By: Randy Tucker
It’s an atavistic thrill, foreign to most living in the modern world, but the cry of a hound in chase is a sound that transcends the ages.
My grandfather ran Redbone hounds in east-central Arkansas well into his 60s, and my great-uncle Fred almost always accompanied him with his personal favorite, the Blue Tick.
As an eight-year-old, I was finally old enough to go out with my dad, grandpa, and great-uncle in the primordial forest that still stood behind grandpa’s cotton farm.
It was a wonderful place for a boy to be with his older male relatives as the hounds began baying, straining at their harnesses and waiting to be released.
When they finally pulled the string, off they went at breakneck speed into the darkness. The older guys all carried carbide lights on their hats.
A carbide lamp used an acetylene pellet that, when mixed with water, released the gas. Once the lamp was lit with a match, it produced an erratic glow that waxed and waned off the reflector behind the flame.
My grandpa explained it was much better at attracting a coon in the dark than a standard battery-powered light with a steady beam.
As the hounds ran, my dad and his dad and uncle called out the name of the dog by its voice. There were hounds that specialized in tracking, baying out their location and allowing the hunters to find them, hounds that specialized in treeing a coon or occasionally a mountain lion, and kill dogs: big brutes that liked to fight.
We rarely killed any raccoons on our outings; that wasn’t what it was about. Instead, we’d tree them, shine the light into the tree where they were trapped, and then leave.
The dogs didn’t like it, but it kept the coon population high on that dwindling portion of Arkansas bottomland.
My grandpa carried a 20-gauge Harrington Richards shotgun, and my uncle had an old .22 pistol that looked like a long-barreled Colt revolver, but neither of those weapons was fired much.
Jump ahead a lifetime, and we had a Plott hound named Dan.
The Plott is the only German hunting hound and was bred expressly to hunt lions in Africa. Yes, they’re fearless.
My friend Joe and his son Dwayne sold us Dan and had a bevy of “Plotties,” as we called them, that they hunted with along the waterways and farm fields of Fremont County, Wyoming.
I work as a sportswriter and columnist at a couple of local newspapers, and one year, we had a new sports editor who thought anything Wyoming related, gun related, or hunting related was relegated to toothless backwoods hillbillies.
Jamie even started humming dueling banjos whenever I brought up hunting or fishing.
I invited him out with us one moonless night on Five Mile Creek north of Riverton. He balked at first, but thought it would make a good story to highlight our barbaric practices.
We loaded the dogs and ourselves into two pickups, with Jamie riding we me and my then 13-year-old son Brian.
We let the dogs loose, and they were on a hot trail right away. When you know hounds, you can tell the difference between a cold and hot trail by their voices as they work along the scent line.
These hounds had no regard for fences, patches of thorn-laden brush, or ice cold drainage water; they were out to hunt, and that was the only thing that mattered.
We followed them, hopping over a couple fences before the trail went cold. As we slowed down, we could hear something noisy, big, and fast coming straight at us out of the darkness. Jamie nearly had a heart attack when the horses finally entered the glow of our flashlights. No threat. They were just inquisitive at the human intrusion into their domain.
We gathered the dogs and worked back to the last hot spot they found on the trail.
Off they went again at top speed, this time in the exact opposite direction – to the north along the west side of Five Mile.
Suddenly they all stopped, and the treeing hounds began to have conniptions. They bawled their heads off, but we couldn’t see a thing. We worked the lights through the trees, into the surrounding brush, and nothing appeared.
Jamie began to pop off a little bit, “Stupid dogs, they don’t even know what they’re doing.”
But the hounds did, we just couldn’t see where the raccoon was holed up.
Jamie walked to the edge of the fast-moving water and couldn’t see anything either.
Suddenly it dawned on us: this was one smart coon. He or she had been here before and stymied another group of hounds’ best efforts to capture them.
The fast-moving water had undercut the bank back a few feet. It was fall, so the water level was much lower than the spring when that undercut was washed away.
“It’s under the bank,” Joe told Jamie.
Jamie leaned forward over the water, shined his flashlight into the cut bank, and a pair of eyes stared back at him.
He was shocked and took a couple of steps backwards. “That coon is under there,” he said with a mix of admiration and fear.
Just then, one of the dogs worked its way under the bank, and the coon took off, running straight up the hill towards Jamie. It ran right between his legs.
“Don’t move, the dogs are coming,” we all yelled.
Sure enough, a half-dozen hounds ran straight up the same trail. A couple went between Jamie’s legs, but most steered clear.
We didn’t use my Ruger semi-auto .22 that night. Joe and Dwayne never unholstered their Colt 22 magnum pistols, and the coon got away.
He should have gotten away. That was one smart coon.
We loaded up the dogs. Stood around the front of the truck and had a cup of coffee and called it a night.
It was a connection to my pre-teen years that I’ll never forget and a lesson to our wise-cracking city boy from Boston that things are done a little different out here in the west.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at email@example.com.