Hounds Hunt Raccoons
Rochester - The night was clear, the breeze was gentle and, except for a near-full moon that illuminated the landscape a little more than the average raccoon might like, it was a perfect night for a hunt.
I met up with a group of hunters that assembled at Tom Waite’s Racine County property one recent evening before the raccoon season ended on Thursday. The party included Tom Waite of Wind Lake; Craig Meyer of Greendale; Mark Utech and his son, Max, both of Rochester, and Max Gibson of Oak Creek. But the stars of the show, as always in these matters, were the dogs.
Gibson, who is 64, has more than 40 years experience hunting and training raccoon dogs, including several that were champions in national competitions. This night, he brought along three of his dogs: Dozer, a blue tick hound; Sally, a Walker hound; and Amy, a mountain cur. “This is the greatest sport in the world,” Gibson told me as he leashed the dog and walked them from his truck to the edge of a field of corn stubble. “You get plenty of fresh air and exercise.”
The basics of the hunt are simple. You hunt at night because that’s when raccoons are out feeding. You find an area with food and habitat. In this case, we had corn fields lined with groves of oak trees where raccoons like to den. To get started, you turn the dogs loose and follow them. When they disappear, you pause and listen. The hounds will let you know what’s going on. When a hound first picks up the scent of a raccoon, it lets out a long, mournful-sounding howl called a bawl which continues and intensifies along with the pursuit.
Speed to burn
Each dog’s voice is unique, Dozer, a big male, has a full, deep bawl, while Sally’s howling is higher-pitched. And then there was Amy, who remained silent till the very end of the chase. “The thing that’s unique about a mountain cur is they never bark on a track,” Tom Waite explained. “They only bark at the tree.”
Gibson called the cur a “meat dog,” explaining that the little bob-tailed dogs were often used in the south to hunt raccoons, opossums and squirrels for the stew pot. “A good coon dog is fast on the track,” said Tom Waite, who is also a dog trainer, “Any time you give a raccoon a chance, he’ll make it to a den tree. Once they go into a den, there’s no way to get them.” But when caught off guard, a raccoon will climb the nearest tree to get away from the dogs.
When a hound trees a raccoon, the bawling changes to short, excited barks called “chops.” “That’s your alarm call that they’ve got a treed raccoon,” Waite said. When we heard the dogs chopping, we picked up the pace and made our way, as fast as we could, across the fields and through the woods. The sounds of the dogs eventually led us into a hardwood thicket on the far end of Waite’s property where Dozer, Sally and Amy were barking at the base of a tree.
Safety comes first
After we found the raccoon in our flashlight beams, we leashed the dogs and pulled them out of the way while Tom Waite loaded his 22 caliber rifle. “For safety, we only carry one gun and it’s never loaded till we get to the tree,” Tom Waite said. The gun popped and the first raccoon of the night tumbled to the ground. Before long, the dogs were off on their next chase, which took us in another direction and ended the same way in another patch of woods.
Our third raccoon came as a surprise demonstration of the amazing power of a good hound’s nose. We had leashed the dogs and were heading back to the trucks, about ready to call it a night. All of a sudden, Dozer’s head jerked up and his nostrils flared as he caught some scent riding the wind and broke into a frantic tree chop. We searched with our lights and sure enough, there in the twisted branches of a tall oak tree in the distance, we spotted our last raccoon of the night.
“Good boy, Dozer,” I heard somebody say.
Written by Bob Riepenhoff
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
February 3, 2002
Category: Gundog Articles