By his count, Chris Jones and his friends have introduced more than 30 young hunters to the fine art of coon hunting. Now, he can add one 65-year-old to the list.
After nearly a decade, I finally ran out of excuses and joined him and hunting partners Phil Flurry and Blaine Armstrong on a hunt in northern Ouachita Parish. As we wandered off the road into the dark hardwood bottom, I had to ask, “Just what are we going to do?’”
“We just go down to an area we know has coons, turn the dogs loose and wait,” Jones said. “They do the rest. It’s easy.”
Well, at least it sounded easy. It was a calm, peaceful evening with the stars shining brightly. It was a bit cool, which I liked. But it didn’t take long for things to heat up: Casual barking turned to howling to an awful desperate dog sound. If the dogs could climb trees, we probably wouldn’t even need a gun.
My learning experiences started right away.
First, I learned that a non-coon hunter walks at a much slower pace than a real coon hunter, especially in the dark when a dog has treed a coon.
Second, I learned what Jones had described as “easy walking” actually included briskly stepping over fallen tree-sized limbs through terrain similar to an English bog — by flashlight.
I learned that a coon can find a hole in a tree faster than a mosquito can find an exposed elbow.
After 10 minutes of searching the tree and not finding the coon, I learned you don’t want a coon dog looking at you. They aren’t exactly happy their efforts went in vain. They give you an evil eye, displaying doggie disgust.
But seriously, it was fun. I see why folks like it so much, even though most of the actual hunt took place well after my bedtime.
I also learned how high-tech raccoon hunting has gotten. Each dog had a GPS collar, and the handler carried a GPS unit that tracked the dog wherever it went. You can also keep up with landmarks, like the road where the truck is parked (which was a huge relief to me since I had no idea where we were). You could even tell how far away the dog was and which direction it was running. When they got on a coon, Chris would say, “Oh, he’s running in a circle. He’s about to tree.”
Sure enough, within a minute the baying would begin.
One time the GPS indicated the dogs treed 612 yards away, across a creek. I sat that one out, leaning on an old fallen log and feeling confident (well, at least hopeful) that Chris, Phil and Blaine would come back to get me before something else did.
Soon I heard the pop-pop-pop report of the .22 — and the barking stopped. A few minutes later I caught a glimpse of flashlight beams heading back my way. I wasn’t too worried, because before I let them get out of my sight, I made sure I had a good strong cell phone signal … just in case.