I haven't looked at this for a long time and haven't checked the spelling or punctuation..I wrote all this in two nights when I was grieving for my friend.
And my Jim dog....
Soon after we met, Dean learned I hunted coon. He immediately wanted to go along and learn all about it. His older brother and neighbors had dogs and he had gone with them in the past with mixed results. Either they spent all night taking the dogs for a walk in the woods, or the dogs ran but never treed. After listening to the stories my Uncle Dave and I told him about some of the hunts we had shared over the years, he was eager to go.
Dean had more enthusiasm and zest for all types of hunting than anyone I had ever met.
Well, after I had given him what extra gear I had, he outfitted himself with the rest. Outside of the hound, which is the major investment, there isn't all that much else needed. We found a carbide light, a squeeze bottle for water, a spotlight, small plastic jug for extra carbide, and a few other odds and ends that rounded out the rest.
Then all we needed was a good night for hunting.
The best nights for coon hunting are those that have the following qualities- it must be a dark night- coon run better on moonless nights. You should also have a night that is crisp and cold with no wind.
I told Dean that we needed a few cold nights so the coon would hair up- grow their guard hairs, this protects them from the cold and makes them more valuable because the fur is thicker and heavier. You can hunt on a moonlit night and have good success with a silent trailer like I had, but if you had open trailers like my uncle had, you were usually in for a long night with a long time between trees. A coon doesn't like to tree on a bright night- I'm not sure if it is because they know they can be seen easier in the tree or if they just like to run more on a moonlit night. And, if they do tree it's usually in a den tree, big pine, or even a hole.
After several nights of listening to us tell our stories about all the hunts we were on, Dean was fired up and ready to go. He was working at the time filling tanks with heating oil and he would hunt most of the night, go to work all day, sleep some and be ready to do it all over again. There were times, after we became close friends, when we would hunt most of the night, put the dog to bed, get our gear and be in the woods in time to hunt deer the next morning.
But, to get back to our first hunt.
We drove just a mile to Hundred Springs, a really beautiful example of Pennsylvania mixed hardwoods and Evergreens. There are several streams and lots of hollows and ridges. We parked along the old road that runs the length of Hundred Springs and quietly shouldered our packs , leashed Ol' Jim and dropped over the bank.
I like to move into the woods about a hundred yards or so before I cut the hound loose. Just so he knows which way I want to go. Of course once he hits a coon, you go where he goes.
I remember those cold clear nights; the woods are quiet and the stars are shining like a million sparklers in the sky. After you are in there for a while everything slows down.
We can hear Jim padding through the leaves out ahead of us as he is casting about for a hot track. Then he comes romping back to us. No one who knows dogs could ever say they don't show joy, and if he wasn't grinning as much as I was when I patted him on the ribs and said, "go get im boy," well, you know what I mean.
Dean wasn't quite sure what to expect on this hunt even though I told him a dozen times; there's nothing like the real thing. After we had walked for a couple of hundred yards, we stopped and leaned up against an old tall Hemlock.
"What are we doing now," he asked.
"Well we've gone far enough, we don't want to over-run the dog." "We'll wait here for awhile and talk a little and listen."
I told Dean we would wait until we either heard Jim strike or he checked back with us.
"Well, what's he doing out there, one minute he was here then he was gone." I said , once he got the excitement run out and peed around a few trees he would get serious about hunting.
Now he is making a big circle; if he doesn't hit a track he will come back to us to let us know there is nothing down, at least in the circle he just made. He knows if he doesn't check back to let us know it's time to move on and just keeps on going, we won't know where he is and we won't be able to hear him if he trees.
Dean wasn't sure if I was giving him a line or not. I told him I had been hunting one night and I heard Jim strike, one long drawn out bawl. Thinking he would tree very soon, I waited for him to tree bark. You see, once he strikes he is always either at the tree or very close to treeing. He doesn't bark unless he either sees the coon or hears it running in the leaves. He has a real hot nose.
