Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Coonhounds" by Abraham Lincoln

Times have changed a lot over the years but for a host of animals time ran out.

It used to be that raccoons were killed, skinned, and the fur was made into fur coats for the ladies. The tails become Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone hats with the tails hanging down the back. I don’t see kids riding bicycles with a foxtail at the end of the handlebars flapping in the wind.

Raccoons or “coons” as red necks called them, used to be hunted, at night, by men who kept dogs called “coon dogs.” Their objective was to kill as many coons as they could; and then skin them, and stretch the skins on a wire frame, inside out, and let them dry. When they had a stack of "pelts" they could sell them to a "fur buyer."

My father-in-law and his father both hunted coons and the barn siding was covered with stretched coonskins drying out. When the fur buyer came around the coonskins became the subject of conversation almost as intense as talk about tobacco when the tobacco buyer came around to inspect your tobacco before offering a price.

The money they got for killing, gutting, skinning and stretching coonskins didn’t put any groceries on the table but it was used to buy coonhounds, guns and shells.

A "coon hunter" used to go to local woods and turn his dogs loose in the woods. It would be after dark but as soon as one of the hounds caught the scent of a raccoon, the howling and barking would begin.

Since raccoons forage for food at night, the dogs would soon smell or sniff out a coon and begin barking. The hunter would listen to the sound the dog made and could understand if the dog had just smelled a raccoon or if, in fact, the dog had chased a raccoon up a tree.

When the hunter heard the "treed" howling or barking, he would follow the sound through the dark woods until he came to the tree with the dog at the base. He would look up and with his flashlight see the coon in the tree and shoot it with his rifle. Trying desperately for a headshot, so as to not spoil the rest of the fur with a hole in it, the animal was shot out of the tree.

When I was at home and before I went into the Army, I could hear the Blue Tick coonhounds almost every night. Their howling bark was a sign to me that some poor coon was going to be killed and its fur would be stretched out to dry before morning.

You can still buy Coon Hounds and people still use them to hunt raccoons. The Blue Tick is one of the favored hounds and is a loyal family dog but its nose and its sense of smell can often lead them out of your backyard into the neighborhood where coonhounds might not be appreciated.

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