The brightness of the moon illuminated the bramble and briars in the thicket as we pushed through. Becky, Susie, and a handful of other dogs howled, letting us hunters know they’d treed the coon.
“Come on, boys. They got him,” my dad shouted. I was maybe nine years old, my brother Mule was a year younger.
I never was much of a hunter, but I enjoyed spending a Saturday night listening to the dogs hunt from the tailgate of the old blue Datsun pickup my dad drove. Mule and I rode in the back and held the dogs. Dad would speed through the night with the lights off. We’d howl and the dogs would join in.
It was the best of times.
This particular hunt, we’d gone to Ol’ Taters Slough. It was way back off the main road, far from houses and nosy folk. We’d started off in a pecan orchard, but Becky, our black and tan, had caught a scent and off she went. Susie and the others were hot on her trail.
Becky had a cold nose. A coon could have gone through a month ago, and that dog would hunt it down. This was no different. She took off and after about an hour of us swatting mosquitoes, she and Susie treed the coon.
When we finally reached them, they had run the coon up an old tree in the middle of the swamp. The whole time I was whispering prayers like, “Jesus, don’t let me step on a water moccasin, or Jesus don’t let me get swallowed by a gator.”
The dogs were cutting a rug in the middle of this monster slough. Cypress knots jutted from the black water, and swamp moss hung from the low limbs. If you moved wrong, the moss would tickle your ears.
My young mind imagined snakes falling off the limb and onto my shoulders. We were neck deep in the water trying to get hold of the dogs.
Becky had both feet on the tree, giving the coon the what-for. Susie bounced from one side of the tree to the other, barking and yelping like a maniac.
Dad said, “I’m going to hit the coon squaller. Y’all keep an eye out for him.”
Sure enough, he put the squaller to his lips and seconds later, here comes the coon. “Oh Jesus,” my dad whispered. “That ain’t no coon, that’s a bear.”
This monster walked down the side of the tree, and halfway down, leaped on top of Susie’s head.
Now, if you ain’t never done no coon-hunting, you probably don’t understand why that’s a bad thing. This coon landed on top of Susie and shoved her head underwater.
“My dog,” dad hollered, “Possum, get my dog before the coon drowns it!”
I reached into that black water and felt around until I touched Susie’s collar. Satisfied I had a good grip on it, I pulled that dog and the coon from under the water.
“Get that coon off, my dog!”
I grabbed a cypress knot and swung in the general direction of the coon (also Susie’s head) and prayed for the best. Mule had Becky by the collar.
When Becky saw the coon, she went nuts and dragged Mule into the foray. I turned loose of Susie, and everything went crazy. My dad was whistling and shouting. Other people were trying to get out of the way. There was chaos everywhere.
We finally got that coon, but Lord knows the raccoon had a lot of fight in it. When we finally got it home, it weighed in at 52 pound. It was the biggest coon any of us had ever seen.
Mule and my fingers suffered cuts from trying to hold dogs heavier than us with a live coon amid us. In the end, the pain was worth it.
The coon sits on the wall of my shop. It was so big they had to make a custom mount for it. Even then, the taxidermist had to curl its tail to get it on the mount.
For those who’d think I exaggerated the size of this coon, I’ve included a photo. This marks the 40th year we caught this coon at Ol’ Taters. I may struggle financially from time to time, but I more than make up for it with memories of special times with my parents and brother.
Nothing can take the place of our times together.