I waited but didn't hear him barking again, so I slowly walked towards where I had heard him last. After about two hundred yards or so, I heard him treeing away off. Once I reached the tree, everything else was just like always. I shot the coon out of the tree, Jim finished it off, then I skinned it and put the hide in my pack. This same thing went on all night. I couldn't figure out what was going on. When I got up the next morning, I went over to my Uncle Dave's and told
him what had happened ." Were you hunting a new place," he asked.
"Yeah, that hollow over the mountain."
"Well, you were going too slow and weren't keeping up with Jim, so when you didn't show up at the tree when he figured you should, he was coming back and calling you." "Do you still holler "I'm comin' Jim" when you hear him tree?"
"Well yeah, I always do, I want him to know I'm close and I'll be right there."
"There you go, Unc said, when you weren't where he figured you should be, he came after you, when he heard you holler back at him he ran back to the tree and started treeing again." "Mister, Unc told me, You have one hell of a smart dog."
When Jim came back in to check a few minutes later, Dean looked at him with new respect.
My dog Jim loved me and I loved him. He's been gone for many years now but the hurt of missing him is as strong now as it was when I first lost him.
We moved on out about 200 yards and stopped at another tree. We had been standing around that old tree for about twenty minutes when far out ahead of us Jim let out a long mournful bawl, then all was quiet. "What happened, why did he shut up, what's he doing now?"
I couldn't help laughing a little. If Dean was this excited at just hearing Jim strike, I knew the rest of the night would make him a die- hard coon hunter just like me.
Maybe five minutes later Jim started to chop out ahead of us. His voice echoed in the night so it was hard to tell just where it was coming from. "Well, get your pack on and let's go."
"How do you know where he is?"
"I know he's out ahead of us, lets just walk towards where we heard him last; If we can hear him, we won't lose him."
Every time we heard Jim split the darkness with that deep chopping bark of his, Dean would grin from ear to ear. I knew I had found a coon- hunting buddy.
It didn't take us long to reach the tree Jim was treed on, but Jim had one thing he did that bothered me a little. Whenever I got close enough that Jim could see us coming, he would usually run to me, jumping and carrying on. Then I would have to say, "where is he Jim , where's the coon, where's the tree boy."
Then he would run right to the tree and chop strong and loud. His bawls could be heard clear to Birmingham where I lived, about a mile or so from where we were hunting. Uncle Dave would walk outside and smoke a cigarette on the porch from time to time just in case we had one treed, and when he could hear Jim's voice baying faintly in the air, it made him smile because he's the one that taught me all about coon hunting.
"Now what do we do", Dean asked.
“Well, we get these packs off and try to spot that coon. You take your spot- light and start shining from that side and I'll spot from this side. Look for green eyes shining or his tail hanging down.”
Jim knew what was going on and I swear I've seen him walk up the side of the hill with me and look exactly where I was spotting. I've also watched him and saw him spot the coon in the tree when I did. It must be because dogs can see in the dark so much better than we can but, when my red tinted light hit the coon and he looked right down at us, Jim went ballistic. He really started barking then.
"I see him Dean called excitedly, "I see him." "He's right in that fork near the top."
"I see him too, Dean, Take your carbide light and go to the other side of the tree. " "If I don't hit him hard enough and Jim can't get to him in time, I don't want it getting in a hole or something.”
When Dean was ready, I took my little single shot .22 rifle and loaded it. I had cut the stock and barrel down to just the legal length, or my Unc did, and put a 3x9 power scope on it. Some other coon hunters thought I was simple for putting a scope on a rifle for hunting in the dark, but it was perfect for picking out a coon in the top of a big pine, and was great for finding a coon's eye, when you didn't want a big old boar that was only wounded coming down out the top of a tree and tearing your dog up. And, mister I've seen them do just that more than once. But only once to my Jim dog, I did my best to insure that didn't happen again, if I could help it.
"Get ready Dean, I've got him, get ready Jim here he comes." When the gun cracked the coon came bouncing and squalling down out of that tree and Dean ran right up the side of the hill, his light bouncing wildly off first the trees and then the underbrush.
"It's okay Dean , Jim's got him."
Well, that point was debatable because there was a lot of snarling and growling going on for a minute or so until Jim got the coon on it's back and a grip between it's front legs. He made short work of that ol' coon then. After Jim had shaken the coon long enough to convince hisself that it was dead, he allowed me to take it and get it ready for skinning.
