Allure Of Coon Hunting
Insights by Georgia coon hunting fanatic John Seginak.
Ol’ Slick “opened up” with a loud tenor bawl, about a half-mile into the Broad River bottoms. He was telling me that a coon had walked there… much earlier in the night. The trail was ice cold. Ten minutes later, I could tell it was gettin’ hotter, as Slick’s barks changed to a shorter, higher-pitched note… two beaver swamps, Beaverdam Creek, and the Broad River later, he gave that extra long, drawn-out, high-pitch to real low-pitch bawl, and I knew the chase was over. He was treed, barkin’ about 60 times a minute, and would continue until I arrived.
There is no “let’s drive around to get closer to the dogs” where I hunt. It is rough, and the water is often deep. Thirty minutes later, I was at the tree searching a massive water oak for the masked bandit. The tree stretched far up into the clear, frigid February sky. It was one of those nights where the stars looked like they were layered, and you could count thousands of ’em if you wanted to spend the time.
Way up at the tip-top of the oak, I finally spotted the coon’s eyes reflecting in my light’s beam, and, judging by the space between its eyes, this one was full grown! The way the chase had gone, I surmised that this was a big boar out lookin’ for companionship, as coons rut in February here in middle Georgia. I loaded the .22 and shot the coon between the eyes. He expired before he hit the water with a resounding splash. Having respect for all wildlife and my hounds, I never intentionally wound a coon to see a fight. I don’t want the dogs or coon to suffer, and my vet bills are high enough as is.
I leashed Slick, put the gun over my shoulder, picked up 20 pounds of harvested coon, and headed out for the mile-plus walk back to the truck.
I got about 50 yards, and the bulb in my light blew… but that’s okay because the type of light I use has two filaments. I turned on the other one, and it blew. (Yep, I now carry two extra bulbs with me… and a small Mag light.) Let’s just say the mile walk back, in total darkness (heavy clouds had moved in), across all those thickets and water, was in itself an adventure. It didn’t help that Slick was smelling coons most of the way, and his obedience only went so far when his nostrils filled with coon scent. The leash must have got tangled in privet and briars 20 times.
When I finally reached the pasture fence, I asked myself, “Why the heck are you involved in this?”
I wear my hip boots under my coveralls… less chance of ‘em gettin’ ripped. The water had gone over my boots in one beaver run I miscalculated, I was bleedin’ from six or seven places, and it was cold enough that by the time I reached my truck, my wet coveralls were frozen as stiff as an ironing board below the knee.
But man, it was fun, and, at least to me, it always is! Several folks have asked me why I enjoy coon huntin’ so much (my best year I hunted 212 nights). Even had one young man comment after his first hunt (that was also his last hunt) that it would have been easier to just stay home and have ice water thrown on him while being poked with sharp sticks. There seems to be no gray area with coon hunting. Folks either really love it, or would sooner be at home watchin’ Fear Factor on TV.
When I was 12 years old, while trout fishing, I met a man by the name of Mr. Russell Campbell. He suggested a few dry-fly patterns to match the hatch on the stream. As we talked, I noticed a “Coon Hunt with Redbones” patch on his hat, and asked him about it. He told me about coon hunting with his hounds and invited me on a hunt. It took exactly one hunt to hook me on the sport. That’s how my affliction got started. Sort of a no brainer, as I loved dogs, being in the woods, and hunting of any kind. And Mr. Campbell had some fine hounds. On that first hunt, Ol’ Ike treed four coons. Also known as Grand Nite Champion “PR” Campbell’s Red Ike (his United Kennel Club registered name), he was the Maryland State Champion three years in a row.
When I turned 15, I used all my birthday money and savings from working as a dishwasher to buy my first hound, a Treeing Walker. His name was Rock, and he’s still one of the best I ever owned. I competition-hunted him, and made him a United Kennel Club Grand Nite Champion, the highest degree a hunting coonhound can be awarded. I’ve had Treeing Walker hounds ever since, with a few of the other five breeds thrown in (Bluetick, Black & Tan, Redbone, English, and Plott).
Yep, been at it for 39 years, and don’t foresee my givin’ it up. Why do I enjoy coon huntin’ so much? Several reasons, I guess. There’s just something intensely exciting — at the same time peaceful — about being out in God’s woods on a cold, crisp, windless night. Stars fill in heavens, and maybe a big orange moon is coming up over the horizon. If it’s February, sometimes six or seven barred owls are hooting down through the swamp, not to mention a great horned owl or two.
You turn your hounds loose, and then wait with anticipation for one of them to tell you that they’ve found where a coon has traveled. Sometimes in a minute, sometimes a lot longer, you hear an overpowering foghorn bawl in the darkness, and the chase is on! The dogs might strike a coon at your feet, or they might be a mile deep in the swamp. The same thing never seems to happen twice, as every hunt is a bit different. Another reason that I enjoy it so much is the chase may be a “pop up” and last only seconds, or it could be a hard-running, rutting boar coon of the winter and the chase could last as long as an hour. When the dogs tree, they change their bark from a long bawl to an excited chop. Some dogs bark more than 100 times a minute when treed.
Now, I’ve heard people say, “I ain’t runnin’ through the woods at night chasin’ no coon dogs.”
Folks, if you have to run after your hounds, you don’t have much for coon dawgs. When mine tree, they are there until I arrive. I have found them treed after daylight on many occasions.
When you arrive at the tree, the challenge of finding the critter arises. It is amazing how a 15-lb. coon can hide in a tree, even if the leaves are off. Once found, most of the time the dogs are petted and leashed. The coon is left to run another night. Most years my hounds tree more than 200 coons, and I usually shoot around 10. The joy is in the hunt and chase and knowing you trained your hound right with a lot of hard work. In coon hunting it’s definitely not the kill.
Coon hunting is a sport the whole family can enjoy, and a wonderful introduction to hunting for children. Kids don’t get bored, as they might sitting in a deer stand for hours, because there is almost always action as you are walking toward the dogs. A lot of wives or girlfriends that might not care to be involved in a kill can still enjoy seeing the dogs work, the night, and seeing the coon perched in a tree. I began carrying my daughter on my shoulders when she was 2 1/2 years old. In the winter, it gets dark early, so you can hunt for two or three hours and still be home at 8:30 p.m. for the children’s bedtime. Needless to say, it is also great exercise for all who participate.
Yeah, there are some rough hunts, such as backing into a hornet nest while searching for the coon, hitting that “over your head” run in a beaver swamp when it’s 32 degrees, stepping off into a chicken pit, or, before tracking collars, losing your hound on competition hunts in far-off states for awhile. But it’s all worth it.
What is the future of coon hunting? This is hard for me to swallow, but it doesn’t look good. I only hunt my hounds on properties on which I’m positive they won’t vacate during the course of a hunt. It takes a lot of acreage in one hunt with hard-going hounds. With all the development and subdivisions that are scarring the countryside, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do. The only place left may be National Forest in 20 years. I have been on larger properties (3,000 acres+) and have been cursed by someone who bought a three-acre lot beside it to get out of the city. A hound was killed in Madison County this year under such circumstances. A part of our hunting culture may be lost. My hounds are like part of our family. I would hate to think how I might react if someone needlessly took one of their lives.
Instead of watchin’ some half-baked excuse for a TV show this winter, hook up with someone with good coon hounds and give it a try. From the start, you’ll either love it or hate it.
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