September 14, 2012

Points East: Better than football

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Actually catching, or even treeing, a coon when I was growing up in the head of Blair Branch back in the 60s was sort of like hitting a hole-in-one off a short par three with a flat, level green and its  flag right in the middle.  It still didn’t happen all that often but it could be done if you stayed at it long enough and it was still some reason to brag about, however relatively easy it might seem to regular players.

I once hit a hole-in-one at Berea Country Club’s second hole only to be told later in the day that it had already been done that morning, but I still qualified for a free beer.  I’d been playing every weekend for a couple of years and usually saved my Mulligan for Hole No. 2 if I’d had anything less than a double bogey on the first hole so I got it on the second shot.  

But this column is not about golf.  It’s about coons and the dogs that chase them.  And you can take my word for it or not, but a few decades back, it was pretty hard to tree a raccoon even if you had a high-dollar dog.  And I’ve seen red-bone, black and tan, bluetick and treeing walker coonhounds change hands for well over $1,000 on numerous occasions.  

There was a time, not long ago,  when coons were scarce critters in the woods of southeastern and central Kentucky and tracking them down with dogs was high sport among those of us who still don’t understand why football is supposed to be interesting and entertaining.

Just this morning, between Paint Lick and Richmond, there were four dead coons on 52.  All of ‘em killed trying to cross the road in the dead of night. So you have to wonder, if four got killed, how many more actually made it? Crossing 52 in the dead of night is not like running a gauntlet.  Oh sure, you have a car every minute or so, but an attentive blind person on crutches could safely cross the road without getting hit.  And coons are pretty fast, and from my experience, pretty attentive critters.

As recently as 20 years ago, a coon hunter would have flagged down traffic, called a constable, and put up road blocks to recover the carcass, if he’d seen one dead on the road, so he could use it to train his dog.  But that almost never happened.  

Twenty years ago, you simply did not see dead coons on the road in central and eastern Kentucky.  And 40 years ago you didn’t see coons, period, unless you had a good light and one heck of dog.    

I grew up with such dogs.  I never actually owned one until the early 80s but I had a hound or two in my early years that didn’t know a coon from a ground squirrel. But Lovell Blair, there in the head of the holler, had twin black and tans named Ted and Joe, and Lovell, 10 years older than we boys, acted like everybody’s big brother.  He’d lead a pack of adolescent boys through the woods and across the ridges that separated Blair Branch from all the other hollers and all night long those two worthies hunted for a coon to chase.

And if and when the coon was scented and worn to a frazzle and the dogs were viciously trying to climb while barking up the tree, Lovell would turn on his flashlight and search the limbs until we’d see the coon out there on a limb with its eyes glowing amber in the reflection, and he’d tell us it was time to call off the dogs and let that coon rest for another chase.

Sometimes we’d drop off into another holler and the dogs would pick up another trail and we listen to them for hours until they finally wore out and came straggling back to us for hugs and “you done goods” and then we’d all come home in the wee hours especially happy if we’d treed a coon.

I can’t imagine how Ted and Joe would react if they were turned loose on Silver Creek in this day and time, but I can tell you for sure that they wouldn’t run a 100 yards until they were barking treed.

I’m just wondering what on earth they would do with a coon if they actually caught one? Or if one caught them?  

I suspect it’s just a matter of time before we are breeding dogs that we turn loose after dark and we set time trials to see if they can outrun the coons that are chasing them.  The last dog chased back to the fire would be the winner.

That would have to be at least as entertaining as football on Friday and Saturday nights.

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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