will here relate an experience that I had with a friend of mine who had purchased a dog from a kennel and he thought that he certainly had a world-beater. I had challenged him for a coon hunt on several different occasions, but for some reason he did not enthuse over the proposition. On a certain morning of the past winter a brother of the man came into my place of business and I at once asked him to lend his assistance in bringing about the hunt, which he thought he was able to do. Within about one-half an hour the man returned to my place and declared that all things were ready for the great drive and it was arranged that I should appear at their home at 6:30 o'clock on that certain evening. The brother who acted as the "go-between" was then making his home at a point some distance from Versailles and while he was tarrying at the railroad station, in waiting for a train, he took a sudden and violent attack of the coon hunter's fever—for he was not immune from the disease—and he there and then decided that 'he would leave off from his work and join in the hunt with us.
While this young man was spending the afternoon in the village where I reside and waiting for the start of the hunt he got to feeling real frisky and offered a wager of $25.00 that, providing we struck a track, their dog would tree first. He found no takers about the stores or other places, for the reason that no person knew anything about either dog, and besides no persons, other than ourselves, were interested. Finally he appeared at my house and while we were making arrangements for the hunt he proposed to wager a ten-dollar bill with me. I told him that I did not care to make a bet, for all that I wanted was to catch a coon, no matter which dog treed first.
It was not very long until we were on our way and we arrived at the chosen hunting ground at about 7:30. We turned the dogs loose, three in all, Nellie, Buck and my friend's dog and were all tuned for a fine night's sport. The dogs had not traveled over more than one-half mile of territory when Buck made a strike and we all sat down on a log to await results. It was not long until my friend's dog came back to us. His master declared that my dog was running a rabbit and that because his dog would not chase rabbits he had returned to us. I told him frankly that my dog was not a rabbit chaser and that whatever my dog was after, the thing had better climb lest he would catch it on the ground. He gave me the merry Ha! Ha! I suggested to my friend that we walk in the direction of where my dog was working and that then perhaps his dog might strike the trail. By this time, however, my dog had taken the trail out of the woods and into a cornfield and when we reached the fence that divided the two pieces of land my dogs had circled the field and were coming back to the woods. My friend said, "You see that it is a rabbit, for they are circling and are coming back." I told him that I would show him what kind of a rabbit it was within a very few minutes, for it was a good, hot trail, and Buck was talking to him in grand style. My dogs moved right past where we were standing in a group and ran over into the woods about one hundred feet and barked up a big elm. I kidded my friend a bit and asked him if he had ever seen a rabbit climb a tree. He gave me no answer. We moved over to the place where the dogs were barking up the tree and. just like a fellow who has a voice like a mowing scythe, sings when a real singer makes real music, his dog began to bark. I turned on my searchlight and discovered, sitting in the first fork of the tree, a nice big coon.
Now, Mr. Reader, will you answer the question in your own minds as to which of the coon dogs would not run the coon trail at all? But do not forget that the man was really of the opinion that he had a real coon dog.
I have another coon hunting friend who resides about ten miles distant from my home and when we visit with one another we talk "coon" until our eyes stick out, so to speak. Like myself, he is a dyed-in-the-wool dog fancier and he is just one of the mortals of this world who always believe that "theirs is the best," while I meet him fifty-fifty with the same declaration.
As a means of settling a dispute he invited me to spend a little time at his place and have a coon hunt with the object in view of testing the skill of our dogs, with three in the contest. I accepted his proposition and it was arranged that I was to present myself at his place on a certain Thursday evening. In compliance with our arrangements I was on the job on schedule time. I told him to get his dog and we would drive my big five-passenger (Ford) to the woods. We had not proceeded twenty rods into the woods when Nellie (that is the name of my Airedale) treed something in the hollow of a sugar tree. I procured a stick and punched in the hole, but could not locate anything. So we decided to go on. but, to our annoyance, she would not leave the tree and we had to go back twice before we finally got her coaxed to follow. We then proceeded, but had not walked over forty rods when Buck (that is my black, white and tan hound) opened up on a trail. Buck is an open trailer while X'ellie and my friend's dog. Jerry, are both Airedales and of course are still trailers. My friend spoke out and declared that we would sit down and give the do-us a fair chance: also suggesting that it would he useless to follow them. I followed his suggestion and we sat in silence, waiting for them to tree. Buck has a very loud voice and was just making the woods ring. He trailed for about one fourth of a mile when he sounded the note that he had the animal up and Nellie began to bark "treed."
