Old No. 7 and a ‘Coon Hunt
by D. Amos
I remember the smell of burlap, and wet
dogs, and the nip of clean
autumn air on my face. I remember
campfire flames that leapt and licked and chased shadows up the hollows. I recall the crackle of kindling and the
orange glow of hot lighter knots. Most of all, I remember an old man and his
three motley hounds and the night we treed the big bore ‘coon.
A lanky old man, dressed in Red Camel overalls and a frayed John
Deere baseball cap, tromped a narrow trail up the bank of a Northwest
Georgia cold water creek.
His aged, knee-high, rubber boots, covered in red and blue bicycle tube
patches, wheezed with each step.
Bruton’s snuff ran from the corners of his mouth in brown tracks to his
chin. There, it clung to a three day old beard, caked like mud on a drying pond
“Wait a minute, your legs are longer than mine,” said an eight
year old boy as he attempted to keep up.
For each of the old man’s steps, the kid took three.
“Should’a figered. Maybe ya
shouldn’t take a young’un on a night hunt.
It’s tiresome and ted’ous. We
cudda been playin’ checkers or checkin’ the trot line and such. We’d be more likely to git a ‘coon that way
--- ‘coons don’t like talk any more
than me,” said the curmudgeon.
“Just fine, but we’re here and can’t do that
stuff righchet. We gotta go git us a
real ‘coon. Checkers and trot lines and
such‘ll keep ‘til ‘morrow,” insisted the child.
The old man almost spit his teeth out laughing. For a spell the boy thought he’d choked on
finely ground tobacco.
“Boy, do ya talk all the time? If’n ya hush, I’ll give ya
somethin’ I wus savin’ fer later. Now, promise to hush up cus we’re losin’
light and it’s still a mile to the swamp.”
The old man handed the youngster a Mars Bar, then tousled his hair.
The troupe arrived at the swamp’s lip as the last sunbeam escorted
in a shadowy gray dusk. Grandmother Moon awakened to cast her halo across Mt. Horn’s
highest ridge, where the orb clung, as if to forestall her nightly trek.
“This’ll do fer us to set and listen,” said the old man. The kid gathered fuel for the fire, while the
gentleman burrowed a soft seat of leaves and spongy moss in the crotch of a
fallen Sycamore. He reclined and
freshened his snuff from a tiny tin. The hypnotic sound and smell of hissing
rubber boots, placed too close to the fire, wafted heavenward.
In the flickering firelight, the old huntsman raised a silver
filigreed, seven-shot flask. It was engraved at its center with the Jack
Daniels Distillery label. “My true love
gave me this. It was full of Old No.
7. I wus bad to drink too much when we
wus first together,” he began, just above a whisper. The vessel glowed like a talisman in his
gnarled hand. “She had this cut fer me on our seventh anniversary --- said I’d
not have her much longer if’n I drank more’n this a week. And, I ain’t since, but I enjoy a li’l taste
all along. Credit’s hers---made me a
better man for learnin’ mod’ration. Oh yeah, she gemme a daughter just ‘fore
our next anniversary.”
“Tell me another story ‘bout her,” pleaded the lad.
“Another time,” promised the elder. He surrendered to the sweet shackles of
memory and fell silent.
The full, pewter moon crested over Horn and, without warning, a
single arrow of sound pierced the darkness.
It was the old man’s lead dog, Spot.
“Go git ‘im, Babies!
They’re on to one, Boy! Listen to ‘em!
They’ll tell ya what they’re doin’!
Gotta learn the’r voices --- Spot’s leadin’! Gyp’s ‘bout 30 yards back ‘n closin’!” yelled
the old man. “S’pose Hey You stopped to lick hisself?” the old coot
snickered. Laughter echoed through the
The hunters raced toward
the epicenter of the melee. As the moon
climbed, it cast the valley in muted hues of blue and green. Three frenzied hounds clamored at the base of
a young river birch, where a treed bore ‘coon swayed over a deep, stagnant pool
of yellow and green pond scum. “Fetch me
the axe, Boy,” the old man barked. “Go
git ‘im! Git in the water!” he ordered
his hounds. Spot was first, followed by
Gyp. Hey You padded back and forth on
the bank until he was pushed.
Two hacks of the axe dropped tree and ‘coon down onto the canines
who madly dog-paddled about. A cacophony
of sound erupted as the old masked bandit landed on poor Spot’s head. While Gyp and Hey You swam in circles, the
ring-tailed trickster bit and clawed at any available fur or flesh. He bared sharp, yellow teeth in a grin full
of the hair of the dog as he swam
The old man crooned to his dogs while he daubed White Camphor
liniment on their battle wounds. “ ‘At’s one ole ‘coon won’t mess wid my
buddies agin. C’mere. Let Pa make ya feel better.” As he finished, he said, “Don’t go chasin’
somethin’ if’n ya don’t know what to do wid it, shud ya ketch it.”
The weary hunters reached a fork in the path. The boy took the right. The old man took the left. The boy looked back and said, “When can we go
night huntin’ agin?”
The old man responded, “I’ll talk to ya momma. Be ready Friday evenin’ ‘bout 6:00---I don’t
wanna git ther’ ‘n not have fire time.”
“Thank you for takin’ me. I
love you, Grandaddy!”
* * *
In the course of one night’s hunt, I became one of those Georgia boys who raises and runs dogs, and
dreams and hunts raccoons just like the boys in Tennessee,
or ‘Bama, or the Carolinas, or the Florida
panhandle. The flavor of that night
lingers in my memory like the taste of sweet gum on a young boy’s tongue.
It’s odd, the things we remember. How is it that the most ordinary
occurrences, in a place, in a time, leave such deep and profound bookmarks in