An Alabama Boyhood
Written by Maynard Corbett
Chapter 11

The Coon Hunt

I’ve mentioned earlier that I was the bookworm type whereas my brother, Ben, was more a macho kind of guy and a true outdoors man.

I would rather sit around the coal-burning heater at night with a good book and my dog, Rock, at my feet. As for Ben, hunting and fishing was what he lived for. After working all day in the fields, he would spend half the night with Wilson Skeen and his pack of blue-tick hounds, chasing down raccoons in the Poor Creek river bottom.

Mr. Skeen had the best pack of coon dogs in the county. Ben loved to hunt with him. My brother often asked if I wanted to go along, but listening in the dark to a bunch of blue-tick hounds chase a helpless raccoon over 'hills and hollers' just didn’t strike my fancy. Plus, they never asked for Rock to tag along, just me. Mr. Skeen didn’t have use for any dog that wasn’t a trained hunting dog.

One night as Ben was getting ready for a hunting trip he said, "Why don’t you come along tonight? You can finish that book some other time.”

For some reason I said, “Okay. I'll come if I can bring Rock along with me.”

To my surprise, Ben responded that it would be okay if Rock tagged along. Rock was a fast and loyal friend, so he probably forgave me for putting down my book that night and leading him out to the river bottom at Poor Creek. But he shouldn't have.

As soon as we arrived in the pick-up, Mr. Skeen set the blue ticks free. The pack of them headed out into the darkness, with Rock tagging along in pursuit. I was a little concerned that he hadn't stayed back with us, but I supposed he wanted to protect that macho image of his, the one I mentioned in an earlier story.

After a little while we could hear the blue ticks well out in the woods. Their insistent, deep barking echoed over the hills, a symphony of pursuit, hunt lust, and anticipation of the catch. Somewhere embedded in the din, if you listened closely you could also make out my dog Rock’s untrained soprano -- off-key, joyous, having a grand old time running with trained canine friends.

Some folk aren't familiar with how a coon hunt is organized. Mainly, you set the dogs free, they run out into the woods, pick up the scent of a coon, and follow the spoor until they corner him. The dogs bark and bark and bark, each with its own distinctive voice. The humans stand around shivering in the middle of a cold, dark forest speculating on which dog is in the lead by the sound of things and how long it might be before the coon is treed.

If you pardon me for saying so, it's one hell of a way to spend an evening in the country.

That particular night the hounds traveled maybe a mile or so up the creek before they picked up the first scent. Pretty soon their frantic barking told our ears they were in hot pursuit of a coon. What was so good about this chase was that it seemed as if they were chasing it back in our direction, along the banks of Poor Creek.

As we stood there in the woods, Ben, Mr. Skeen and I, suddenly we heard the chase come to a mysterious stop. The barking of the blue ticks and Rock's yipping told us that somehow they had lost the scent. They were still barking, but the tone had changed. It was obvious they hadn’t treed the coon, and also that they were no longer heading in our direction.

We had no idea what was going on. We were still wondering when suddenly we were surprised by a much closer sound. It was coming from Poor Creek. Today, I suppose night hunters have high tech flashlights that can throw a beam miles into the darkness, but back then all we had were kerosene flambeaus. Each of us grabbed a torch and we moved toward the creek to see what was making the odd noise.

At the embankment, we leaned out over the water as far as we dared and extended our flambeaus. There floating in the inky water was a big ol’ coon. It was swimming smack-dab down the middle of Poor Creek. Obviously, the coon had taken to the water, as they often will when they are being pursued by a pack of blue ticks.

We started yelling for the dogs, urging them to come quickly. Through the night air we heard them pick up on our call and hurry toward us along the riverbank. When they arrived, we held our flambeaus aloft so the blue ticks could see out into the water and spot the coon. But they barely glanced that way. All they did was mill around in circles and make a hell of a lot of noise. They wouldn't so much as dip a paw in the water.

Suddenly, though, my dog Rock backed up a few feet, lowered his front haunches in a springboard position, and before a word could be uttered he hurled his 10 pounds of terrier fur through the air, heading straight for the 'coon in Poor Creek.

While the blue ticks continued milling about in feckless confusion, Rock flew through the night like a guided missile and landed right on top of that coon's head.

It's not an easy thing for me to describe what happened next. Remember how I said earlier that Rock was a brave and fearless friend, and how much I loved that dog. I would do anything to avoid casting aspersions on him or his valor and fighting ability.

So let me say this. When he landed on that coon’s head, it was the worst nightmare any man or dog could have imagined. Poor old Rock received what can only be described in a country boy’s vernacular: he got a real “butt-whupping.” That animal turned him every way but loose.

Immediately it became obvious that Rock had changed his mind and wanted no part of that beast, but the coon wouldn’t turn him loose. If he pulled Rock under water once, it seemed he did it a dozen times. Every time they popped back to the surface, the coon was in full command.

Ben, Mr. Skeen and I stood frozen in total amazement and consternation. It was painfully obvious that Rock had met his master. It was only a matter of time before he wouldn’t be able to come to the surface any more.

They dipped below the surface yet again, but this time when they resurfaced by some miracle Rock had managed to get loose from the clutches of that mean ol’ coon. Maybe he pulled himself free with super-canine strength. Maybe he gave that coon a little of his own medicine and bit his way free. However he managed it, when Rock escaped the claws of that beast in the water it was one of the most thrilling and miraculous sights it has been my privilege to witness.

Dogs, as we all know, only dog-paddle when they swim. Yet, as we peered into the gloom by the light of our torches, we saw Rock make his get-away in a most un-dog like manner. He headed for the shore at Olympic speed, using what can only be described as a Johnny Weismueller full breaststroke.

If you've ever seen a wet dog, you know the first thing they do is go into a full shaking of the body to fling water all over the place. But that night, after Rock made it back safely, he crawled up the bank of Poor Creek and just stood there in shock, unable to move and entirely unconcerned about shaking off water.

As he stood there, exhausted, I thought I saw him look at me accusingly, as if to say, "What in hell possessed you to take me out coon hunting? Normally, you and I have a nice time at home, all cozy and warm by the coal heater, with you reading books and me napping next to you. Well, I never want to see that damn ol’ coon again, so the next time you go coon hunting, you're going alone."

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