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COON HUNTERS FOLLOW DOGS DOWN MEMORY LANE
By Steve McCadams
Deep in the backwoods of Henry County somewhere west of Puryear is where
the trucks stopped and the journey began on this dark February night.
From the dog box came the sound of thumping tails. Anxious hunting hounds
let out whimpers and howls, letting us know they were ready for the
tailgate to drop and the show to start.
Once doors opened the enthusiasm levels increased dramatically. Emerging
from the little hideaways were two hefty brindle colored Plott coonhounds
by the name of Jake and Fever. Ready to rumble. Bred to go. Up to the
Plott breed dogs were developed in North Carolina more than 200 years ago
to hunt bear and wild boar. They are still used today but have also gained
in popularity among the ranks of coonhunters and trackers.
Powerful and well-muscled, the Plott brings big game such as bear or boar
to bay or tree with its determination, endurance and courage. The breed's
smooth, glossy coat can be any shade of brindle (a streaked or striped
pattern of dark hair imposed on a lighter background), solid black or have
a saddle or markings.
Jake was an 8-year old muscular male owned by Charlie Shortridge of
Springville. Fever was a 7-year old female owned by Richard Turchin of
Springville who actually lives in Vining, MN but spends a few months here
in Tennessee every winter to coon hunt with his friend Charlie.
Rounding out our quartet was Springville’s Jim Napier who was familiar
with the terrain from his deer and turkey hunting days in the region.
Still in the dog box was a disappointed hound by the name of Francis. She
was howling her discontent but would get her chance later that night. A
senior citizen by any imagination, Francis was 14-years old and had many
races under her belt no doubt.
For now the younger pair of anxious four-legged athletes carried the flag
into woods where we hoped a few coons were roaming at the edge of an open
field. Both dogs were leased but their undisputed desire to hit the wild
was clearly apparent as they tugged and pulled Charlie and Richard toward
briar thickets like a tractor pulling a breaking plow.
A quick snap and the dogs were unleashed, working fast against the wind
and meandering back and forth in search of a scent from a roaming coon
pilfering acorns and such beneath this forest of mixed hardwoods and
scattered pine with a corn field on the parameter.
Both Richard and Charlies quickly pulled GPS units from their coveralls so
as to track the direction and location of the high blooded hounds who were
now on their own. Sporting tracking collars that allowed their owners to
keep up with their every move, both dogs wasted no time in putting
distance between us.
In-between short pauses and a listening walk, Charlie gave directions on
the overall hunt and the locale of the dogs. Richard monitored his Garmin
Astro 320 hand-held tracker unit while Charlie unfolded a unique “quick
track” contraption that emitted beeping sounds that directed the hunter to
It wasn’t the first rodeo for these guys! Charlies was hustling down the
trail at a mere 81-years of age. Richard was the spring chicken at 69. Jim
and I were several years behind them both but we just hoped we could keep
up during the journey over snags, briars and ditches.
A brisk north wind whistled through the tree-tops and masked the distant
bark as one of the dogs hit a fresh track. “Sounds like Fever opened up
down there about 600 years or so,” said Richard, as he watched the screen
on his unit.
“Jake just joined in too. Quite a ways off but moving toward the east it
appears,” yelled Charlie, stopping dead in his tracks, quiet as a church
mouse as he listened for his beloved hound to sing sweet music.
The race was on. Bellowing from the backwoods. Far away from civilization
in the dark of the night as two coonhounds lived up to their reputation.
All of us were stopped and silent, listening to the serenade but I quickly
drifted back to yesteryear when similar hunts of my youth took place in
the Coldwater Bottoms near my childhood home of McKenzie. Back then a lot
of coonhunters were around the region and I often went along as an invited
guest. Listening to the dogs and experiencing the whole hunt can get in
Before I reminisced very far down the hills and hollows of days gone by
the distant barks faded away only to resurrect quickly in a moment of
light wind. Then the tone changed as did the frequency.
“Sounds like Fever is treed,” said Richard. “There’s Jake in there too.
They got him treed about 700 years or so that way,” said Charlie, pointing
northwest as he pulled up the location on his hand held unit which he also
had tucked away in his coveralls.”
“Says here they’re on the tree,” grunted Richard as he showed me the a
diagram on the screen that clearly pictured a dog image standing up and
barking against a tree.” Quite a unit and advanced technology I thought to
myself. Indeed it was.
Present day hunters could track or find a lost dog in pretty much any
terrain these days as long as they kept good batteries in the collars of
dogs and in their hand held monitoring units. The units also displayed a
compass and pointed to the direction of the dog plus giving a readout on
distance. Amazing creatures these gadgets of the night!
Striking out toward the tree our group dodged a few saplings along the way
and negotiated ditches and snags. Once reaching the destination both
Charlie and Richard shined their real deal hunting lights mounted atop
small helment style hats made just for such moments.
Both dogs were convinced their prey was somewhere in the red oak towering
high from the forest floor. The canine companions were all business.
Raring up on the tree and singing a song to anyone who would listen.
Neither dog bothered my darting around them and taking a few photos. I
touched both hounds at times and their rock hard frames were unbelievable.
They were in their moment.
“There’s an eye,” shouted Jim as he saw a slight movement high in the tall
middle fork. These guys had bright lights on the spot in seconds and
chased away the pitch dark, pinpointing what appeared to be a hefty masked
I was still under the spell of the moment when Charlie spied the coon and
took aim with his .22-caliber rifle. “I think you got him,” yelled Jim.
Nothing happened for a few seconds but the dogs were livid and their deep
groans pierced the night.”
Charlies fired off another shot and immediately the big furry critter
descended, making a loud thud as it hit the carpet of leaves. And that,
dear friends, is when the dogs went into high gear and a fight was on.
I sneaked in for another picture or two but didn’t dare get too close as
this was no friendly wrestling match. For the dogs it was Eutopia!
Snarling and growling with massive power unleashed. The dogs had run a
hard race and put their prey up a tree as they were trained to do. Once
the coon hit the ground it was more of a reward for a job well done.
Just the association with veteran coonhunters and seasoned dogs can pull
you under the spell of this unique sport. Men and their dogs, blazing a
trail of endless memories.
Owners have pride in their dogs and share a bond that’s sometimes hard to
And so it was on this chilly February night that I rekindled an old
passion for sharing the woods with new friends and old dogs under the
cover of darkness.