People in large urban areas probably go to the zoo or fly pigeons from their tenement roof tops to have a natural experience. In small town and rural America the experience is much closer and more personal. We live with wild life and have centuries old traditions about hunting, trapping, angling, and observing the creatures we live near.
Each year during deer season the competition is on to see who comes away with the biggest white tail buck deer and all the bragging rights that accompany its prize set of antlers. It’s big business and even the counties of Ohio have a vested interested in where the trophy deer was harvested. A couple of years ago Highland County produced a major buck and local restaurants, motels, and restaurants benefited from the increased income from out of area hunters coming here in search of the trophy buck’s first cousin.
While a lot of the attention these days is focused on the deer and wild turkey harvest it hasn’t always been so. I recently came across a front page article in a local newspaper from the late 1940s. It reported on a local raccoon hunter named Munk Rickman who, with his faithful dogs, had tracked down, treed, and taken a huge raccoon. Monk said the creature weighed over 19 pounds and the hide measured 42″ in length. The skin or hide was placed on display in the window of Norton’s Seed Store in Greenfield, OH and Monk proudly proclaimed to all who stopped for a look, “This here coon fought me like a young bear.”
Raccoon hunting may not be the attraction it once was but there was a time when small groups of men and boys often took to the moonlit fields and woods of the area, armed with powerful flashlights, .22 caliber rifles, some prized coon hounds, and a few flasks of Kentucky bourbon in the back pockets of their Osh-Kosh b’Gosh bib overalls to help ward off the chill.
About every county or township had a coon hunting club where men would meet often to talk about past hunts, brag and lie about their catches, plan new adventures, and enjoy the occasional game feed utilizing the fruits of their various hunting activities during the season. As a boy I never went coon hunting but I was at a couple of those feeds. Tables filled high with platters of stewed, roasted and fried rabbit, squirrel, ground-hog, quail, pheasant, turtle, fish and on one occasion, roasted bear meat. I do remember eating a little pheasant, probably because it looked a little like chicken, but all that other stuff was too exotic for me.
During the years I taught high school there were many a time I had to contend with a student who just couldn’t stay awake due to having been out all night with his grandfather hunting raccoons. Wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d also had a little of grandpa’s bourbon working it’s way through his system as well.
I don’t know if teachers today have to deal with such things but we still have a small business in Greenfield that for over half a century has manufactured a highly prized battery-powered lantern designed especially for the coon hunter. They also make and distribute a complete line of items for maintaining the health and training of coon dogs.
Deer hunting seems to be the king of the blood sports today. You see far more people carrying tree stands into the woods than those following a pack of dogs. The first day of deer gun season in Ohio has almost national holiday status and even when I was teaching you didn’t plan for most of your male students to be present on opening day.
Not really comfortable with the thought of killing something, coupled with not liking the taste of most game, I was never much of a hunter. In the early 70s I did hunt on occasion and would clean and give my kills to an aunt who loved squirrel and rabbit. After she passed I put my shotgun in storage and began hunting with a camera, if at all. I do enjoy fishing but commonly practice what’s known as “catch and release.” On occasion I will keep a fish to eat but usually I return it back to the water to be caught again on some future day in nature’s outdoors.
None the less, the blood sports are alive and prospering in Southern Ohio. From the big box stores to the local mom and pops, the shelves are filled with guns, ammo, archery equipment, accessories, tree stands, targets, insulated camo clothing, high dollar Gortex boots, game scents, game calls, watertight digital cameras used to record game movement in your woods, and much more. This equipment thing doesn’t just end with a gun and a hunting license today. The true hunter isn’t going to be satisfied with anything less than a four-wheel drive pickup truck carrying a four-wheel drive ATV in its bed. And that ATV has to be equipped with enough racks and plastic saddle bags to permit carrying into the woods more supplies than the great white hunters dragged into the darks of Africa in search of the rumored ape-man known as Tarzan.
I knew Monk Rickman and know that he never had anything more than a simple flashlight, his everyday clothing, and an inexpensive small-caliber firearm. Armed with just that he bagged him a beast that, “fought like a small bear.” I want to believe that a guy today, riding his camo wrapped, GPS guided, ATV, accompanied by an army of pedigreed dogs wearing electronic tracking devices, armed with a .22 magnum rifle equipped with a laser night-vision scope, lighting his way with the most expensive three billion candlelight LED beam, and drinking a fine single-malt whiskey, couldn’t outdo old Monk.