Crispy-Cold Nights And Coonhounds

As the seasons change and our fall nights turn into crispy-cold evenings, somewhat with the feel of sticking your head into a deep freeze while it is running, the sounds of coonhounds in Tennessee woods seem to echo back fond memories from my youth. Growing up in rural Tennessee, it just seemed natural for every front porch to either have a hound on it or under it when I was a child.
 
The other night as I was drifting off to sleep on one of our first frosty nights of the season, I could hear a group of coonhounds on the knob behind my house. They were on the track of our state wild animal, the raccoon, and the crisp night air just seemed to cause their deep monotonic bark to sound like music. Their barks were so deep on the trail that I was sure each time they went under a hickory tree the hickory nuts were falling from the limbs already shelled.
 
A coonhound on a trail on a cold frosty night always reminds me of my father who was an avid coon hunter. I always marveled at how he could tell the difference of the bark of each individual dog on a trail with as many as five or six dogs in on the hunt.
 
I, for one, never developed that ability and often found it hard to stay up late, but he could follow his dogs ’til sun up and still put in a full day’s work on the farm.
 
As I lay there the other night listening to the music of those coonhounds on the hillside, the memories of my father and his coon hunting experiences seemed to fill my head with many pleasant thoughts. I remembered his hunting buddies, places he enjoyed going, special dogs, funny happenings, as well as numerous stories he would tell from his nights of hunting. They were all good thoughts that also caused me to wish for the opportunity to just talk to him one more time about his favorite sport. Daddy passed away several years ago, but those memories he left me seem to bring him back to me on cold frosty nights.
 
There was one story he always really enjoyed and would laugh as if it had just happened whenever it was told. I always enjoyed hearing him tell it and included it in my book to share with others. I don’t know if it was really true or even who first told it, but just remembering it often gives me a chuckle as I think about Daddy and his coon hunting days.
 
I’ve shared it here before, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to do it just one more time. With so many folks these days getting in the backyard chicken business, maybe this story can save them from making the same mistake or at least wear pajamas to the chicken yard. It seems there was a Middle Tennessee farmer named Jed who had a henhouse full of top egg layers that he protected with the virtuosity of a group of Army Rangers. He saw to it that nothing would bother or ever do harm to his chickens. To help him protect them he also had an old Black and Tan coonhound named Fred that had long since seen his better days.
 
One frosty moonlit night, Jed heard a racket come from his henhouse that awoke him from a sound night’s sleep. Springing from his featherbed in only his nightshirt and armed with his double barrel shotgun loaded to capacity, he and Fred proceeded to the henhouse to give aid to his chickens in distress.
 
As Jed pushed the henhouse door open with the barrel of his shotgun, the sounds from inside the darkness had gone quiet. He edged slowly farther in and as he did, he pulled back both hammers on the gun. Jed wanted to be ready for whatever beast may be inside the coop.
 
Also, as Jed moved closer he positioned himself into a crouching form, which caused his nightshirt to leave his backside somewhat exposed. Fred also was following close behind his master attempting to see if he could see into the henhouse’s dark corners.
 
All of a sudden a chicken let out a scream (if chickens can scream) into the night, which startled old Jed. With his fingers gripping the gun’s trigger Jed crouched lower to see where the sound came from, as well as pointing the gun in all directions of the small wooden structure. At that very moment Fred the coonhound “cold nosed” his master right below the nightshirt hem.
 
Both barrels of that gun exploded into the night and the moonlit silhouettes of Jed and Fred were immediately covered with white chicken feathers. As the feathers settled, a small brown weasel could be seen slipping out the coop door in total panic.
 
The next day Jed went from a major egg producer to a fryer farmer with too much inventory on hand. It is amazing what one “cold nose” hound dog can do to a man’s egg business.
 
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 – Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com