Hunting Raccoons in South Arkansas
"Hey, skunks, come take a look in this bucket."
Pop raised UKC Registered Redbone Coonhounds all his life.
The childhood memories of my grandpa walking up to me with a two-gallon white bucket are some of my fondest.
“Hey, skunks, come take a look in this bucket.”
Pop referred to my brothers and me as skunks, don’t ask me why, he just did. I promise you as I write this I can hear him saying that and see those newborn Redbone pups in that bucket.
I really miss Pop. He taught me so much growing up. I wish my kids had met him.
I took a break from raccoon hunting after he passed away. I picked it back up after my kids were born. I just couldn’t imagine them growing up and never experiencing the sounds of the night while waiting on a hound to open on the trail of a wild raccoon.
Why Hunt Raccoons?
Raccoons are arguably the premier predator of ground nesting birds.
Some wildlife biologists blame the raccoon for the decline of the wild turkey population and even bobwhite quail.
Around the farm, they’ll tear down your sweet corn and eat a hole in every watermelon they come to. Through that hole, they will reach in and hollow out the watermelon as far as they can reach then move on to the next one. It’s pretty aggravating and costly when they wipe out your garden so population control is necessary out here in the country.
One of the finest Redbone pups I ever raised was Willie. A few years back, a buddy and me spent a week in the White River National Refuge treeing raccoons and sending them to the annual Gillette Coon Supper. As a matter of fact, it's coming up this weekend.
Willie was one of those dogs that only comes around ever so often.
He wasn’t trained to tree. He was born to do it. To put this into perspective, a coonhound is bred to seek out a raccoon, trail him up and make him climb. A good coonhound gets treed and is going to be right there at the tree until you get there.
Not every dog can do it, much less do it right consistently.
Willie was a quiet dog around the house. You never heard him bark unless something was wrong. But as soon as he smelled a raccoon, he would open up and the race was on.
He didn’t waste a lot of time. I knew everything that was happening because Willie was telling me with every sound he made. Hound and hunter are a team.
Willie would tree them. I’d come to him to reward him for a job well done. Willie didn’t have to put his mouth on one. All he wanted was to hear me tell him “Good job, Willie” and pet him up. That’s all he wanted. We had bonded through the years. Willie was family.
One night a few years back my daughter and I took ol’ Willie out to tree a couple. The night air was cold and crisp, you could see your breath, the stars were shining in every direction. I shared something I had learned from Pop. On a clear winter night in Arkansas, you don’t need a compass. Just find the Little Dipper and it’s handle will always point East.
That’s true. I’ve navigated out of the woods many times using what he taught me. It never failed me if I could see it. But take some advice, carry a compass or a GPS. Clouds can roll in and shut down navigation in a hurry!
We loaded Willie up in the dog box and took off. We traveled down the road to a nice patch of hardwood timber and cut him loose. In less than a minute ol’ Willie let loose telling us he found one. We listened. He opened again and was further away. Willie had covered some ground and was down by the old slough when we heard him again.
My daughter and I were still gathering up our stuff out of the Kawasaki mule when we heard him again. Willie let out a long dying bawl locate. He found him. He only used that bark when he had located the tree that Mr. Ringtail had chosen to end the chase.
We are talking about animals here. The raccoon had two choices, climb a tree or get caught on the ground. This one climbed. Willie sounded like someone chopping wood. He was really laying it out, chop, chop, chop. Willie had him. We knew it. That raccoon had traveled a quarter mile through all kinds of thickets and crossed the slough. You name it, he did it to shake Willie off his trail. It didn’t work.
We started to him. We walked the easiest path we could to get to him. We weren’t in a hurry. Willie would stay there all night if he had to. Willie was hammering away every step we took. It took us longer to get to the tree than it took Willie to start and finish the whole quarter-mile race.
When we got there Willie was happy to see us, tail wagging and barking every breath. I put him on a leash and tied him back away from the tree. We started shining, and in less than a minute we found him! He was lying on a big oak limb.
We loaded the .22 and knocked him out. When that raccoon hit the ground, Willie was ready to go get another one!
Hunting raccoon is a tradition that’s been passed down for generations. I hope everyone has the opportunity during their life to spend just one night chasing a raccoon with a hound. It’s a memory that you’ll cherish forever.
Willie passed away in 2021 at 11-years-old. Losing him was like losing a family member. Willie wasn’t a million-dollar dog but he gave me a million dollars worth of memories.
Willie is gone, but his bloodline is alive and well. Someday I may tell the story of ol’ Fireball, and the legendary men who created this line of dogs through selective breeding in the Redbone breed.
For now I’m getting ready to start hunting with Willie’s nephew, “Red and Ready Rex.”
Watermelon season is coming, and that means raccoons are coming, too.