Nighttime Sounds of the Fall Season

Last night when I was returning home late I paused for a moment listening to some distant sounds being made in the valley. They were familiar, yet at first they just seemed a bit out of the ordinary. Obviously it was a dog barking…but it was certainly a sound being produced by none of the rural neighborhood dogs I’m familiar hearing. Then it clicked…I was listening to ’coon hounds hot on the trail. Indeed, the fall season is in full-swing.

In my mind no other sound does a better job of heralding in the fall season as does listening to ’coon hounds working the river valley. If you’ve never heard ’coon hounds their sound is hard to describe, but it could be best compared to a car battery barely turning over an engine that is just about ready to die.

Typically ’coon hunters will hunt with a group of dogs. The hounds are often released from one country road and allowed to push a valley until they reach the next country road. In the meantime, several hunters on foot will follow the dogs into that darkness listening for that wonderful sound of dogs at bay or “baying.” When dogs begin baying it’s like music to the ears of a ’coon hunter as this indicates a raccoon has been treed. I’m told that these hunters are so skilled that they will often be able to recognize individual dogs by the sounds they make. For instance, if a dog gets tangled in some wire or strays off course, the owner sitting a half mile away back at the truck knows exactly which dog is in trouble. That amazes me.

Although I have never personally ’coon hunted, I’ve listened to the many fun stories of these nocturnal hunters. Actually, ’coon season in Minnesota runs all year long so the sounds are not necessarily limited to the fall season. But it’s during the fall when the pelts of the raccoons are “prime” and worth their highest value to the hunters. It is also the fall nights when the moon shines with the temps hovering just above freezing that the raccoon are most active in the woodlands.

In general, I think the sporting world does not really understand ’coon hunting and what motivates individuals to hunt late into the night. I’ll be the first to admit that much of what I know about ’coon hunting is hearsay having listened to folks talk about the sport. I guess that is part of what intrigues me…the people who participate are so devoted that they will often spend significant amounts of money on a single dog. If an upland bird hunter spent $1,000 on a pup to develop it into a pheasant flusher, that would be a considerable investment. But for the ’coon hunter, it would not be unreasonable for an owner to have several dogs with a combined value upwards of $10,000. In fact, ’coon hound bench shows are highly competitive and good breeding can mean the hunter has a real investment running loose in the woods.

I have to chuckle how technology has even entered into the world of the ’coon hunter. I remember the days when it was common for ’coon hunters to loose a dog during a nighttime hunt. The common practice was for the owner to leave his hunting coat (saturated with smells the dog would recognize) out in the woods and often times by morning when the hunter returned the dog would be lying near the coat. It didn’t always work that way…I certainly remember over the years many a hound owner stopping by the house to explain he lost his dog and to please give him a call if we should see it.

Today, however, ’coon hounds can be let loose; not only with their identification collar, but often times they will have a shock collar as well as a tracking collar. Indeed, the modern day ’coon hunter can track his dogs with the same sophistication that wildlife researchers use to study wild animals in their field studies.

Yea, someday soon I hope to go ’coon hunting and experience it all first-hand. I want to don a cap with a headlamp and head off into the darkness wearing my hip boots and briar-proof pants following the unique music made by the hounds. I can only imagine how thrilling it must be to stand under a tree with all the hounds baying and jumping around…rather than standing outside my garage door listening from a distance wondering what all the fuss is about.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.