Out in the yard, beneath a canopy of pecan trees, the aroma of wild boar barbecue set stomachs to growling. Inside the house, Rev. Wade Hall Jr. sat at the kitchen table, registering participants in the inaugural Lumber River Outdoors/True Vine Coon Club Youth Hunt.
The hunt took place early last December at The Roost, a Columbus County farmhouse near Fair Bluff. The vintage home is also the headquarters of Lumber River Outdoors, where Ricky Ward the head guide.
“I manage timber operations and hunting on 4,000 acres of land owned by Monroe Enzor in southwestern Columbus County,” Ward said. “But this youth coon hunt is taking place on farms spread across four counties. We have youth hunters registering from Bladen, Brunswick and Robeson counties. We might have as many as 80 adults and 40 youth hunters participating.”
“The large numbers of hunters registering is thanks to cell phones,” said Derek Strickland, who owns The Roost and the 200 acres that surrounds it. “We have hunters with kids calling in from all over.”
The idea for the hunt came from several places. Most of the hunters own coonhounds, and many of them own farms, but none of them were required to enter the event with their own children. In fact, Teddy Spivey, one of the landowners, said taking someone else’s son or daughter was one of the primary goals.
“I’ve been hunting the Strickland farm for years and wanted to do something with the local kids,” Spivey said. “I have an adjoining farm, and all of the tracts combined total 560 acres. Ricky put on a youth turkey hunt last spring, and it was so successful that we wanted to have a youth coon hunt.”
“The goal is to help keep at-risk children free from bad influences,” Hall said. “Our church’s youth program has inspired at least 10 kids get off drugs or alcohol during a hunt.”
Once all the hunters were registered, they spread out across the landscape, a patchwork of farms that made it imperative to know the location of property lines.
Hall and his English coonhound, d-CON, and Austin Maynor and his Walker hound, Rip, teamed up with 10-year-old Gage Zokal. D-CON had an ancestor named Rat Poison, so the name seemed a natural succession. They headed for the hinterlands after darkness had fallen.
“This has always been a good place to tree coons,” Hall said. “They eat in this field and den in the trees. It has a creek bottom and some tall trees, and coon tracks are everywhere. The bad thing is some of the trees are hollow, and a coon can get inside them where you won’t be able to see him.”
Hall and Maylor outfitted Zokal with some Muck Boots that were several sizes too large, and on his head, they strapped a coon hunter’s head lamp. It wasn’t long before his duties included carrying the group’s Ruger .22 caliber rifle.
“I like being in the woods,” Zokal said, “but they look different at night. I have been hunting before, but not for coons. I shot a 3-point buck with a shotgun, and I went turkey hunting one time.”
It was only a moment before d-CON hit hot raccoon scent, and soon, he had a raccoon treed. However, the raccoon had given the dog the slip, because when Hall shined his light into the foliage, no eyes reflected back.
“He went up that tree, down this one and into that hollow, I’ll bet,” Hall said. “Let’s try for another one.”
The next time the dog treed, the tree held two raccoons, but the vines in the treetop for a sure shot. They switched hunting areas several times, loading the dogs back into the pickup then piling out again. Once, they had to contact a landowner when d-CON trailed a raccoon onto property they had no permission to hunt. The landowner gladly allowed them entry once they told him about the youth hunt, which was fortunate because the dog entered a patch of woods in which a pack of coyotes was also hunting. Their howls and yips were growing very close to the trailing hound.
“A pack of coyotes can kill a coon dog,” Hall said. “We need to move a good distance from here.”
Maynor cast Rip at the next spot, and the dog treed a raccoon after a short chase. The hunters were able to spot the raccoon, but they considered it too small to shoot. The goal was to bring back the heaviest raccoon, with the winners determined by weight.
By 3 a.m. it was time to head back to The Roost. The two dogs had treed seven raccoons, and Zokal was so excited that he was not even sleepy.
“I liked coon hunting because I got to go out in the woods at night,” he said. “The best part was hearing the dogs barking whenever they treed a coon."
HOW TO GET THERE — To reach The Roost, go 3 1/2 miles west on US 76 out of Chadbourn, then turn left on Dolph Lewis Road. Go 6 1/2 miles and turn left on Lennue Strickland Lane. The Roost is at the end of the road.
WHEN TO GO — Raccoon season is open from Oct. 13 through Feb. 28, 2015. The bag limit is three per person per day.
BEST PLACES — Swamps bordering agricultural fields hold the highest concentrations of raccoons. Nearby game lands where raccoon hunting is allowed include Columbus County, Green Swamp and Juniper Creek.
GUIDES/ACCOMMODATIONS — Ricky Ward, Lumber River Outdoors, 910-641-7303, www.lumberriveroutdoors.com. Participating hunters may spend the night at The Roost.