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“The dogs are behind us.” My grandfather spoke quietly, so he could still hear the distant bark of the dogs, “We need to go back to the road.”
We turned around and made our way across the rough ground of the cornfield. We walked quickly through the corn, the scratchy leaves brushed on my face and arms. After only a minute we made it back to the dirt road that went down the middle of the two cornfields. I was extremely excited to be out on a coon hunt.
We waited in the dark for the sound of baying in the distance. For a moment there was only silence, so I looked around in the dim moonlight. I saw my grandfather standing in his camouflage rubber boots, chaps, a light jacket, and a dog leash over his shoulder. Strapped to his back was a .22 rifle with a red dot scope. On his head he wore a helmet with his light attached to it. I turned and looked at my mother who had a similar appearance but she chose to take her light and wrap it around the battery pack, that was attached to her belt, instead of putting it on a hat. Standing next to my mother was my grandfather's friend Jerry and his son Dillon. They wore flannel shirts, jeans, boots, and carried flashlights in their hands.
I looked towards where the dogs had last barked, and saw the six foot tall corn plants sway in the slight breeze. Beyond that I could see the illuminated steam rising above the tree line from the Vermont Yankee power plant.
My grandfather soon spoke, “I don’t know why they just shut up.” We stood there and listened for a moment longer. “Oh, did you hear that? It came from over there, but it sounds way off.” He pointed in the corn opposite where we came out. “I bet they went down over the banking just on the other side of this field.”
"Let's go. We need to catch up to the dogs, now!" He said as he started into the corn. I reached up to my head light and turned it on. I turned the light down so it was no more than an orange glow on the corn. I followed behind Pa, that’s what I call my grandfather, using my arms to separate the corn every foot and a half like a hanging bead doorway as we traveled. As we came into a spot of corn that was only about half the height it should have been, my grandfather stopped. We all shut our lights out.
Standing in the opening, we were supposed to be listening for the dogs to bark again, but I got distracted by every other sound being made around me. I heard every rustle in the corn and twig snap. As I looked around, I thought I could see things moving in the darkness between rows of corn. I knew most of the stuff was all in my head, because it creeped me out to stand in the darkness of the corn. As the breeze blew, I felt the chills go down my spine. Then my grandfather voice brought me back to what was going on, "I can't hear anything here. Let's get to the other side and listen over there." Before he finished the sentence, he was already several rows away, and we quickly followed him into the corn jungle.
As we pushed through the last few rows, I looked up and could see we were right next to the tree line. Outside of the corn, a path six feet wide was full of tall grass and the trees hungover us. We stood there and listened. After only a few seconds a loud bark came from a little ways down. I looked in the direction it had come from and waited.
The sound of swishing grass drew closer. From the sound of the grass emerged panting and I knew it was one of the dogs. Coming closer was a dog with long legs, a black coat with tan markings, long floppy ears and a very boxy head. I knew he was mine because of the boxy head. He was one of five dogs we had brought with us that night. He was only about a year or so old. The other dogs were his brother Charlie, his father Duke, and his mother Babe, which were all Black and Tan Coonhounds. The last ones name was Powder; she was a brindle colored black, tan, and brown striped Plott, another type of coonhound.
"Did you find a coon? Did you? Aww, who's a good boy?" my mother encouraged as Jake walked up to her, his tail wagging faster. "Go find the coon. Go find the coon." He bent down into a playful position then dashed off disappearing into the black of night in the direction he came.
In silence we waited for the sound of the hound bellowing in the night. It didn’t take long before we got what we asked for coming from the direction Jake had taken off in. No sooner did we hear the dogs barking was my grandfather off and said simply, "They're treeing". Knowing that the dogs had gotten the coon in the tree, we had to hurry. It was vital to get to them to make sure they didn’t lose interest. Following behind him, I tried to stay, the best I could, in the path he made for the easiest walking. He stopped when we got close to where the dogs were and waited for everybody to catch up.
He turned on his light and made his way down the banking towards the dogs. Soon he was no more than a beam of light wondering down the steep side of a wooded hill. I turn my light back on and made it into a strong white light to clearly see my way down the banking.
