Captivating sport: Hound hunting for raccoons
By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
June 7, 2002
A lot is communicated about hunters by the labels we attach to them in conversation. If someone says, "He's a bird hunter," (meaning a quail hunter) we immediately know about the person's love of pointing dogs, fine shotguns, and wing shooting. We also know the man doesn't mind exercise and is probably not much overweight and likely is loyal to his beliefs.
Bo Bennett is a coon hunter. He is a member of the nocturnal hound clan who live to hear the deep bawl of a trailing and treeing dog. They can stay up all night as long as they are in the dark woods somewhere and hear a hound barking "treed" in the distance – no matter how far away. They like to sleep late in the morning, though many don't because they have to be at work early.
Coon hunters usually prefer one breed of coon hound over all others and a subdued whine is all they need to identify one of their dogs amid the other night noises in the swamp. They can be recognized by half-closed eyes during daylight hours, a limp in their walk or body scars from injuries received by falling off foot logs, out of trees or tripping over limbs and vines in the dark. If they have just returned from a hunt, wet and torn clothes and scratches that are still oozing blood are clues that label them as coon hunters.
Coon hunting throngs
Bo Bennett, of Meridian, has survived all the above and he has taken coon hunting a step further. "I like to take a lot of people along," he says. "We sometimes take a lot of young people, whole families, and we build a fire and when the dogs tree we get onto four-wheelers and take off to the woods. It's a lot of fun," he declares. He has taken an entire soccer team coon hunting.
Bennett's wife, Jeana, and children, Brandon and Bonnie, all coon hunt together often. With plenty of raccoons in nearby woodlands, practically every hunt is filled with action. And a number of families in their circle of coon hunting afficionados make for a lot of friendships among parents and kids alike.
While still a youngster in Pickens County, Alabama, Bennett saw "Where the Red Fern Grows," a movie about a boy whose very poor family lived in the Ozarks. The boy dreamed of owning a coon dog and worked to acquire a pair of redbone hounds that he trained and that captured his heart. The movie inspired ten-year-old Bennett to acquire a coon hound. His first was an aging black and tan named Lady that was bought as a deer hound for twenty dollars and failed at running deer.
Bo camped in the woods while hunting with this dog and other mutts with mixed ancestries and limited abilities. He hunted 73 straight nights without treeing that first coon. During the siege, the dogs treed one possum, which thrilled the young hunter. He continued gathering dogs and hunting raccoons during his youth.
Now Bennett owns a kennel of redbone hounds, carbon copies of the two that stirred viewers' emotions in "Where the Red Fern Grows." And, like the boy in the movie, he has won trophies, money and distinction among coon hunters with his red dogs.
Taylor's Guitar is his current champion redbone hound. The ten-year-old hound is a Grand Night Champion and Grand Show Champion in the United Kennel Club records. Young Brandon, at age 7, showed the dog in 1996 and won the Mississippi Youth Grand Champion male competition. Guitar also won the Mississippi Professional Kennel Club state championship in 1997. In the PKC events, the dog has won some $5,600.00.
In raccoon treeing competition, dogs are cast in groups of four and they accumulate points for how quickly they tree raccoons. But the Bennetts' local hunts with family and friends are more relaxed occasions featuring wiener roasting, story telling and wild rides in the dark on ATV's. Bennett is on the Board of Directors of the American Redbone Coonhound Association, which is instrumental in keeping this rather diminished breed alive and thriving.
Interested coon hunters should ask Bennett to tell about the night he spent chasing his hound in a competition near Mobile Bay. Ask about the rescue team that went looking for him at 9:30 the next morning and the rattlesnake he brought back that had 13 rattles and a button and the fleas and the ticks and the alligators. And ask about his dehydration and fatigue that caused him to fall sound asleep as officials announced that his dog had won the event.
If you like spooky stories of wild, night-time chaos in the swamps, talk to Bo Bennett.