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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 task.

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 his dog.

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 your blood.

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 bandit.

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 describe.

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.



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