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You would assume that “’coon hunting” would refer to the activity of hunting the wild raccoon. Not so.

There are many types of hunting to enjoy in the United States these days, with several seasons on game and vermin taking place all over the nation at various times of the year.

Most types of hunting are named appropriately according to the particular species of animal hunted. For instance, hunting of deer is called “deer hunting.” hunting of ducks is called “duck hunting,” and hunting of turkeys is called “turkey hunting.” See how simple that is?

One would then logically assume that “’coon hunting” would refer to the activity of hunting the wild raccoon. Not so. ‘Coon hunting involves the hunting of dogs.

If you believe that it is impossible to sweat profusely in single-digit temperatures, you are wrong. ‘Coon hunting provides the opportunity to be hot, cold, wet and lost, all at the same time.

I know all this, because in my younger days, I was involved in ‘coon hunting. The first time I went ‘coon hunting, I was invited by an uncle of mine to join him and one of his sons. The idea sounded good to me at the time, so I accepted the offer—only later finding out that this activity takes place at night, starting about the time that most working humans go to bed.

Throughout that first ‘coon hunting season, most every hunt was pretty much the same. After working hard all day, I would come home, do whatever chores needed doing around the house (such as bringing in wood for the stove) and eat supper. Then, the other hunters would show up, and off we would go in a pickup carrying the three of us and a couple of dogs. In ‘coon hunting, the dogs are the stars of the show, and ‘coon hunters are very proud of their dogs, which can be the subject of intense arguments.

‘Coon Hunting in the LBL

Typically, we would travel about 15 miles to the south entrance of an area created when the Tennessee Valley Authority dammed the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, creating Kentucky and Barkley lakes. The land between these two lakes is called, interestingly enough, “The Land Between the Lakes”; locally referred to as “LBL.”

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LBL was designated a National Recreation Area by President Kennedy in 1963 and consists of roughly 17,000 acres of what was previously good bottom land for farming, along with timber on the ridges. The farmers and others were forced out when the TVA dammed the rivers. That area is now a multi-use recreation area for hunters, fishermen, campers and hikers; it features many miles of hiking and ATV trails. And, it is also well-suited for the activity of ‘coon hunting.

Two things make LBL a great place for ‘coon hunters: There is a lot of forest area habitat for raccoons; and there is plenty of room to chase the dogs without having to trespass on private land, thus avoiding finally finding them a couple of days later.

Go Get ‘Em!

This brings us to the part about how ‘coon hunting is actually dog hunting.

While the dogs might be in pursuit of a raccoon, they also might be chasing a deer, a skunk or another dog. The humans are just chasing the dogs.

The dogs used for this sport are very special dogs that have the ability to cross the roughest terrain available in any given area. They do so as if they believe that it is required of them.

… ‘coon hunters are very proud of their dogs, which can be the subject of intense arguments.

Typically, when the pickup is parked in the darkest hollow in three counties, the tailgate is lowered, and the hunter gives the command, “Go get ‘em,” the dogs leap from the truck bed, cross the nearest stream and immediately head straight up the steepest bluff in the state (Tennessee has plenty of steep bluffs in the dense woods. Much of Tennessee is vertical, with hills, ridges and hollows running in every direction. I do believe that if the state were mashed out flat, the total acreage would exceed that of Alaska!).

Anyway, one could turn loose a pack of ‘coon dogs in the middle of the driest, flattest part of the Mojave Desert, and they would immediately find a deep stream to cross and a bluff to go straight up. ‘Coon dogs have this unique ability.

Which Way Did They Go?

It is at this point in the hunt that the hunters stand semi-quietly for a few minutes. They listen intently to try to figure out which way the dogs went as the sounds of the howling dogs echo throughout the hollows and ridges, making it difficult to determine the direction of the sound. There seems to be an unwritten rule that no two hunters will come to the same conclusion as to which direction the dogs went.

While the dogs might be in pursuit of a raccoon, they also might be chasing a deer, a skunk or another dog. The humans are just chasing the dogs.

Thus begins a long night of pursuing the dogs through ice-cold streams, muddy creek banks, briar patches that could serve well as a perimeter fence at a maximum-security prison and across slippery rocks. If you believe it is impossible to sweat profusely in single-digit temperatures, you are wrong: ‘Coon hunting provides the opportunity to be hot, cold, wet and lost, all at the same time.

Several hours go by as the hunters struggle to make it across every stream, up every hill and be lacerated by every patch of briars in the Western Hemisphere. With any luck at all, the dogs will be waiting by the pickup truck as the morning sun rises, allowing the hunters to arrive back home just in time to put in another hard-day’s work after surviving the night, exhausted and bleeding, in pursuit of the elusive racoon.

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.