Raccoon Hunts: Southern Heritage Beginning in 1800s
The Exact Date and Time
about raccoon hunting is vague. Many historians attribute raccoon hunting to range as far back to the late 1700s and the "sport" only grew with time. Even the noun, raccoon hunt, can be lodged as a sport, but a necessity in the infancy of the early Southland of men seeking meat for the table and this came before man-made rules, regulations, and thinning of animal breeds came to be. For early Southern men who loved the thrill of the hunt, raccoon hunting and early male Southerners was a natural fit. And as far as raccoon hunting goes, there are still a big area of events called Coon on The Log and Fixed Raccoon Hunts where teams of raccoon hunters with trained dogs are pitted one team against the other to achieve prizes and trophies for having the best-trained dogs who caught the most raccoons--but not killing them.
Facing Some Facts
about Raccoon Hunting are seldom fun and charismatic. The early lands of the South saw families, many immigrants from Europe, found that just making their way to live on scratch was near to impossible. But these early pioneers with a hard and enduring spirit held on to their freedom and made homes, crops, and in the case of raccoon hunting, some needs of the family having meat on the table were met.
It was the most natural of things to be when the men of certain areas in the early South made the night and time become Raccoon Hunting Time. Even with the men already having put in a daybreak to dusky dark work on their crops, raccoon hunting, I theorize, was more of a sport for these hard-working men and mature young men to learn how to trap and capture the raccoon to keep this tradition alive as years went by.
These men were crafty hunters. They studied their prey well. The feeding habits as well as areas where the raccoon ate were taken into the study on how to trap the biggest raccoon to give food to the family. The idea was soon common place for these men to raise purebred hunting dogs--blue tick, red bone and even fox hounds. The idea became not only popular, but very prosperous for the raccoon hunters to "run down the raccoon" and when their dogs had "treed" the raccoon, the yelping and barking of these prized canines could be heard in great distances.
The History of Raccoon Hunting touched the lives of Native hunters who did not rely on dogs, white hunters used them from Colonial times. Our First President, George Washington is credited with owning some of the first coon hunting dogs, French hounds given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette. Most of the early coon dogs were actually Foxhounds imported from Europe or mixed breeds with hound blood, but these dogs often had trouble finding raccoons when the latter climbed trees, and breeders began to specifically develop dogs for their treeing ability: the ability to follow the scent to the base of a tree and stay there until the hunter came.
Raccoon Hunting was a win, win situation as fashions in the 1920s were being designed with the pelt of animals, the raccoon to be specific. Then came the fur car coats that were a fashion trend in the 1920s, leading to high pelt prices and an increase in hunting and trapping. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when many rural families lived in poverty, raccoons were hunted extensively and became relatively rare. Hunters sold the pelts for needed money, and the meat provided protein.
In the 1940s and '50s conservation efforts were undertaken, including teaching hunters not to cut down den trees that raccoons used for raising offspring. The raccoon population subsequently expanded, to the point that they became recognized as a least-concern species.Coon hounds existed as a distinct type by the mid-to-late 1800s. By 1885 a raccoon pelt sold for approximately 25 cents, a fair price for the time. Up to World War I raccoons were very common despite being hunted often, and were sometimes poisoned to keep them from destroying crops. In latter years, state and county lawmakers passed legislation to give the raccoon hunter a common sense about raccoon hunting regulations and laws. In most areas raccoon have become an open season animal, meaning they can be hunted or trapped year round, but in some areas there is still a season to hunt or trap them. Typically, only raccoon, opossum, coyote and fox can be hunted at night.
In my 64 years, I have found this to be true: if you want to know about something, ask the person who knows the most about it. That is why I am placing Mississippi native, the late Jerry Clower, for knowing the most about raccoon hunting--fact is, Clower made a great living just by telling about hunting coons and his friends, the Ledbetters.
Howard Gerald "Jerry" Clower (September 28, 1926 – August 24, 1998) was an American stand-up comedian. Born and raised in the Southern United States, Clower was best known for his stories of the rural South and was given the nickname "The Mouth of Mississippi".
Clower was born in Liberty, Mississippi, and began a two-year stint in the Navy immediately after graduating from high school in 1944. Upon his discharge, in 1946, he was a Radioman Third Class (RMN3) and had earned the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with two bronze service stars), and the World War II Victory Medal.
He studied agriculture at Mississippi State University, where he played college football and was a member of Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity. After finishing school in 1951, Clower worked as a county agent and later as a seed salesman. He became a fertilizer salesman for Mississippi Chemical in 1954.
By 1954, Clower had developed a reputation for telling funny stories to boost his sales. Tapes of Clower's speaking engagements wound up in the hands of Edwin "Big Ed" Wilkes and Bud Andrews in Lubbock, Texas, who had him make a better-quality recording which they promoted. MCA Records later awarded The Coon Hunt a platinum record for sales in excess of $1 million at the retail level.
At first, Clower took orders at his speaking engagements, selling 8000 copies on the Lemon record label. In time, Wilkes sent a copy to Grant Turner at WSM radio in Nashville, and when Turner played it on the air, Clower said "that thing busted loose". MCA was soon knocking on Clower's door, offering him a contract. Once MCA began distribution in 1971, Jerry Clower from Yazoo City, Mississippi Talkin’ retailed more than a million dollars over 10 months and stayed in the top 20 on the country charts for 30 weeks.
Clower's first on-stage engagement occurred in the early 1970s when country radio station owner and show promoter, Marshall Rowland (WQIK, Jacksonville; WDEN, Macon; WQYK, Tampa), received an early Clower recording ("The Coon Huntin' Story") which was met with rave reviews by his station's listeners in Jacksonville. Rowland contacted Clower and offered him an airplane ticket and a few hundred dollars to come open for an upcoming tour Rowland had booked with Charley Pride. Clower arrived back-stage for the Saturday night show at the Jacksonville Coliseum, but Pride's manager Jack Johnson refused to allow it because Clower was non-union. Rowland averted the situation by putting Clower on stage while the lights were up and people were still entering the Coliseum. Clower performed for about 30 minutes. Pride, who watched from backstage, is said to have then taken Clower under his wing and introduced him at the next of Rowland's shows as his "new friend". Clower and Rowland remained very close friends for the years that followed, connecting for events, and working shows together. Clower was a frequent face at Rowland's radio stations over the remaining years of his life, and the music was known to be interrupted with Clower's comedy recordings from time to time, especially at WQIK in Jacksonville, where his career can be said to have been launched in earnest.
The Raccoon Hunt that had created in the 1800s, grew into the 1950s and staged night hunts that were created and by the 1970s had become popular with some hunts involving over one thousand dogs. Modern coon hunting is practiced with the use of a trained dog or dogs. While historically coon hunting dogs were of any breed, modern coon dogs are almost always members of the scent-hound subgroup called coon-hounds. All but the Plott Hound descend from the English Coon-hound.
If you are interested in hunting coons, you will need a license, not only for raccoons, but for coyotes. and another segment of coon hunting is for you and your friends to sit and trade off on calling with distressed squeals or aggressive challenges. Sooner or later, you'll sight a raccoon or a coyote, and you'll be in good shape if you have clearance to kill either.
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© 2018 Kenneth Avery