Lessons learned coon hunting in the woods

In honor of my grandfather who passed away three years ago Nov. 15, I want to take a moment to reflect on one of the most important lessons he inadvertently taught me.  This lesson helps me everyday when I navigate unfamiliar territories with my students, coaching, and now in the realm of home-ownership. The lesson was not even the lesson he meant to teach me: it evolved from a moment when he took his grandchildren hunting to teach them an appreciation for an activity he loved.

The story begins when I was around 11-years-old and my brother was about 7. It was over Christmas vacation and my brother and I had been bothering my grandpa to take us coon hunting. At this time, he was a spry 71-year-old grandpa who wanted nothing more than to spend time with his grandkids.

On a bitterly cold, crystal clear evening, my mom bundled me up in my little pink snowsuit complete with gloves, hat, scarf and warm boots. My brother followed suit, except his snowsuit was blue. We were bundled up looking like the Michelin tire guy. Grandpa pulled up in his truck with the dog box in the back and his favorite hunting dog within that box. Grandpa’s outfit was the standard one he wore every time he went hunting – green hunting pants, green jacket, the hunting pouch on his back with his hunting licenses attached, his signature warm hat and a pair of gloves. In his truck was his gun, compass and hunting light, all to be attached once the dog was out of the box.

His dog was a beauty, a redbone whose coat shone a deep mahogany and with a voice like melted butter, deep and with the ability to carry for miles on the right wind. She was always eager to get into the woods and Grandpa finished his preparations quickly and we all headed for the woods. Several minutes into the woods, we came to a clearing and he turned her loose to go tree coon. That was always the best moment because Grandpa would find a log to sit down upon and we would make a small fire. We would sit around this fire in silence, listening for that deep melodic voice to sound signaling that the dog had treed a coon.

One of the few skills that I have in this world that serves me well is my abiltiy to hear a sound and tell what direction it came from. To this day, I swear that talent was honed during these night hunts. The sky through the trees sparkled with millions of stars. I honestly am not sure I’ve ever been happier than on those nights.

Well, on this particular night, the dog treed and I pointed in the direction I heard it come from. Grandpa agreed, and we set off, but immediately we knew we had a problem. The sound was coming from deep in the swamp and there was no way Grandpa was taking two little kids into this swamp in the middle of the night. So Grandpa made the decision that we would head home and leave his coat for the dog to come back to and he would pick her up in the morning. (Yes, she always came back to his coat and he would find her sleeping, curled up on his coat. His dogs were that well trained). With that decision, we headed home.

Grandpa made the executive decision to forge ahead and miles later (literally) we came to a set of railroad tracks. Thankfully, we had emerged near a landmark  Grandpa knew, but we were at least four miles from home. Grandpa went to the nearest home and knocked on a door. The kind lady let my grandpa use her phone to call my mom to come pick us up.

The next morning, my grandpa traced our tracks, found his dog and continued to puzzle over why the compass had not pointed us in the right direction that night. It was not until several days later that he realized the compass had magnetized to the gun and kept pointing toward my grandfather and his gun instead of north! In that moment, I learned a valuable lesson. You may have a guide, you may have a plan, you might even have the stars on your side, but sometimes you still wander, somewhat lost, through the woods!

I look back on the incident fondly now. The night of Grandpa’s calling hours, it was bitterly cold, clear and bright. Walking out from the funeral home, one of Grandpa’s old buddies gave me a hug and told me that he guessed my grandpa was up with all his buddies, sitting around a stove, swapping hunting tales and shooting the breeze like he had as a younger man at the feed store. I smiled through my tears and told him that I always pictured him coon hunting as a young man with all of his friends on nights like that. To this day, on the first  bitterly cold, crystal clear night, I stand outside and close my eyes. In that moment, I picture my grandfather as a young man, hunting coon with his favorite dog and group of friends, waiting for that first deep, melodic howl to sound. Sometimes, I swear I hear that same howl on the wind.

Submitted by Christen Clemson, a Trumbull County Farm Bureau member and board trustee.