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SUNDAY, JULY 15, 2007
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Coon hunt goes on despite stuck pickup

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com · 340-2438

LACEY’S SPRING — With Rat riding in the dog box in the bed of his pickup, Junior Summerford of Lacey’s Spring leads a coon-hunting caravan into the night, the closing act of Friday’s benefit for Herbert Fields.

In addition to Rat, his female treeing walker, Summerford’s friend James Wayne Sanford of Somerville is along as an observer.

The three other hunters in the cast, their names having been previously drawn from a hat at the Tennessee River Coon Hunters Association lodge, follow in separate pickups.

Chris Bates of Rosalie drives immediately behind Summerford. With Bates are his black and tan hound, Sheena; his wife, Lora; and Cory Mason of Skyline with his dog Rock, a treeing walker.

Trailing in the third pickup are Rabe Jones of Falkville with his dog, Sambo, and friends James Staton of Arab and his sister, Britney Staton. They, too, are coon-hunting fans and are along for the ride. Sambo also is a treeing walker.

In this cast of the one-hour “buddy coon hunt,” where unregistered dogs can take part, Summerford also serves as judge and guide.

He turns off Lower Dry Creek Road, west of the lodge, and heads down a water-pocked wagon trail.

Muddy hole

It’s a clear night and all is well until Bates veers into a deep muddy hole, the right front of his pickup sinking to the bumper.

It is now after 9 p.m., and the hunt must go on. Sheena and Rock join Rat in Summerford’s dog box, and Bates and his two passengers sit on top.

The two pickups pull up, and the handlers unload their dogs, collar them, and begin a steady walk down the path. The dogs are yelping and dancing, ready to run. Summerford lines them across the trail for a fair start, then yells, “Cast your dogs!” And the chase hunt is on.

Each handler knows his dog’s distinctive bark and must strike, or recognize, his dog when it’s opening on a track. Every now and then, when the dogs go quiet, a consistent chorus of tree frogs takes up the slack, and lightning bugs flash among the trees.

The only other light comes from the handlers’ and observers’ helmets, making them appear as miners searching for a coal vein.

Although the hunt is designated to last an hour, the judge has the right to call timeout when he feels the dogs are on posted land or a dog is in danger. Summerford has hunted the property numerous times and is familiar with the layout.

It is 10:20 p.m. when the dogs scoot past a bucket of Gummy Bears that Summerford has placed on a tree as treats for the coons, although, he says, they’ll eat anything.

At about that moment, they tree a coon but can’t find it. At 10:45, they tree again, but get minus points because it’s a dead tree and no one can see the coon.

Ten minutes later, Sambo trees a coon on his own but quits the tree to join the other dogs. Summerford gives him minus 125 points because he left.

‘Not quick enough’

“I tried to get to him and tie him, but was not quick enough,” says Jones.

Rock then charges the tree and stays. So he gets 50 points for the strike and 50 for the tree. Summerford declares him and his handler, Mason, the winner at 11 p.m.

The party reaches Bates’ truck, but no one has a chain. Summerford calls his son, Josh, who brings a chain, and the elder Summerford uses his pickup to pull Bates out.

Other winners

They reach the lodge at 11:50 p.m. to discover that the other cast winners are Josh Summerford with Clyde, a treeing walker; Mike Pritchett of New Hope with Annie, a black and tan; and Tyler Evans of Lacey’s Spring with Millie, a treeing walker.

“We’re thankful for everything the hunters did to help with the benefit,” Junior Summerford says. “It’s been a good hunt, a pleasurable one.”

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