While I was hanging the coon Dean was dancing around me like a little kid that had to go to the bathroom. "I want to shoot the next one, boy this is great, what a coon hound, my brothers dog never even treed one coon and we've been out ten or fifteen times."
"That’s the difference between a coon hound and a dog you walk around the farm at night, hoping he'll run into one and tree it." I told Dean I had nothing to do with my Jim dog being so good a hunter. I sent away to Tennessee for him and they sent me Jim when he was a pup. They had taken Jim hunting down there a few times with an older dog, but he didn't know much.
My Uncle Dave took me out for two seasons with his hound and trained him for me. There aren't too many guys that would do that for you even if they were related, they wouldn't want the competition.
I never realized until I was older what a sacrifice Unc made for me to help me get started coon hunting. I still like to go with him a few times each season, especially early in the season when we are getting the dogs ready and tuning them up for the upcoming winter hunts.
Dean said no one in his family would ever do something like that for him.
I told him of all the times I went with Unc when I was pretty young. I started when I was only twelve. Uncle Dave and his best friend Gene Cowher hunted together for many years before I came on the scene. I soon found out one reason they liked me to go with them, I had really good hearing and could hear the dogs much further than they could. I could also climb the pines like a squirrel, and did so many times when we couldn't spot the coon from the ground. Once, on the way home from a hunt, Unc and Gene were teasing me about something, as usual. I remember they were talking about either their wives or their nieces and one of them had been in the hospital and had a hysterectomy and had their ovaries removed. I wondered if something like that had hurt much. They assured me that it was very painful and Gene asked if I would ever let anyone cut out my ovaries.
I replied very surely that even though I didn't know what they were, if I had them I was keeping them.
This must have been very funny because the two of them almost choked to death and darn near run us off the road laughing so hard. Gene was laughing so hard he was crying and sputtering out semi-coherent sentences, while Uncle Dave was just wheezing and shaking his head while wiping tears from under his glasses.
Even at the age of twelve I was glad to be a source of amusement to my two heroes, and years later enjoyed the joke myself. I was proud to go coon hunting with my uncle and his friend, but I had a problem. I couldn't afford a carbide light like they had and I was scared to death of the dark. It was hard to keep the perfect distance from Unc where I could see up ahead and wasn't stumbling around in the dark, but not so close that when he stopped for any reason I didn't run two or three steps up his back before I could get stopped. This was embarrassing at times because I didn't want Unc to know how much I feared the dark and I didn't want to get hollered at all the time for running up his back every time he slowed down or stopped. I think he knew what was going on because even though he gave me heck for doing it he never accused me of fearing the dark.
Of course I never would have admitted it if he had, I always said I had to stay close or I got smacked with the branches he let swing back. One night Unc and Gene were hunting together and Gene suddenly stopped and said in a shaky voice "Dave, Dave." Unc thought it was a snake because Gene was terrified of them. "Where is it Gene", Unc asked ,"what kind is it?" When Unc got closer and saw what Gene was looking at he said some words I can't write. It was a naked body lying out in the woods. Gene was so shook he had to set down, and who could blame him?
They went to the nearest house and used their phone to call the State Police and told them what they had found. When the officers arrived they followed Gene and Unc to the place where the body was lying. They assured the police they had not disturbed the area or touched the body. When they all reached the spot where the body was the officers told them to stay back while they secured the area and called for help to transport the body to the hospital. After searching the area with their flashlights they moved next to the body. After a minute or so the officers walked back to Gene and Unc and asked if they were absolutely certain they hadn't gone any nearer than they had to see the body in the uncertain glow of the carbide lights. When they once again assured them they had not, he said "well come down here then." They did finally, slowly and with great reluctance. When they had gotten within a few feet of the body the policeman shined his strong spotlight on the body and said with barely controlled laughter, "is that anyone you know?" Looking closer Uncle Dave said "what the hell, look at this Gene." Some practical joker had taken a store mannequin and undressed it and laid it along a trail they walked on when they hunted that area. I know later everyone agreed this was hilarious, but it took some longer than others to get over the scare and see the humor.