Although he now calls himself a “pleasure hunter,” George Ricks is something of an expert on coonhounds.
He participated in competition coon hunting for 10 years and also judged competitive events.
“It got to be too much, with all my other irons in the fire,” Ricks admitted.
He said that there are six dog breeds in coon-hunting circles: treeing walkers, blueticks, black and tans, Plotts, American English and redbones.
“There are good coonhounds in all breeds, but my preference is for treeing walkers,” Ricks said. “They hunt harder, they are faster and I like their looks.
“Any dog of any breed that is worth its keep has had to have broken off some kind of trash — deer, possum; also coyotes and foxes, even armadillos. The hardest thing to break them of is possums; they are climbers. If it climbs, a dog wants to tree it.
“Some curs — mountain, blackmouth and leopard — make good dogs, but I have had better luck with a registered coon dog. They can all smell scent, but many dogs lack the instinct to tree.”
Instinct is critical.
“You cannot teach a dog to tree,” Ricks explained. “All you can do is take them hunting: Either it is a tree dog or it isn’t. If it is, you can fine tune it by working with it — praise for good behavior and scolding or shocking on bad behavior.”
Discouraging dogs from doing the wrong things is something of an art.
“It’s harder to break a bad habit while hunting than at home,” he said. “Wrap a pork chop with a deer hock and put a hot wire around it in the yard. When the dog goes after it, he gets shocked and will holler. Do that twice and he is broke of running deer. The good thing is that I didn’t have anything to do with it. He will associate pain with deer scent, not with me.
“You can do the same thing with possums. Catch a possum and put a shock collar on the dog. When he goes to it, shock him.”
But there are worse problems than dogs running the wrong prey.
“The worst fault is a mean dog,” Ricks said. “If your dog fights, you soon won’t have friends to hunt with. You cannot break a fighter.
“Some dogs just think they own the tree.”
Breaking into coon hunting can be a little challenging. Ricks encourages newcomers to go on the internet to find the closest coon-hunting association, the closest coon dog breeders and coon dog forums where one can chat with experienced coon hunters and ask questions.
Ricks’ biggest advice on buying a coon dog is not to buy it unless the person is committed to hunting it.
“If you can’t hunt it, I don’t care how much it costs,” he said.
As for prices of dogs, Ricks expects to pay $500 to $2,000 for a started 1-year-old dog.
“A nice, finished and broke coon dog 2 to 4 years old will cost $1,500 to $5,000,” he said.