Coon Huntin’

My wife’s Grandparents lived on a small farm at Chula, GA, a quaint little settlement that has an Indian name which, according to my sources means “Fox.” In the Spanish language the word “chula” means “beautiful woman.” Doesn’t matter to me but I remember that the word “Fox” also means a beautiful woman who is sexy. Anyway, they lived at Chula.

I always liked to visit that little farm. Something unique about it. Sitting on the top of a clay hill, the little house was a throwback to earlier years. It had never had a paint brush applied to it and the weathered heart pine wood was a dark greyish color. Out behind the house was a structure that most people of today know nothing about. It was an outhouse. It was a two-holer if you know what that implies. On the front of the house was the porch which, over time, had begun to slant somewhat toward the clay road which was only about seventy-five feet away. It was a great place to sit in the afternoon and enjoy some country conversation while sitting in a porch swing or on a large Naugahyde chair that had seen its better days due to the weather and sunlight. But it was comfortable. The Coon dogs were laying on the porch with flies swirling around and causing the dogs to occasionally wake up and snap at them. Sometimes they got one. Over on the right side of the yard was the place where they made Cane syrup. Looking at it one would never have guessed that all that wonderful liquid could have emerged from that contraption. A big vat for boiling the cane juice into syrup. A grinder which was pulled around and around by the family mule. But, there it was in all its country glory. Great times were had around that cane mill especially when cane syrup was being made. I remember that the “froth” or foam that was produced as a by product of boiling the cane juice had a wonderful flavor and it was like eating liquified cotton candy. Kids fought over it. One of my wife’s cousins ate cane syrup on everything all of his life. He put it on his meat, vegetables, bread and eggs. Even his tomatos. I thought he was crazy until I tried it. You haven’t lived until you have eaten some fried eggs and grits with some homemade cane syrup on it. Some of the very best eating I ever did in my life was around that old country table with all the family enjoying the food that primarily came from the ground of that little farm. They grew everything and bought very little. Someone would always say, “well, its good but it ain’t like it came from our garden.” Unique times and a very unique family which were representative of many families and small farms in South Georgia in those days. Not much to do out in the country on a small farm like that. You could sit around and feel the warm hen eggs or you could amuse yourself by throwing dirt dobber nests at the Watkins man when he made his weekly rounds. The Watkins man is a subject for another day. But, one thing the men could do is that they could and did go Coon Hunting. The first thing one had to have was some good Coon dogs and my wife’s grandfather, Mr. Nagles had some excellent ones. In fact, they were born and raised under that leaning front porch. They didn’t get sick like dogs of today do. They certainly were never taken to a Vet. Never even crossed their mind. Expensive dog foods were never something those dogs became familiar with. Table scraps after each family meal was it. They gobbled it down bones and all and not a single one ever choked or got skinny. At times one would hear one of the men of the family say: “You know, I think ole’ Mack over there is wormy. He’s acting funny and eatin’ grass. Shove one of those worm pills down his throat and he’ll be o.k.” The family had a certain breed dog which was a Blue Tick hound from a famous strain of dogs and people wanted them. I remember that every Summer when a new litter was born, some men came to visit Mr. Nagles wanting to see the puppies that were sired by this one Blue Tick hound. They usually wound up buying one or two and they paid the unheard-of price of $300 for each one. Well, three hundred dollars back in the mid-fifties was a substantial amount of money. Needless to say, the coon dogs from that farm were highly desired.

Ole’ “Blue” as he was called, was the champion of all the dogs that the family owned and they had about five of them. When the group was coon hunting and most of the pack was barking and howling down at one end of the holler, and Ole’ Blue was by himself at the other end of the holler a half mile away and everyone knew which way to go. “You always go to Ole’ Blue” Mr. Nagles would say. That’s where the coon will be. And he was right! He didn’t get in a hurry. He just listened. And being the excellent and experienced coon hunter that he was, everyone took his advice. So, down the holler we would go toward Ole’ Blue. Finally, the other dogs would get wise and come join him in howling at the coon up a tree. They would get so excited that they would try to climb the tree the coon had chosen for refuge.

After the Raccoon is treed and the dogs begin to sing their howling song, the coon has to be dislodged from high up in the tree so that the dogs can finish the hunt. Two ways to do that. Some brave guy can climb the tree and shake the coon loose from the limb. Risky business being up a tree with a mad and very scared coon. You might fall out of the tree or you might get eaten up in the tree. The next option is to shoot the coon in the hip with a low powered .22 short. It won’t kill him and you don’t want that outcome anyway. The dogs are the ones that finish him off.

The fun thing about Coon Hunting is the activity of one’s dogs. They are bred and trained to track and tree raccoons so they can be flushed out of the tree and then do battle with several dogs who will be watched and cheered on from several yards away. A person does not want to get caught up in the middle of a hound dog and raccoon fight. It would not be fun at all! That’s the kind of thing that “you wouldn’t do again for all the tea in China.” Somewhat akin to being skinned. One wounded coon will hold several dogs at bay until they completely wear him out. Its always a danger that, if one is hunting around a stream or pond, the racoon will drown a dog. They will get on a dog’s head and push it under the water. That coon is one crafty and tough animal. But, after a few minutes, the fight is over and the coon is bagged.

Coon hunting is a tiring sport. The hunt takes place at night because Racoons are primarily nocturnal. At times a hunt doesn’t end until two or three in the morning. A person has GOT to be dedicated to the sport to deal with its difficulties including tromping through the thick woods in the dark always afraid of stepping on a snake or encountering some creature you are not ready for. After all, you are after Raccoons.

Needless to say, that coon hunting is not a refined sport. Not like golf or baseball. It’s rough and unrefined. Not for sissies. Its rough, tough and lacking the manners of other endeavors. One had better be ready to get dirty and wet as well as completely fatigued if they want to be a good coon hunter. The song of the dogs (each one sings a different tune in a different key) is what makes an owner proud. “I can hear my dog. He’s got that coon treed down in the bottom.” Ole’ Blue was getting old and his ears were in tatters where some of the many coons he had fought had bitten his ears and then pulled out cutting the ear for several inches. They were sort of a badge of honor for many coon hunting masters.

Many times I find myself daydreaming about those hunts at Chula on Hat Creek. It’s fun to relive those good times. I have always loved to Dove hunt and squirrel hunt but most of all I muse over the times I went to Chula and went Coon Hunting. I can still hear Ole’ Blue running through the woods and singing his song while we were Coon Hunting.

William F. Harrell

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