Guy Nelson is seven years old and absolutely nuts about hunting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the future of a hunter start out so promising.
I took him turkey hunting last spring. He was still too small to handle a shotgun, but he just wanted to spend a morning roaming the woods. At daylight we had three gobblers hammering on the roost 100 yards away.
“Stay as still as you can,” I whispered to him.
For 30 minutes he didn’t budge a muscle, didn’t cough, sneeze, ask me a question or nothing. I thought he fell asleep. After the gobblers pitched out and headed for the next county, I peeked over at Guy, and his eyes were planted toward the last sound those gobblers made.
“Come on let’s go,” I told him.
We stood up, and I started to ease down the hill.
“Brad, two turkeys,” he said.
I whirled around and sure enough two hens had slipped in behind us and were quickly high-stepping it back to where they came from. To this day he still teases me about the turkeys that I scared away.
I’ve known Guy since the day he was born. He’s spent his young life growing up on a cattle farm in Bostwick, a small community in north Morgan County. I’m very good friends with his dad, Steve, who doesn’t hunt much today. However, he grew up hunting in Kansas with his grandfather, Guy.
“That’s who Guy was named after,” said Steve. “Guy is just like my grandpa.
“He would have been proud. I used to hunt all the time, but I mostly hunted birds.”
Steve said that hunting and fishing are all his son Guy has talked about since he was three.
“I guess it’s just bred into him,” he laughed. “He’s always ready to go do some kind of hunting.”
About a year ago Guy took a dive into the coon-hunting business. He was given a bluetick coon hound from David Padgett, a fellow from Adairsville who has been in the coon-dog business since he was eight years old. David grew up in the John’s Mountain WMA area where he learned to crawl up and slide down mountains when going to howling coon dogs.
“Steve and Guy knew my aunt, and she told me Guy was looking for a puppy and wanted a bluetick pretty bad,” said David. “Up here, we’ve always made it a policy to help kids. They don’t have jobs and can’t pay $300 for a pup. I knew Guy was real excited and lived in a place where they could handle raising a pup.”
David talked with his coon-hunting buddies Ed Mead and Bob Kennedy, who are both co-owners in the “Jet” bloodline, and they all three agreed that David should give Guy a free pup from the Jet bloodline.
“Ed is the type of guy who never wants to see a kid without a hound,” said David. “Ed works a lot with kids. The good thing is that when you get a dog from Ed and Bob it’s already treeing.”
David had just gotten a 6-month-old bluetick female from Ed, but realizing he really had enough treeing hounds, and several puppies, he decided to give Guy the dog, which was already starting to tree pretty good.
Guy got the dog in the fall of 2004 and named her Dolly.
“I knew if I put her with him that she’d make him a good coon dog and meet his needs,” said David. “I knew she’d let him get a feel for raising a hound and learning about the upkeep of a dog. Steve is teaching him the right direction, and I gave them a few tips and things to do to keep the dog in shape and healthy.”
This past summer I asked Guy if he’d take me on a coon hunt. He didn’t have to think about it for a second. We scheduled a hunt for December 14, and as it turned out I was going to get a chance to hunt with David, too.
David brought one of his UKC field-trial dogs, Flatwoods Ringin‚ Blue Bell (Bell), who is a UKC Nite Champion. She lacks three wins to becoming a Grand Nite Champion. This was Dolly’s first hunt of the year, and Steve and Guy both admitted she needed practice pretty bad. She hadn’t been out of the pen in a while, and they weren’t sure how she’d do.
When we let the pair of coonhounds go in the northern Morgan County woods about 9 o’clock, the excitement level for Guy was sky-high. The plan was for Guy to shoot his first coon and have it mounted for his bedroom. Earlier that day we had practiced with a scoped .22, and I’ll say this — Guy would have no problem drilling a coon between the eyes in the tallest oak you could find.
The dogs quickly left our lights headed for a creek bottom. For just a minute we could hear crunching leaves as the dogs ran back and forth, but very quickly the evening went still.
Ten minutes later we heard Dolly start a series of barks probably 400 yards off, and she was moving pretty fast. We never heard Bell, which told David that Dolly may have been on a deer. We headed back to the truck to get David’s radio-tracking equipment to see where Bell went.
Tracking something other than a coon was a problem we thought we might encounter with Dolly. She’s still a young dog that needs training and time in the woods. Thankfully, David was there to help Guy mature in his role as a coon-dog trainer.
