I was a coon hunter when I was a boy. It was an inherited trait.
Dad was a coon hunter when he was a boy, too, trekking the woods along the Sac River north of Springfield with his younger brother, Wayne.
Likewise, I hunted with my younger brother, Russell. But, as far as I can recall, we never went coon hunting without Dad taking us. I’m not sure we ever had a choice. I’m not sure I ever wanted one. Russell, a different story, but we both went.
My first memories of hunting with Dad go back to when we lived at Republic and we frequented Pickerel Creek. I clearly recall Dad leaving his coat alongside the road one night when Ol’ Red failed to come in. We waited for weeks with no sign of the big redtick, then one morning I spied him bounding across the field behind our house at the edge of Republic. Somehow he had made his way several miles to get back home. I think Dad was almost as glad to see him back as if it had been one of us boys.
When we moved to the farm in Dallas County, our house faced a big woods across the road, with the upper reaches of Greasy Creek bisecting the property about a half-mile east. Houses were few, and the timber was teeming with coon, possum and squirrels.
It was a country boy’s paradise. As years passed much of that woods fell to the bulldozer, and our neighbor built a new house a few hundred yards down the road. Many acres remained for good hunting along the creek, however, and squirrel hunting was improved by the creation of open areas around the timber.
It was about that time we also began hunting along the Niangua River near Hogeye, as well as along the Pomme de Terre below Potter’s Ford. The Ozarks of the early 1960s still offered lots of unpopulated country for night hunting.
No matter where we went, though, it was much the same — Russell and me shuffling along behind Dad, struggling to understand what he was saying over the rustling of the leaves and listening for the hounds to hit a trail or bark treed.
As I grew into adolescence, it was more often just Dad and me, a big “Radar light” in my hand and an old army bag for carrying hides over my shoulder. Sometimes I carried Dad’s old .22, which he never loaded until it came time to shoot. Then he would slip a .22 short into the chamber of his bolt-action Winchester with the front sight filed down to a razor edge. I would shine the light over his shoulder and down the barrel, and in a single, sharp “pop,” Dad would put a slug between or behind the ol’ coon’s eyes. When our ring-tailed quarry hit the ground, then it was my job to get to it before the hounds damaged the hide.
We didn’t go out at night solely for the fun of it — though that was a big part of it. Coon and possum hides translated to Christmas money.
It’s been a lot of years since I went coon hunting with Dad. I seldom had the opportunity after I left home for college and then the U.S. Air Force. When Dee and I moved to an old farmhouse near Aldrich, though, Dad saw an opportunity to hunt some new ground. So, several times he brought a still-mouth jip up from Elkland and headed out from the house. I don’t think we ever brought back more than a possum or two, but it didn’t matter. I was coon hunting with Dad — and it was solely for the fun of it.
I don’t coon hunt today. I just trap them in sweet corn season — some years a dozen or so — and release them in my woods or down on the river for someone else to hunt.
Yet, as leaves begin to fall and the air turns cool, my thoughts return to those nights of long ago when I followed Dad and a pack of bluetick hounds into the winter woods.
I remember when once we were coon hunters, and I can see Dad taking us into the timber, still.
Copyright James E. Hamilton 2018. Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer in Buffalo. Contact him at email@example.com.