Before the days of fast food, fast cars and “riding the strip” had come into high fashion, coon hunting on cold nights was a favorite leisure-time activity with males in Toombs County where I grew up.
Several years ago, Tony Oliver, a friend and an avid coon hunter wanted to come to our place down on the farm and go coon hunting on Open Creek. I told him I thought it would be fun and we set the date. Bill, another friend and coon hunter would join us.
It was cold that night when we put Tony’s prize-winning Blue Tick coonhounds out near our place on the creek. The dogs knew what was up and went quickly to work in the underbrush. It wasn’t long before they picked up a hot trail.
“They’re running!” Tony said as he grabbed his waterproof flashlight and .22 rifle and headed up the creek after the fast-moving howling hounds.
Bill and I hurriedly followed with our flashlights and within minutes, the dogs had treed the coons. We scrambled through the thickets as fast as the brambles would let us and shortly we were standing on the edge of the creek.
As luck would have it, the dogs had treed on the other side of the creek from us. We flashed our lights into the treetop and made out five pairs of eyes.
“It’s a whole family of ‘em!” Tony exclaimed as he spat a long stream of tobacco juice on the ground. “I’ve got to get over there in a hurry.”
At that point, Open Creek was not very wide, but deep. We searched without success for a foot-log while the howling hounds broke the cold night with their mournful bawls. On the bank where we were standing stood a slender pine tree. Bill and I watched as Tony examined the tree for a minute and said, “If I can climb this tree and swing it over, I can land on the other side.”
Without further discussion, the excited coon hunter was scaling the tree. We held our lights for him as he reached an appropriate height.
“Are you sure you can do it?” Bill asked.
“Nothing to it,” Tony replied confidently. “I’ve done it a hundred times.”
The hounds were barking frantically as Tony began slowly swinging the tree back and forth. It took a few minutes to gather the right momentum. “About two more swings,” Tony puffed and I’ll be ready to go over.”
Giving it full force, Tony swung out over the creek and then on the second swing, the slender tree broke and dropped “Tarzan” Oliver about midway the swift running stream. He went out of sight in the icy water.
We grabbed some poles and ran to the edge to assist our suddenly distressed coon hunter friend.
Momentarily, Tony’s head broke the surface. He splashed wildly about for a minute and then crawled out on the other side. His chattering teeth were audible above the barking of the dogs.
I threw Tony his rifle. The object on a coon hunt is to slightly wound a coon, making it jump out of the tree into the pack of hounds thus allowing them to have their reward for their efforts.
Shivering, Tony raised his rifle; it seemed that it took him forever just to get his rifle cocked. I believe the first shot missed the whole tree. The coons didn’t seem a bit threatened by Tony’s wild shooting.
Finally, Tony nicked a coon’s foot forcing him to jump. The scared coon missed the limb and fell amongst the eager hounds. The dog’s howls turned to angry growls as they had it out with the coon. Above it all, Tony’s teeth rattled.
The other coons were allowed to return to the swamp unmolested.
Back at the truck, Tony shook like a bird dog eating ice cream as we built a big fire to dry him out.
It was too good to pass up. We started ragging Tony a bit. “We thought you knew what you were doing, Tony.”
“D-d-don’t g-g-get s-s-smart now! I’ve d-d-done it a b-b-buncha t-t-times; it m-m-musta been the c-c-c-cold weather that m-m-made the t-t-tree b-b-break,” the veteran coon hunter explained as he tried to salvage his dignity.