“I told Guy he needs to go ahead and get a shock collar,” said David.
Most dog handlers worry about their dogs running deer. If a hound gets on a deer, they run far and fast and getting a dog back sometimes takes days. This is why David was quick to give advice to Guy about how to cure his problem.
“If your dog is on a real hot coon track where he’s opening a lot, it’s not going to take very long for that coon to tree,” said David. “If the dog is hot, wait and make sure what they’re running before you shock them. A deer is going to leave hearing in a hurry, and so is the dog.”
David suggested that Guy get a shock collar with a one-mile range. You can buy them with a two-mile range, but he said you never want to shock a dog you can’t hear, so he sees no need for a range that great.
At the truck Dolly came up behind us. Whatever she was chasing was no longer being chased. David got out his transmitter and saw that Bell was a good ways off, opposite the way Dolly ran. We all piled in the trucks and headed to another location to see what she was doing.
Ten minutes later we piled out of the truck to listen.
“I know I hear my dog,” he said.
Sure enough… way off in the night you could hear the bawl of a coon hound. The mood in this crowd of hunters changed quickly. We had a coon treed, meaning the excitement level jumped about three notches as several grown men and one young boy hit a fast-paced walk through the dark woods.
David led Dolly on a lead halfway to the tree and turned her loose.
“Go Dolly,” Guy hollered.
After a few excited circles around us, Dolly’s ears perked up and she disappeared in the direction of Bell’s barks.
Guy was so excited I thought he was going to break a leg trying to get past me and across the dark scrub-oak flat. He was running wide open, hit a root and went flying forward landing on his side. He never missed a lick, pulling off an acrobatic tumble before getting back on his feet and continuing a full sprint toward the long bawl of a coon hound.
When we got within a hundred yards I could hear two dogs baying, meaning Dolly was on the tree, too.
“Hunting with an older dog like Bell teaches that pup a lot about social skills around the tree,” said David.
Both dogs were jumping and barking, doing exactly what coon hounds were meant to do. I was so excited that Guy was fixing to kill his first coon in front Dolly. The blueticks had their front paws on a big water oak that towered over a cluster of mid-story saplings.
Finding this coon was going to be tough. Not only were the mid-story trees thick, but the water oak still had leaves on it. If the coon had made it to the top, it would live.
We made circles around the tree, looking in every fork and branch on that tree, trying to see reflections from a pair of eyes. I bet there was one-third of the tree that we just couldn’t see in because of the leaves. Guy wouldn’t get to shoot a coon on this night.
Surprisingly to me, Guy didn’t seem to care. He just kept smiling. His coon hound had treed a coon, even if it required a little help from an old pro.
An hour later we were attempting to tree another coon, but David said it wasn’t a good night for coon hunting because it was much colder than your average December night.
“As a rule of thumb coons get harder to tree after Christmas dinner,” said David. “In January and February the extreme temperatures at night means the coons are less active, and they do more feeding in the day a lot of times.”
It didn’t really matter that the dogs were hitting on nothing as we neared midnight. Guy was laid up in his dad’s lap asleep while we all sat around the tailgate hoping to hear one last bawl of a coon hound — but it just wasn’t going to be Guy’s night to pull the trigger.
“As it starts to warm in the spring, I plan to spend more time with Guy and Dolly where she’ll be able to hit some real good, hot tracks,” said David. “It’ll be warmer and coons will be out.”
David said he wished he lived a little closer to Guy so he could hunt with him on a regular basis.
“If you see Guy in town you should see if he’ll take you hunting — they both need plenty of time out in the woods,” said David.
I talked with Steve a few days after our hunt.
“The next morning the first thing Guy said was ‘we really had a lot of fun didn’t we?’” said Steve. “Then he said, ‘the next time I fall asleep, wake me up, even if I’m cranky. I may miss something fun.’”
David and Steve are two examples of the kind of folks we need to help keep the sport of hunting alive in this state. Guy is extremely interested in hunting and fishing, and because of folks like David and Steve he’ll hopefully stay interested.
Personally, I’d like to believe that Guy will become a man much quicker, a leader in the community and someone that a little kid one day can look up to for advice, all because he spent his nights as a 7-year-old boy hunting coons.
“This lifestyle is a more positive direction in life,” said David. “Hopefully it’ll plant a seed inside him, and he’ll continue down this same path. I hope that when he’s 17 he’s thinking about treeing coon instead of riding around in town and getting in trouble.”