By Ben Gruber
I invited myself along on a trip in a roundabout way, and I was blissfully unaware of what I was getting into, which is usually how the best adventures start. When my friend Eric told me we might have to change our Friday night plans so he could take his 13-year-old son, Luke, on a coon hunt with his uncle Al, I just said, “What time do we leave?”
By 6:15 we made it to uncle Al’s house and found Al with four dog leashes strapped across his chest, bandolier style. A pair of bibs, tucked into knee-high rubber boots, was anchored by a wide belt. A battery pack ran the light mounted to a hard hat perched on top of his head, and he peered at us over his glasses as he paced around his truck. In the glow of the truck headlights, he looked like a hillbilly mercenary.
The dogs were whining from the box in back. They were loaded and ready to go.
I introduced myself to Al and began to get the details of what I was in for. This was no mere coon hunt tonight. We were hunting a tournament, and it ended with an official weigh-in at 11 p.m. The largest coon wins the pot at this unofficial, unsanctioned, pot-luck, social-event-of-October tournament.
The four of us crammed into the truck and headed to an undisclosed farmyard near Sherry. We pulled in and dropped off a giant bowl of potato salad next to Crock Pots full of bear meat, talked briefly with the grand master of the hunt, and headed out.
We pulled into a cornfield bordered by a wooded creek bottom, perfect coon habitat. The two dogs were fitted with fancy-looking collars that had a blinking light, GPS transducer, and the ability to offer corrective feedback to a hound from a long distance. It feeds information back to a handheld receiver in real time.
Al was constantly updating us on the dogs’ activities, “Bee is 487 yards away moving 6.3 mph. The other dog stopped at the creek and took a quick nap. Now she’s on the road.”
These poor dogs could not get away with anything. Some interesting developments have changed the game since I chased the wily ringtails through the hills of the lower Wisconsin River valley as a kid.
Al’s dogs tried hard for us tonight, running about 13 miles each in four hours. We should have won the tournament. Those dogs got on the trail of an old gray coon that weighed an honest 38 pounds. I know because I saw him as he ran by.
With empty hands we headed in for the weigh-in. The farmyard was no longer empty and quiet. Thirty-five trucks, each with a dog box in the back, filled the yard. The shop door was open, and everyone was gathered around a hanging scale. Mostly honest stories were exchanged over cold refreshments as folks either bragged or complained about their dogs.
If there was a Redneck Prom, it might look something like this. The biggest coon for the night was around 33 pounds. We would have won for sure if we could have gotten that 38 pounder.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.