[October 21, 2023] “Old Red” was the best coonhound (a Redbone Hound) on this side of the Mississippi River, and I was happy to know Billy, his owner, and I often went hunting with him and his dog. All three of us were each eight years old, regularly went dove hunting together, successfully, I might add, and we were like glue, always stuck together: Billy, Old Red, and Douglas. All dogs we possess during our lifetimes have a special place in our hearts, as did Old Red, a dog that was the envy of the county and didn’t even belong to me. And it was the right thing to do, rightfully caring for this hunting dog because this coonhound spent so much time with us; he had something special in him. If you can love a dog, this was love. Billy’s father got into bird hunting a few years earlier and had purchased “Red” as a pup from an old man who lived along the Bon
We hunt with a shotgun. Hit the bird in the air, my dad would say – never on the ground, not good sportsmanship – and only on command would Old Red fetch the bird, not ever before the command is given. No one wants to shoot their own dog accidentally. We were family. I never owned a coonhound myself. Bird hunting with coonhounds was to warm up our excitement for the big hunt, hunting for what coonhounds are bred to do: track and tree raccoons. I desired to get myself a raccoon, gut and clean the coon, and make a coonskin hat like Daniel Boone wore at least the myth says he wore it. Nope, I never succeeded in making one. I was only on a single coon hunt, and it was really exciting, and it is hard to explain how much of an adventure these hunts can be. Billy’s dad organized the coon hunt; we all had our flashlights; you see, a coon hunt is at night. This time, Billy and I had our hunt cut short. When climbing over a wood fence to follow Old Red, Billy promptly blew one of his big toes clean off before we could tree a single coon. He let out the most blood-curdling scream I ever heard. I ran like a wild animal to find Billy’s dad, who picked up Billy and carried him to the car and then to the ER. Yep, Billy had violated one of the rules of handling guns when hunting – never cross a fence with a loaded gun in your hands and with the safety off. Hmmm, actually, that’s two safety violations. The following day, we tried but couldn’t locate his toe. A local old man said raccoons had likely run off with the missing toe. Oh, the irony here did not escape us. Our dads were not happy at all about the whole affair. Rats! I missed out on the complete hunt.
One problem with Old Red, and a common problem with coonhounds, was his habit of running off. He would be hanging out at Billy’s side, sniffing the ground. If he got on a scent, poof, off he went at a full gallop. He would follow that scent over Hill and Dale, ignoring Billy and others calling his name. One time, Old Red ran into a road where a car nearly hit him. That scared us. One Saturday morning, a few months later, we walked along abandoned railroad tracks near a trestle bridge. I’d been there before with my friend Wilson and knew not to jump off the bridge. Drowning in the water below was a risk. We took along Billy’s older sister, who was a bit of a tomboy by nature, and she led us to one of her favorite hiding spots near a dilapidated shed once used to store railroad items. Upon arrival at the shed, Old Red ran off again, this time sniffing along a weed-covered ditch. He refused to come out and began to howl. We all laughed because that meant he had spotted a raccoon. As we worked our way down to Old Red, Billy’s sister let out a squeal. “Gimpy” Billy, as we now kidded him, pointed to the dense brush. In the ditch was a mama raccoon in a trap, along with her litter of six or seven babies. I took off my shirt, wrapping the mama coon while Billy’s sister freed her foot, and then, just like that, they waddled off to their home. Old Red had finally found his raccoon, and we got our raccoon hunt.
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