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The restless spirit

by Jefferson Weaver on 26th-August-2014

He turned up in one of my coyote traps last winter, a displaced hip, protruding rib bones and concave belly explaining why he was interested in the chunk of beaver meat that was intended to draw a coyote or a bobcat, not a coonhound.

Once again I thanked God I was using a wide-face, offset trap, set for a mid-paw catch. That’s the only type trap I use when I might catch an errant hound; it holds the paw without hurting or even breaking the skin.

I named him Jack, simply because it seemed to fit. Later, it became Gimpy Jack, even after a little weight and muscle mass helped ease his aching hips. The cold still makes him ache, as does humidity, but he’s one of those smiling dogs.

We tried finding him a new home, but as is too often the case, there were no takers. I had a sneaking suspicion about the denials of one of the coonhunters I queried, a fellow whose reputation at catching coons is far outweighed by his willingness to trespass, and his proclivity for abandoning unwanted dogs.  Bums like him, however, are a column for another day.

Hence, Jack joined our household. He’s never met a fence he couldn’t climb, so we finally gave up and let him join Walter as a front-yard dog.

Jack’s problem is his restless spirit.

He’s a plain old treeing Walker, a coonhound through and through, and is only happy when he’s running the bays and the swamps, his off-key trail cry giving way to a similarly discordant announcement of treeing his quarry. Jack isn’t, thankfully, easily distracted; when a pair of stray deer dogs chased a doe down the creek beside the house, he barked a warning for them to stay away, rather than lowering himself to chase a silly old deer.

We try to get Jack in at night, and usually succeed, but sometimes, the restlessness kicks in, and he just has to go. He turns up in a day or so,  hungry, footsore and smiling shamefacedly, denying any misbehavior. Of course, his triumphant tenor ringing through the pines and cypress belies his denials of being bad, just as a hungover kid’s bloodshot eyes and boozy breath give the evidence a parent needs for a solid whippin’.

I understand Gimpy Jack better than he might comprehend. Usually, by the last week of August, my own restlessness has kicked in to the point I can’t even stand myself. I find myself pacing at odd hours, cleaning a gun or two time and time again, counting shells, looking for a particular piece of gear or clothing, and generally behaving like a kid in the weeks before Christmas.

I love to fish, but fishing does not encompass my entire being like hunting and trapping. It isn’t about the kill—no one who truly loves hunting is as concerned with the harvest as with the time in the outdoors. I am happiest beside a cut cornfield, sweating in the sun with a shotgun, or freezing in a simple blind where two trails intersect, and the bucks and does write their love letters in the sand.

I look forward to wading through a chest-deep, fetid swamp, feeling more than hearing an alligator roar through the water, whilst I make my way to take home a beaver whose work ethic and temper got the best of him. That same swamp will be bitterly cold when the furs have primed and the beaver, rats and otters are more  profit than problem.

I look forward to the patient, yet insistent call of a flight of Canada geese as they decide to commit to meeting an imaginary cousin entreating them from a frost-covered field.

God willing, I’ll be able to spend a little more time chasing pigs and bears this year. I have a fondness for bear meat, as does my beloved Miss Rhonda; plus, there’s an extra thrill involved in hog hunting. We have very few species in North Carolina that, given the chance, will hunt you in return.

In November there are quail, snipe and rail, along with the occasional beauty of a regal gallinule, one of the hardest birds to shoot, and one of the prettiest, in my opinion.

I’ve watched Jack as he lay lazily on the porch eying a pair of our resident rabbits – I   mentioned before, he’s a professional, and has no time for such foolishness – but we have but another month of semi-misery, then October, then the glory of November when the beagles can be released to bring a houndsman’s chorus to the blackberry brambles and bays where bunnies make their homes.

November is also when I can once again start the day with a prayer and a drive through the fields, waiting to see if possum, bobcat, fox, coon or coyote found my offering irresistible. Even with the fur market in the tank, there is no thrill like finding a big, fluffy, ill-tempered coyote waiting in a trap as the sun breaks boldly across a semi-frozen sky.

I don’t fuss at Jack like I should for his solitary hunts; after all, the coons in our area are cagey enough, having been hunted for years, to know every nook and cranny, every hiding place, and every hollow tree for about 50 square miles. As a professional, he expects a human to come along and finish the job, and perhaps as the nights turn cold and the frost rises crunching under my boots and his paws, I’ll tag along behind him. Neither of us runs very well any more, but I’m sure he’ll still outpace me, since he knows the ground a little better.

For now, though, my own hunting has to wait a while. The day is coming, though, and soon, when it’s once again time for the restless spirit to prowl the fields, the forests, the swamps and the river bottoms, ever seeking the next meal, the next fur, the next story and the next hunt.

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