100 Years Of South Georgia Family Coon Hunting
This story ends with a dead coon but includes so much more before the shot.
Coon hunting is at the very essence of our hunting heritage. Man and dog go out into the night, and not just for the kill, but for the chase itself. From the hills around Macon, up through the hollers of the mountains and down in the cypress swamps of the southern portion of our state, it’s a scene that unfolds nightly in Georgia.
The McBride family has been chasing coons through the swamps and river bottoms of south Georgia for nearly a century and have a rich hunting heritage that dates back to the early 1900s. So, when GON told me they needed a coon story for the January issue, I didn’t hesitate to give my good friend Jimal McBride a call to line up a trip.
I tagged along with the McBrides the night before GON went to press, which meant a full thermos of coffee before I headed out. We met just after dark at a small gas station in Patterson, one of those blink-and-it’s-gone towns in Pierce County, and it didn’t take more than a few minutes to feel like I was part of the family, too.
As the family stood in the parking lot cracking jokes and swapping hunting stories from years’ past, I could feel a true love for the sport of hunting that I don’t see as much as I used to. Coon hunting isn’t just something the McBride family does. It’s their way of life.
Jimal’s uncle, James McBride, a seasoned coon hunter of nearly 60 years, had this to say about how he got his start coon hunting.
“We were doing it to eat, to put food on the table you know. It wasn’t a sport to us, it was our way of life. You got to love coon hunting if you’re gonna do it. And man we sure did love it.”
As James continued talking, I couldn’t help but hang on to each word. Decades of wisdom came with each line he spoke, and everyone listened to what he had to say.
“It’s all about the bond with the dog. The partnership. When you’re out in the woods, you count on each other to get the job done. When I hear the first one bark, my eyes light up. I love to hear them jump a coon.”
I asked James what makes a good coon dog, and he had a simple but powerful reply.
“You make the coon dog,” he said. “Now don’t get me wrong, good genetics plays a role without any doubt. But at the end of the day, the hunter makes the dog.”
James said that anyone getting into the sport of coon hunting needs to start by buying a hound they like to look at.
“If you like blueticks, get a bluetick, if you like a walker, buy a walker, if you like the way an old red hound dog looks, get one of those. Liking the dog you have is the first step of the process. The more you like them, the more you’re going to work with them, plain and simple.”
Once you know what breed you like, then you can start looking for a puppy with good genetics.
“If you’re new to coon hunting, you need to start with a puppy. All he’s gonna know is what you teach him. Older dogs that are already trained can have bad habits that are hard to break. Get you a puppy that comes off of a line of known coon hunting dogs and get to work training him.”
James did caution about too much training too soon, warning that you can burn a dog out by not waiting until they’re ready.
“Every dog is different. Some are ready for training at 3 months old, and some might be a year old when they’re ready. You have to work with the dog, at the dog’s pace. And don’t give up on a dog if he’s a slow learner. Some dogs might not really catch on until they are 2 years old.”
While we continued talking, Jimal announced that it was time to hit the road. Everyone hurried to their trucks, and we headed off. Turning down a back country road, the family formed what looked like a quarter-mile-long convoy of 4-wheel-drive trucks lined with dog boxes full of hounds eager for action. Though clueless to what was next, I was eager to be along for the action.
We came to a stop on the side of a dirt road where a clearcut bordered a creek bottom, and Jimal dropped his tailgate in the darkness. He brought out his 4-year-old male treeing walker hound Junior and fitted him with a tracking collar. Then, he let his 9-month-old gyp named Ice out of the box and fitted her with a tracking collar.
“Junior is a good dog, he loves to run a coon. I’ve been working with Ice since summer, and she’s learning good. Being out here with Junior will teach her quick,” said Jimal.
He walked the dogs to the edge of the thick woods and released them from their leashes.
“We call this casting. We turn the dogs loose and let them hunt until they hit fresh coon scent.”
Jimal spent the next few minutes showing me his tracking system, a Garmin Alpha 100 that even with my lack of experience was surprisingly easy to operate. The small handheld unit showed the dogs location, terrain features and their exact yardage from the unit.
“Every coon hunter needs a good tracking system. We hunt WMAs often, and it’s a critical tool for keeping up with your dogs and also making sure you can cut them off if they are chasing a coon toward private property,” said Jimal.
A few minutes later Jimal passed me a high-powered headlamp and some hip waders. Putting them on, I sensed that there might be some water and mud in my near future.
Jimal periodically monitored the dogs location on the Garmin unit, and every few minutes laughter would break the silence of the night as Jimal’s uncles and cousins would tell jokes and cut up out beside their trucks in the darkness on the dirt road.
At that moment I began to realize that coons and dogs were only a small part of the sport of coon hunting.
Then it happened.
A howl. And another.
“That’s Junior! He’s on one!” Jimal said excitedly.
The barking grew more frequent as the race continued, and suddenly the barking turned to a loud chop.
“He’s got one treed now. We got to get in there to him,” Jimal said as he grabbed a gun case and threw the strap over his shoulder.
We hurried down the edge of a fresh clearcut, our path illuminated by head lamps and more stars than I’ve seen in a long time. Each step brought us closer to the persistent calling of the hound.
Drawing closer, Jimal pushed through bushes and briars, crossing a small creek in the process. Finally, through the palmettos I could see Junior with his front paws stretched high up the tree trunk howling and going crazy for a prize that peered down at us from a limb 40 feet up in the air.
If I never coon hunt again, I will never forget the sight of that dog doing exactly what God made him to do.
The McBride family circled the tree as the coon climbed higher, jumping limb to limb in a last ditch effort to escape. Finally offering a clear shot, a few snaps of the .22 rifle later and the coon came barreling out of the sky crashing to the ground. Excitement filled both the hunters and the dogs, as success had been obtained.
Jimal took the freshly killed coon and used it to get Ice excited. With her on a leash attached to a tree, he slowly dragged the coon away from her while she bawled with excitement. After working with the young hound a few more minutes, we headed for the truck and loaded the hounds back in the box.
We drove a few miles down the dirt road and Jimal’s Uncle Jasper turned loose his hounds, and it didn’t take long for his male bluetick to bawl, obviously hot on the trail. The race lasted approximately 30 minutes or so before the sly coon managed to put the slip on the dogs.
“We’ve run this old boar coon a few times before,” said Jimal. “He’s old and smart and can put the slip on a hound dog quick. We gonna get him one day though.”
With the night lingering on and a GON deadline coming closer each hour, I told Jimal and his family that I better make a break for the typewriter and get down to business. After saying my good-byes, I eased slowly down the dirt road with my window down as cool night air rolled in.
As I turned left about a mile or so away, I heard a hound holler in the distance. I smiled as I turned onto the pavement. Coon hunting was about family, and the McBride family had me a part of theirs.
Cooked Coon The McBride Way
Jimal’s dad, Jimmie McBride, doesn’t go coon hunting as much as he used to, but Jimal said he can cook a coon like nobody else can.
Here’s his go-to recipe for preparing a coon.
After skinning and gutting the coon, quarter up the animal like you would a deer or hog.
Jimmie said to look closely for small dark spots spread across the animal’s body in its meat that need to be cut out. This is called musking the coon. Boil the quartered-up coon in a pot, adding seasoning to your liking. Boil the coon until the meat appears about halfway done. When the meat has hit the halfway point of cooking, pop the meat into a preheated 350-degree oven and finish cooking just like baking chicken.
Once the meat is done you can garnish with barbecue sauce, hot sauce, or however you prefer.
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