Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Coon Hunting
Nature Bulletin No. 174-A   January 9, 1965
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Folks living on a farm or in a small town, especially if not too far from a creek or river, seem to have more fun than city people. They spend more time out-of-doors. One of their most prized enjoyments is "coon hunting". It has all the drama and music of an opera.

At dusk, raccoons come down from their den trees to feed and play. They are inquisitive animals and frequently travel quite a distance. So, on a warm damp night after a spell of freezing weather, a little group of neighbors may gather, with their hounds, to go coon hunting. On such nights raccoons are more active, their scent is more easily followed by the hounds, and the dogs can be heard from longer distances.

Now, a good coon hound is a big gangling lop-eared shy beast. A wag of his bony tail can hurt like a kick on the shin. He costs as much as a horse and is always hungry, but his nose and his voice are worth it. He runs with his big muzzle close to the ground and, as a newsreel tells its story to your eyes, the news of the night is unerringly telegraphed to his keen brain by a marvelous sense of smell. Once on the trail of a coon, a good hound will never leave it. And, his voice has all the full- throated magic of an operatic bass, baritone or tenor, depending on the dog.

The best places to hunt raccoon are wooded river bottoms and belts of timber along the creeks. When the hunters reach a chosen spot, a lantern is lit and the dogs let loose. Away they go, fanning out in several directions. The hunters wait, silently, open-mouthed, straining their ears to catch the first sound. A big owl hoots far away. Presently a long hollow moan comes sifting back thru the trees and a boy whispers, "There's old Bess". His father growls, "A cold trail. Keep still. " A "blue tick" pup, whimpering and slobbering with excitement, circles back into the light cast by the lantern, and then away into the night.

Suddenly, out of the inky darkness and surprisingly near, comes a deep trumpet-like call that booms thru the timber. A fat farmer chuckles, "Bugler's on a back trail. " Off to the right, a sobbing "chop" starts up and settles into a steady "bay". ("Chop", in coon hunter language, is a short resonant bark. A "bay" is a continuous flow of sound. ) Finally, in the distance, a sharp commanding bark is heard. The other dogs hush. Again that sharp bark. Someone yells, "Treed!" and everyone dashes off thru the underbrush, the lantern bobbing in the mist.

When they arrive, panting, the entire pack of hounds is raising a deafening clamor around a big leaning elm. A huge "redbone" hound leaps upward, clawing and tearing at the bark of the tree. Far up in the elm, two shining greenish eyes reflect the light of the high-held lantern. A brawny young man, arms overhead, struggles thru the pack, striking right and left with his leather gauntlets, bawling, "Down! Down!" The coon is treed. The dog opera is over.

Sometimes, if a raccoon is surprised far from his den, such a chase will continue for hours. An old raccoon is wily. He may climb a tree and travel overhead across a patch of timber, by way of the branches, leaving the hounds howling at the foot of the first tree. Or he may gain a long lead by circling, back-tracking, and confusing his trail by wading in the shallow water of a small stream. He is fairly fast but, if caught on the ground he is a fierce fighter. He is a fine swimmer, utterly at home in water, and has four hands like a monkey. Many a good hound has been drowned by a big raccoon.

Why keep a big lazy-looking hound? Brother, just ask the man who owns one.

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