Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Coon Hunting WIth Jim Riggs

"We will either find a way, or make one."
This famous quote said by Hanibal, took on a new meaning for me last Sunday...
Two years ago I had the distinct privilege of living with some wonderful people down near Dallas who own a coon hound. Maggie's her name, and she is quite a lady. I got pretty close with Maggie over the course of the 6 months I lived with her (most likely our bond became strongest after I made and ate a peanut butter sandwich out of the peanut butter jar that was used to dip Maggie's dog bones in, which happened to be kept in the human food pantry - how's a guy supposed to know that one of the peanut butter jars is not for humans - possibly when I found chunks of bone in my sandwich I should have stopped eating and realized something had gone awry). I thought to myself many times, I wonder what it would be like to actually take a coon hound out on a hunt, because obviously living in the Dallas area doesn't present many opportunities for this.

I finally had an opportunity to experience a coon hunt last Sunday. Jim Riggs, the gentleman that runs the stables next to Camp, came over around 5:30 on Sunday evening with his coon hound, Bruno. We enjoyed a delicious 3 meat Roma oven pizza, and then met up with Jeff and Kevin. As we walked down to Lake Jake, I began to imagine us being in a movie and trying to decide which song would be playing in the background as we approached the lake. I'm thinking anything country would have sounded good.
Coons like to be near water, so releasing Bruno near the lake, which is a stones throw from Harrison Creek, seemed like an obvious choice. It was a chilly and overcast evening, perfect for coon hunts, but it was going to prove difficult for us to navigate through the woods.
There was no need to give Bruno a pep talk before Jim took him off his leash. Bruno knew he had a job to do, and he wasn't going to give up until he was successful. He took off like a flash towards the blue trail, and then back tracked and headed towards the creek near the settler girl cook-out area. Harrison Creek is narrow and shallow, overgrown with honey suckle, and surrounded by a forest of oaks and pines.

The four of us waited near the canoe rack at Lake Jake listening for the howl from Bruno letting us know he'd hit a scent. Only a couple minutes passed before we heard the sweet sound of joy coming from our little buddy. Immediately, Jim took off around the lake and started bushwacking into the woods near the rope swing. The rest of us did our best to keep up, as this was our first times.

Finally after what seemed like half an hour of blind bushwacking, we caught up with Bruno on the far bank of the creek. He was scrambling around howling like crazy, unfortunately though, he wasn't howling up towards the direction of a treed coon.

The ideal coon hunting scenario would have the dog chase a coon up a tree. The dog would then stand guard at the base of the tree until the hunter caught up. From there it's pretty simple: just shine a light up at the coon and pull the trigger of your gun of choice.

Things are a little more difficult when the coon runs under a bank, which is where Bruno's coon saught refuge. The cave under the bank was too deep to see up under, and the countless roots of nearby trees made it impossible to dig the coon out. We did our best to aid in Bruno's digging, but I think we all knew that this was going to be an undertaking we just weren't prepared for.

Bruno would not give up. He was howling like crazy and running back and forth between the two openings of the cave, and he kept looking up at us for help. Unfortunately, the two openings of this cave had roots nearly the diameter of a Nalgene bottle covering the holes. A dog the size of Bruno was too big to get in after the coon, and the roots were too big for us to pry apart or dig out.

After about an hour, and with the coon still perfectly intact under the bank, we tried twice to move Bruno elsewhere in the hope he'd pick up on the scent of a different coon, but both times, even though we'd moved him several hundred yards away, he immediately returned to the site of the original coon.

We caught up to him again, and this time there was a sense that if Bruno wanted the coon that bad, nothing could stand in our way.

Bruno was determined as ever, even in the face of doubt and pessimism, not unlike how I've felt in my quest for the finest mustache west of the Mississippi on Dec. 27, 2008 in Duncan, OK.

Finally, with the aid of Kevin's shotgun, we were able to find a way to get Bruno through the roots and into the cave. Before he slithered in after the coon, he looked back and gave me a wink.

Okay, he didn't wink at me, but in my mind I had a dramatic movie moment of him giving us all a head nod and a wink, as a way to tell us, "Hey, I'll be fine guys, don't worry about me".

Before I could get caught up to much in this moment (the song "The Final Coundown" was playing in my head), the loud squeal of a coon fighting for his life could be heard echoing through the pines as far away as the Ho-Chunk Casino.

Finally, realizing he didn't have a chance for survival against Bruno, he decided to run from the cave, not knowing that he had a better chance against Bruno than he did versus Jim's .22.

It was a victorious and manly walk back to Tom's maintenance shop to skin the coon.
Bruno was happier than Bill after a Red Sox World Series Championship, and the song playing in my head for that walk, covered in mud and carrying a dead, 20 pound coon was "I'm Shipping up to Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys.

Much joy for all parties in this photo (minus the coon).

Kevin and I are happy to pose with the coon.
Bruno is ready for the next hunt.

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