Saturday, February 28, 2015

'Old-fashioned coon hunting is disappearing from scene'

George 'Buster' Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Old-fashioned coon hunting is disappearing from scene,” was originally published in the Nov. 11, 1993 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Very few of us today remember the joys and excitement of a good, old-fashioned coon hunt. I know the proper words are raccoon hunt, but to some of the country folks I grew up with, using the word raccoon was a dead giveaway of being a city slicker or trying to be just plain smart.

As the fall colors slowly spread across the bottoms and the hill country, there at once was a feeling in the autumn air that it was time to bring out the coon dogs and polish up the old coal-oil lantern for the coming of the coon-hunting season.

Those who were lucky or unlucky enough to own one, also had to get out the old carbide light and do some polishing and “tuning up” on the old relic. This light wasn’t the best for shining a coon’s eyes in the top of a tall tree; but it was better than nothing.

You must remember that most times there wasn’t enough money floating around to purchase one of those new-fangled, high-priced spotlights.

Then, the old blowing horn had to be brought out and a few practice calls sounded on it. If the fat, sleepy, lazy coon dogs came out from under the house and began to howl when the horn was sounded, the horn blower knew that he was in tune.

To keep the old horn in good condition, a little bacon grease was rubbed on the horn to keep it from cracking. After all, it had been hanging in the smoke house or on the back porch since last coon-hunting season.

After all the necessary preparations had been attended to, the next thing was to check The Ladies Birthday Almanac for the date for the first frost. This was of great importance; country coon hunters never, never started the fall coon-hunting season until Jack Frost had blanketed the countryside with a heavy silvery white blanket of chilling frost. This also told the coon hunters that the wild persimmons would be turning red and ripening. This meant that the coons would be on the prowl for a tree loaded with red, juicy persimmons. And the dogs would pick up on their tracks as they wandered and searched for the tasty, red persimmons.

Then, when that heavy blanket of white frost finally covered the countryside, the time was at hand to put up or shut up. Many tall tales had already circulated about that special coon dog that had just been brought in the community. Small bets had sprung forth among the coon hunters as to whose coon dog would be the first to tree the sly old coon.

I never did understand just how these dogs got their names. There was always one in the community called “Ole Blue.” Others were named “Scrap Iron,” “Sweet Voice,” “Big Jack,” “Gypsy Boy,” “Daddy’s Man” and “Big Jake.” The female dogs of the pack had names like “Miss Jessie,” “Lucky Lady,” “Diamond Jill” and “Bonnie Blue,” and then there was “Night Dancer.” Whatever method the dog owners used to select these names, no one ever joked or made fun of these names.

I can see them now – the creeping shadows of darkness settled across the freshly harvested fields. A group of eight or 10 hunters, followed by several small boys, could be seen walking single file across the open spaces toward the deep woods nearby. The clanking sound of a large tin coffee pot and several tin cups carried in a flour sack could be heard rattling loudly as the young boy who carried it jumped across the harvested rows of the last season’s corn crop.

Two or three coal oil lanterns flickered in the early darkness. The carbide spotlight would be saved until that time when the baying bark of Big Jake or Bonnie Blue or one of the other dogs arose on the winds of the evening. Then, the hunting party would stop dead still and debate and argue as to whose dog it was that had treed first. After this was settled, they would hurry on to the tree where the dogs were treed.

Few minutes’ rest

Then, after about two hours, after the fever of the hunt had cooled down a bit, the horn was sounded for the dogs to come in for a few minutes’ rest and a coffee break for the hunters. This was the time that was much looked for by the young boys who had chosen to come on the hunt.

Within minutes, a large fire would warm the chilled air of the glowing darkness. Water from a nearby stream or spring was soon boiling in the large tin pot. As the aroma of the boiling coffee filled the night air, the tall tales would begin as the small boys stretched out on the fallen leaves and listened with wide-eyed wonder. The prized coon dogs had now, too, selected a choice place among the boys, there by the glowing fire.

Somewhere, from the pocket of someone’s jumper, a bag of peanut candy or roasted pecans appeared on the scene. This added greatly to the comfort and contentment of the boy hunters, who by now had chosen an outstretched coon dog for a pillow. A second pot of coffee had finished boiling as the tall tales continued to circulate and grow bigger in the warm air of the glowing fire light.

Dozing boys

A sudden blast on the old horn caused sleeping coon dogs and dozing boys to come alert as the hunt was once again about to get under way. The dying fire was covered over with dirt as the snow-white smoke struggled to break free from its earthen cover. And, in the distance, the barking dogs told the hunters that before long another round of guessing would take place as to whose coon dog it was that had treed first.

Community get-togethers such as this have long faded from the scene. The television has replaced all the togetherness and fellowship that was once enjoyed by the menfolk and the young boys who looked to them for guidance and leadership.

I am truly sorry that our youth of today have missed those wonderful times that I had the privilege and honor to be a part of. Before too long, even the memories of those wonderful yesterdays will have faded. But hopefully, the memories of the good times, experienced on those country coon hunts, will linger forever.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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