My first experience coon hunting
By Sam Crews
In most hunting or fishing that I do, there comes a time when quiet and patience are very much required… I feel alone with nature, and my thoughts to take in the subtle details. Coon hunting was quite different, and I had the opportunity to experience my first on a Saturday this past fall. I spent the afternoon before hand catching up with old friends over oysters, meeting new ones, and eating delicious food. The social afternoon then transitioned effortlessly to an evening of adventure. Our leader was Sidney Jones, formally a Game Warden from Estill, SC, but his 9-year-old hound Sassy could arguably have filled that role on her own.
As we set out for the woods, I listened to Sidney explain how he and his dogs worked to track the coons, I heard others tell stories of past grand coon hunts, I heard the photographer talk about what would make a great photograph, I shared a moment with friends looking at the stars, I discussed the subtle details of the woods with some much more experienced and some less experienced woodsmen. Each moment left an impression on me that made me feel more connected to nature and closer to the community of friends invited to this grand event.
In the coon hunt, there is constant companionship, teaching, and learning. Sidney certainly knows coon hunting, coon dogs and coon hunters. He made everyone feel as they were part of a coon hunting team. He was great at explaining things in simple terms and telling relevant stories that captivated his audience. People were asking good questions, and everyone had the opportunity to make special memories, no matter how much experience they had, in the woods. I feel like I could have met Sidney in any century– 1615 or 2215 and he would be the same endearing, outdoors-loving man.
We released the dogs, happy and driven, into the dark of the woods to take in the subtle smells and find a coon. Soon the bay of their voices let us know they were on a trail, and then a subtle change in their bark alerted Sidney that they had treed their coon. Their excitement reminded everyone running through woods after them that what we were doing was both fun and urgent. I think everyone, no matter their experience with hunting or dogs, could understand what was happening just by listening to barks, yelps, and howls. We all had our flashlights ready and were properly dressed for this moment, to jog through the wet dark woods to where the dogs had done their part, to tree a coon.
We followed the barks and lights in front of us until we saw the dogs jumping up the trunk of the largest tree in the area. Everyone gathered and before I got there, I heard someone yell “THERE IS THE COON!” This whole time the dogs were going crazy, they had treed a coon, and they were not going to be satisfied until they saw the fruits of their labor. When we got to the tree, I could not see it anywhere in the branches. We were all gathered around with flashlights pointed up into the tree. The situation was tense and energized by the tireless barking.
The only thing I could think of for the next few minutes was where that darn coon was and why I hadn’t seen him yet. I observed every twinkle of light that could have been eyes, and tried to understand people explaining what they saw. The communication between a group that large was incredible as we all tried to simply see a raccoon we knew was there.
Questions, answers, and comments were blurted out as everyone was trying to see what we had come to find. Those who could see the raccoon struggled to find what words would help those who couldn’t see find the raccoon.
“Where is it?” “He’s way up on that branch.” “I can’t see it!” “Not that one, a higher branch!” “THERE HE IS, I SAW HIS EYES!” “I still can’t see it!!” “There’s another! There are TWO!” “Where are they?” “You see that branch with the fork in it? Two up from there.”
To get the raccoon to look out at the lights and provide a shot, Sidney used a coon squaller, a call that mimics the sound of two coons fighting, and that sound can only be described as terrifying sound that shrieked like an animal’s last energetic fight for life. The aggressive call was attention grabbing. If not before, we now knew that we were not just stalking the coon, but chasing and harvesting him.
During this time of great excitement, Sidney asked who was going to shoot the gun and our host called, “SAM CREWS, Where are you?” I no longer was focused on tree. I felt honored and humbled to be chosen to play a critical role in the climax of this group adventure. I walked briskly to Sidney through the crowd who was still looking up, he handed me the gun and I was ready to calmly shoot the prize we had all come for.
There was one problem… I still couldn’t see the coon!! I was now holding the gun and pointing it at the top of the tree but I couldn’t see the coon whose eyes I swear I had seen just a minute before. No matter how hard I looked and how intensely I listened to the other’s directions, I could not find the raccoon. I couldn’t tell you if this went on for thirty seconds or thirty minutes, but eventually, a shot had to be taken and I could not see the raccoon.
Sidney said, “We need to take the shot,” and I handed him the gun. POW! A raccoon started falling from a full 20 feet above where I had been intensely observing every movement. I heard people yelling about a second coon. And seconds after the first hit the ground, POW! And another coon was toppling through the branches.
The atmosphere instantly changed– we were not being skunked this night! A flurry of questions were posed to Sidney and throughout the group about the dogs, “What were we to do with the coon?” “Who had seen the coon?” “How did we just do what we did?” “What would we do now?”
We took pictures and the dogs got to mouth their prizes for a second. Everyone was talking to someone and continuously looking back to see the raccoons that had just minutes earlier had been staring out of the tree at us and going about their business like any other night before Sassy picked up their scent.
I was asked to walk back with Sassy. Her tail was wagging and her head was held high. There was no barking on the way back, and Sassy was walking with purpose and pride. Everyone was talking to someone about what we had just done.
From the time I first heard Sidney tell us a coon had been treed until we were back in the truck with 2 dead coons, I felt like I was 13 years old.
Memories from my childhood mixed with nostalgia from movies and books had caused me to expect in a coon hunt a low-anxiety, adventurous, welcoming atmosphere where people were able to enjoy nature and each other. And that is just what we had.