Coon Hunting, by Ernest Ingersoll

'Coon-Hunting [Footnote: Coon: raccoon, an animal allied to the bears but much smaller. Its body is gray, varied with black and white, and it has a long full tail banded with black and gray.] is one of the truly American sports of the chase, though its devotees have found difficulty in persuading folks to take their sport seriously. It is, in truth, a comical aspect of hunting, and is scarcely less wanting in dignity than a 'possum [Footnote: Possum: opposum; this animal carries its young in a pouch, like the kangaroo.] chase, which confessedly has none at all. If 'coon-hunting be regarded, as a step higher than that, it loses the advantage at the end, for a fat 'possum is certainly better eating than a 'coon, however rotund. The chase, nevertheless, calls for endurance, since an old 'coon may run four or five miles after he has been started, zigzagging hither and yon, circling round and round trees, leaving a track calculated to make a dog dizzy, swimming streams, and running along the tops of logs and snake-fences, [Footnote: Snake-fence (same as a worm-fence): a zigzag fence of rails which cross at the ends.] hiding his trail with the craftiness of a fox.

The hunt is always organized late at night. Nobody ever heard of a real 'coon-hunt by daylight. The animals are moving about then, leaving trails that, starting at the edge of the woods, lead into the fastnesses where they take refuge. Such trails would grow "cold" before noonday.

There are dogs called 'coon-dogs, but of no particular breed or pedigree. A local pack will consist of Rag, Tag, and Bobtail, with all of Bobtail's friends and connections. One of them is known to be best and takes the lead. They call him the trailer. The rest rush yelping after, and as fast as possible follow the hunters, with torches or lanterns or by moonlight, carrying axes and hatchets, guns, and antidotes for snake-bite in flat, black bottles. Trailer's motley crew catch a sniff of the trail and disappear in the darkness of the brushy woods, baying, barking, yelping, squealing, each after its kind. After them go the whooping hunters, following by ear as the dogs do by nose, for none can use the sense of sight.

Finally a chorus of eager barking in a different tone from what has thus far been heard announces to experienced ears that the dogs have some game at bay. The hunters dispute as to what it is as they crash and stagger on through the gloom, each swearing he knows by his cur's voice what sort of an animal he has in view. Arrived at the scene of the clamor, the dogs are found in frantic excitement around the foot of a tree, in whose shadowy foliage something is supposed to be hidden. Will it be a 'coon, or will it turn out a 'possum, a wild-cat, or mayhap an owl?

First of all a fire is lighted, and its upreaching blaze sends fitful rays of yellow light far among the overhanging branches. Now there may be discerned a hollow near the summit of the trunk, and as dead branches are heaped upon the fire, sharp eyes may detect a triangular head peering out of what was once, perhaps, the front door of a woodpecker's home, and the glints of green are reported to be the glare of a raccoon's eyes.

The nimblest man in the party is sent up the tree, and given a stick wherewith to frighten or poke or pry the cornered animal out of his castle. Compelled to leave the hole, it creeps out upon a limb, and squatting down, snarls at the stranger, who tries to shake loose its hold. But this is a vain attempt. A raccoon can cling like a burr. Try to drag your pet 'coon off the top of a fence, and if he chooses to resist, you may pull him limb from limb before he will let go. So they take the severer method of chopping the branches, until the poor little beast has none left to clutch in falling, and comes down a heap of fur and teeth and claws into the midst of the dogs. Instantly there follows a scrimmage, where often an honest bark is changed in the middle to a yelp of pain, until many a time the melee changes to a ring of hurt and angry but vanquished curs around a 'coon lying on his back, with bloody teeth and claws ready to try it again; and then he is shot by the hunters, merciless to the last. More often the whole tree must be cut down, and the brave 'coon falls with it, and is dashed out among his enemies to fight for his life at the end of his fall.