As I started towards the edge of the bank my light illuminated the near vertical drop. I stepped down the first few steps while holding onto little saplings but slipped on the loose leaves. I slid four or five feet until my feet crashed into a fallen log. I stood up and brushed the leaves off of me, and stepped over the log. In the small beam of light, I scanned the area covered in dead leaves and scattered trees. In front of me the land continued to slope down at a more gradual decline for another twenty feet before it sloped down creating a three foot basin. At the bottom my grandfather was standing near a large tree that slanted up at an angle. The ground under his feet was covered by a thin layer of water. Beyond him a small stream flowed from right to left and was surrounded by thick underbrush. Three soaked dogs ran around, jumping and barking at the bottom of the tree. To my right ferns were scattered throughout the trees. While I was looking around, Mom, Jerry and Dillon had all ventured down and were looking in the tree to see if they could see the coon. Here and there the younger dogs darted through the trees working hard on tracking the coon.
I walked over towards Mom and asked, "Seen anything yet?"
"No," she answered and walked down toward my grandfather to get a look from another angle. I looked up at the tree pretending to know what I was looking for, but I had never seen a coon in a tree at night before. As I traced the branches of the tree I hear my mother call out, "I think I see it."
"Why don’t we get the dogs leashed up now?" My grandfather hollered back. We took our leashes off our shoulders and grabbed a dog. My grandfather, my mother, and Jerry hooked the older dogs to trees that were closer to the tree. I grabbed Jake, brought him a bit father away, wrapped his leash around a tree and hooked it onto itself. Dillon did the same with Charlie.
I walked across the uneven ground to stand next to the others. Using their light I tried to see a glimpse of the coon, but all I saw was a blanket of leaves in a tree. After seeing nothing, I made my way back to the bank, where we came down. I investigated the tree from there, trying to get a better view.
"I think we could get a better view over there." Jerry said while pointing at the other side of the little stream.
"All right," replied my grandfather as he stepped across the water.
I walked over to the stream and thought it looked like quite a ways to step across, so I decided to try to jump it. I felt the cool mud push on the outside of my right rubber boot. "Hey! Can someone help me? I'm stuck in the mud." I yelled. My mom and my grandfather grabbed under my arms and pulled me free from the mud's menacing grasp. I felt like a blue heron standing on one foot, so I quickly let them know, "My boot's still in the mud." Mom pulled the boot from the mud, and it made a suctioning noise. After being reacquainted with my boot, I navigated through the thick brush to stand next to my grandfather who was already searching the tree.
"Do you see it?" he asked me. I shook my head. "All you will see is its eyes looking back at you. Let me try my coon squaller to get it to look at us."
He blew into the squaller; it made a noise like a party favor at a little kids birthday party, and the dogs barked with more excitement than before. I thought, That’s what a coon sounds like? For a moment I stared into the dim orange glow of my grandfather's light, and for only a second I saw two little glowing orbs and realized that was the coon.
My grandfather took the gun off his back and aimed it up at the coon. Everything seemed to have gone silent, as he blew the coon squaller one more time to get its attention. The gun went off with a small bang that sounds like a firecracker and nothing.
"Did you get it?" I asked standing in awe that something was going to be killed in front of me for the first time. My heart raced as if it was going to come out of my chest.
"No, I missed. " he said as looked at his scope. He started to make some adjustments, when the scope fell off into his hand. A short line of obscenities could be heard. Not wanting to get in the way, I moved a short distance into the thick underbrush, while Jerry and Pa tried to get the scope back on the gun. I stood in the dark leaning on a small tree, and listened to the dogs bark in excitement. They were ready for the for the coon to be shot, so they could have their fun.
Nearly ten minutes passed and they still couldn't get the scope back on. "All right, lets try this again," Pa said as I moved closer. He raised the gun without the scope and my heart race again as the gun cracked in the night. A dark lump tumbled out of the tree and fell forty feet into the ground with a thud.