I said, "Well, they have him up, let us go to them." We were on our way and while walking along I said, "Just listen at Buck and Nellie talking to that old boy." My friend replied, "that is my do? barking up." I gave him the laugh and again declared that I was too familiar with my Nellie's how-wow to be mistaken. He said. "We will see when we get to the tree," and we did. When we arrived at the spot we found Buck and Nellie both barking up a big elm and his canine not in sight. But we had more trouble. We "shined" the tree and then "shined" it again and again, and tarried about the place for more than an hour without being successful in locating anything on the tree except a big square nest. We fired several shots into tin's nest but could not see any coon. The tree may have been hollow, but as I never climb we did not employ this method of search so that we had to go away and leave Mr. Coon unharmed.
We continued the hunt for two or three hours, but never made another strike and while on our way home my friend said that if Jerry had barked we surely would have captured something. No chance for an argument but I will leave it to the readers of this magazine to decide which of us had the better dog.
Such hunts as these have made me skeptical. I have had some wonderful experiences in my hunts during the past winter. Indeed I have met with happenings that I have never known before in all of my life as a coon chaser. I went out on a certain rough and windy night when the average man would seek the comforts of his fireside and feel himself fortunate if nothing would call him out of doors. The wind howled so that the bark of a dog could not be heard for any distance and everything seemed to be against a successful night's chase. While moving through a woods I heard my dog make a strike, but could not tell what direction he was from me. We waited for some time without hearing any more bellows from him and then we began to try to locate him. Our search was in vain. We first thought that perhaps he had taken the trail across the open country and had begun to work in another woods and we went across to those woods. When we found our way into the second grove I heard Nellie barking "treed" and we proceeded in the direction from whence we heard her cry. We thought that she was barking at a tree at the edge of the woods. When we arrived at the spot we found that she was out in the field. I then thought that perhaps she had a skunk; but when we made a close search for her we found that she had moved farther away. She kept bellowing, and led us over one-half mile of territory and to a spot where they had two coon up a tree. The tree stood out in an open field and her actions showed that she came back and got us and lead us to the spot where the prizes were to be found.
Some other skeptical coon hunter will read this strange story and perhaps doubt its truthfulness, but nevertheless it is a fact.
I have heard coon hunters say that they have gone into a woods, following in the wake of other coon hunters, when the latter had just retired from the place, and caught coon, and the other fellows' dog never made a strike, but I take the opportunity to write that the fellow who will tell such a story is an inexperienced coon hunter.
I am going to write of an experience that I had during the past winter, it was about the middle of December, when a friend and T went forth into the night. We had passed through a woods and were walking down an old fence row towards another woods. The abandoned fence line was grown over with bushes and other underbrush, with now and then some small trees. By the time we arrived at the second woods it became quite blustery and snow began to fall. At intervals the snow would fall thick and fast and then calm would prevail for a few moments. I remarked to my hunting pal: "I believe it is too blustery for coon to run, so let us turn around and go back home." He very readily agreed and we started back over the same path that we had followed on our trip out. Before we reached the first woods through which we walked on our outward journey the dogs scented a coon, or coons, along the old fence row. Nellie and my partner's dog began to bark up one of these small trees while Buck was working on a trail in a near-by cornfield. He was tonguing pretty fast and furious, for it was a good, hot trail and Nellie could not withstand the temptation, so she left the tree and joined Buck. She had scarcely gotten to the place to join him when she caught the coon on the ground. We hustled to the spot where the skirmish was taking place and were accorded the privilege of seeing the faithful pair stretch the coon out cold. After the coon had passed in his checks we drew some twine from our pockets and were tying it on to one front foot and one rear foot, so that it would be easy to carry, when the dogs returned to the place where Nellie and my friend's dog had made the first demonstration and their barks called us to them once more and to our amazement and satisfaction there sat another coon.
We gave due attention to coon number two and then started to walk through the woods, but did - not go far until the dogs treed an opossum. This was unusual because it had not been more than twenty-five or thirty minutes since we passed over the same territory. The reader can readily see that the coon had come down after we had passed through and had hunted the corn field for food.
The way in which I get the most pleasure out of coon hunting is to go out with some other coon hunters. I have driven twenty miles several times during the winter just to run my dogs against the other coon hunter's dogs and I have never yet found a dog that has been able to show greater skill than mine. I have found only one other dog that has shown class equal to my own; however, I do not claim that mine is without fault or blemish.
I hope that my brother coon hunters will not condemn me for being skeptical in regard to the A No. 1 coon dog.
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