By Josh Boyd
As you stand beneath the starlit sky of a brisk autumn night, a familiar sound rings out, echoing across the heavily wooded landscape. The sweet sound that pierces the late night air comes as a call to action. With headlamps blazing, you begin your quest to locate the source of the volley of rhythmic tones that resonate above all else.
These are the relentless vocalizations of a coon hound that has treed a raccoon high atop the woodline. As your hounds continue to reiterate the presence of a treed raccoon, you make your way toward the source of their enthusiastic pleas.
The hunting of raccoons, or coon hunting as it’s affectionately known across many regions, has roots that run deep through the rural landscape of our nation’s heartland.
Coon hunting is believed to have been practiced in some form by Native Americans, with more modern forms of the sport stemming from the importation of various breeds of scent hounds by European settlers around the time of colonization. Coon hunting has remained popular for many years, even providing a source of food for many during the trying times of the Great Depression.
With few natural predators, raccoon numbers go largely unchecked in many regions. Coon hunting serves as a viable means of controlling otherwise unchecked raccoon populations. This comes as a valuable asset to both the ecosystem and man alike.
Raccoons wreak havoc on nests of many species, and in areas of extremely high population densities, can have adverse effects on the populations of these nesting species. Both turkey and waterfowl hunters alike benefit from adequately controlled raccoon numbers due to a reduced prevalence of nest destruction.
In states where supplemental feeding and baiting of deer is legal, coon hunting can save deer hunters a significant amount of money on a yearly basis due to a reduction in wasted feed. As any deer hunter that regularly uses trail cameras knows, raccoons seem to have an instinctive knack for parking themselves over a corn pile, or other similar source of feed, and consuming it with little hesitation.
Additionally, raccoons, where in extreme over abundance, are known to become neighborhood pests. Trash cans become toppled, pet food is raided, and small backyard flocks of chickens become targets when raccoon numbers swell to an unchecked excess. Coon hunting in woodlots adjacent to these areas can serve as an effective means of quelling this issue.
Coon hunting also limits the impact of disease throughout raccoon populations. When populations of any species of wildlife grow well beyond the carrying capacity of their environment, the spread of disease is often rampant. Diseases such as distemper, parvovirus, and even rabies can be spread at an accelerated rate within areas of raccoon overpopulation.
In recent years, the number of coon hunters has appeared to dwindle. While at least a portion of this observed decrease in coon hunters is due to a lack of continuation of the practice from one generation to the next, much of the decline can be directly attributed to a loss of land access and an increase in direct conflict with deer hunters.
Many avid deer hunters feel that coon hunting negatively impacts the prevalence of deer sightings and their level of deer hunting success. In recent years this has become a limiting factor among coon hunters, as many avenues of land access have been eliminated due to such concerns. But do such concerns have any true factual basis?
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources conducted a study to see what, if any, correlation there was between coon hunting and daily deer movement.
Twenty-seven radio collared deer were monitored across two test areas, one being an area where coon hunting was to be allowed, the other, an area void of coon hunting practices. The deer were monitored for a 24 hour period before coon hunting was to take place, as well as the 24 hour period directly following an evening of coon hunting.
No noticeable impact was noted in deer movement between the area that coon hunting was conducted and the control area during either 24 hour period. Furthermore, no decrease in deer movement was apparent in the test area in the 24 hour directly following the conclusion of the prior evening’s coon hunt.
While continued debate on the matter is nearly assured, it appears that coon hunting practices have little, if any, negative impacts on deer sightings or deer hunting success. For the modern coon hunter, education of the public, as well as continued diligence in seeking private land to conduct hunts, appears to be key to the heritage rich sport’s continued success.
While coon hunting has faced undisputable challenges and a significant decrease in participation in recent years, the uncapped excitement that this sport continues to yield for every successive generation has not changed. The elation that a chorus of treeing coonhounds provides, rings just as true today, as it did during the days of our forefathers.
In absence of this great tradition, our nation would be void of a treasure no less American than apple pie. However, with continued education of the young among us, the tradition of coon hunting will carry on far into the distant future.