Hurrying across the stream, being careful not to get stuck again, I made my way to the bottom of the hill where we came down. Mom and Pa, in the meantime, released Powder and Duke to have their reward of playing with the carcass of the dead coon. As the dogs quickly advanced on the on it, nasty snarling and growling could be clearly heard. The dogs barked at the soaking wet creature. The coon was in the spot light of five different flashlights, and it had to give the performance of its life. The dogs took turns going in and trying to bite at it, but the coon bit back at one while the other dog came in and bit its back side. The coon was low to the ground, when it lunged at Duke's face, but it got knocked away when he hit it with his paw. It had been put into a vulnerable position, and Duke capitalized on this and put it into a death grip. It should have been over, but because of Dukes inexperience the coon escaped.
"Someone want to get Babe and release her?" my grandfather called out. I volunteered to go and get her, so I ran over to where she was. It was a mess of broken small trees and shredded leaves. She had chewed every branch, stick, and leaf with in reach of her leash. She had even made a good attempt to chew through the tree she was hooked to. I grabbed her collar and pulled her back a little to release tension on the leash before I could unlatch it. She was gone before I could turn around. I chased after her to watch the rest of the fight.
It was now a three on one battle for life or death. The coon had no chance. It was weak, tired, shot, and had fallen forty feet. The coon fought with all it could before it finally collapsed. The dogs used its limp body for a chew toy: picking it up, carrying it around, and throwing it up in the air. After the dogs had some fun, Jerry took a rope that we had brought and tied it around the coon's neck and started dragging it up the hill towards the trucks.
"All right, grab a dog and start to head back up," my grandfather said as he was grabbing two dogs and attached them to his belt. I ran across the uneven ground to where my dog was hooked. He had not caused the damage that Babe had created around her. I unattached the leash from the tree and reattached it to my belt. I allowed Jake to pull me to the bottom of the hill. Halfway up the steep embankment my grandfather struggled with two dogs trying to go in opposite directions. Getting pulled up the hill by Jake, I quickly caught up to my grandfather who had one dog trying to go under a log and one trying to go over the log.
Waiting for him to be able to get moving again, I rested. I was breathing hard and a layer of sweat covered me. As soon as Pa got over the log he made his way quickly up to the top. I followed right behind him having no problems making it up the steep embankment because my dog pulled me up.
Coming out of the dark trees and into the edge of the moonlit field, I took in a breath of fresh cool summer night air. Just a little way down the field the corn turns to alfalfa, and in between is a strip of dirt. Once everyone got to the top we walked, or at least attempted to walk, the best we could with dogs pulling us, along the edge of the field until we could go down the dirt path. The only sounds around us were the crickets chirping and the dogs panting. The clear night sky was filled with millions of stars, and I felt a sense of peace fall over me. Before I knew it, we had made it back to the road.
My grandfather had already gotten the two dogs he had into his homemade dog boxes, which sat in the back of his pick up truck. My mom was lifting another heavy dog into one of my grandfather's boxes. I walked up to the back of our truck and opened the back gate and got Jake to jump up and in on his own.
I walked over to where everyone else was standing. They were trying to see where the coon had been shot. After a few minutes of searching through a wet, muddy, and beaten body, we finally found a hole that went right though the coon's head when Jerry said, "I think it's still alive." He bent over and shined his flash light on it for a better look, "Yep, it's still alive."
I found this really hard to believe so I shone my light on it and waited for a moment and I saw that it was still breathing slightly. So I had to ask, "So, this coon just survived being shot through the head, falling forty feet out of a tree, fighting three dogs off for nearly twenty minutes or more, was used as a chew toy, then had a rope put around its neck, and was dragged across a field, and it's still alive?"
"Pretty much," my grandfather responded. "I forgot to bring a garbage. Anyone got anything to put it in?"
"I think I got some ponchos in my truck." My mother told my grandfather. Then she asked me, "Could you go get them? I think there in the door." I went into the truck and removed the two blue ponchos and gave them to my mother.
They opened the ponchos and lifted the limp coon up by the rope and dropped it unceremoniously into one poncho, then into a second one before being tossed in the back of my grandfather's truck.
At this time I realized how tired I had become. My arms and legs began to burn. My eyes were heavy, so I got in the front of my truck and waited until everyone else was ready to go home. Sitting in the truck, I heard my grandfather say, "Well, it's getting late. We should call it a night," But I knew it would still be a while; they love to talk after a night out in the field.