Coon Hunting Takes Different Kinds Of Dogs, People

Duke couldn’t care less about pointing pheasants or grouse. He doesn’t herd sheep or collar criminals. You’d never find him pulling a sled or fetching a tennis ball.

Duke is single-minded. He’s a Walker Hound, and all he wants to do is hunt raccoons. That’s a good thing, since that’s what his owner, Barry Jones, wants to do, too.

Jones, my friend Scott Fellows and I, are standing in a dark cornfield outside of McKeansburg, Pa., just talking in normal tones about Duke, and coon hunting. We can follow Duke’s progress as he slaps along through the corn stalks.

I wonder what normal people do on a Friday night.

Duke doesn’t bark. The sound he makes it more like some kind of bellow, or roar.

“Rooooooo!” he bays suddenly, close by, and it makes me jump. “Rooooo, Roooooo!”

Racoons Eat Anything
Duke has found evidence that a raccoon has been in the cornfield. Raccoons will eat just about anything, including poultry, birds’ eggs, mice, insects, fish, frogs, wild fruit, and nuts.

Barry Jones and his Walker hound, Duke.

To the farmers’ and gardeners’ dismay, they also love corn. And, it’s their habit to continue on to the next ear before finishing the first. When raccoons get into a cornfield, or a sweet corn patch, they can wipe out many rows in a night, Jones says.

Their name comes from the Algonquin Indians, who called them “Ah Rah Koon Em,” which means, “those who rub and scratch.”

Raccoons have very nimble paws with bare soles. It was always believed that raccoons wash their food in water, but biologists now believe that raccoons take some things they intend to eat to water so that they can wet their paws, which enhances their sense of touch. Then they can better decide what part of the food is good to eat, and what should be rejected.

Although they prefer a tree, they also den in woodchuck burrows, caves, mine shafts, deserted buildings, barns, and rain sewers.

Duke Finds A Raccoon
Duke’s “Roo, Roo” gets shorter and quicker, and Jones says that means he’s found the raccoon. Duke is baying so fast that I can’t understand how he has time to breathe.

But this first raccoon has gone into a hole near the stream. Duke has been digging and is snorting dirt between “Rooos.” We have no way to get the raccoon out of the hole.

Jones has to clip on Duke’s leash, and Duke is not happy about that. He drags him away from the hole, and it’s like trying to drag a running ATV backwards, as Duke keeps all four legs driving towards the hole.

Jones has to take Duke a good distance from the hole, or he’ll go back to it. He lets him go in another area, and Duke tears away, immediately looking for another one. Soon he is “roo, rooing” again, off in the woods.

We slide over the stream bank and up the other side, and set off through the woods. Branches are tearing off my hat and some layers of skin off my face. By various courses, filled with the peril of holes, slippery logs and thorny vines, we arrive at a huge hemlock tree.

It will be another disappointment for Duke, and us. We can’t find the coon in the hemlock, although Duke insists it is there and we believe him. Again, he has to be dragged away under protest.

Duke Hits Paydirt
We humans decide to call it a night, but Duke has other plans. As we’re walking back to our trucks, he bays again with wild enthusiasm. This raccoon has climbed into a big oak tree. We walk around the tree, pointing our lights upward, and finally amidst the stars winking behind the tree branches, spot the raccoon’s eyes.

After the shot, the raccoon falls with a thump to the ground. It’s louder than I would have believed, as if someone has thrown a sofa out a second-story window. It’s a big one, Jones says.

Duke is elated. He won’t let anyone else carry the raccoon; it is his. We stand by the trucks and talk for a while. Jones says we’re welcome to go again with him, any time. I’m already looking forward to the next symphony of hound music in the woods, with two new friends of a unique breed, raccoon hunters, Jones and Duke.

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