Eat’n Out! Raccoon Hunting

Published 4:05 pm Sunday, July 23, 2023

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Column written by Robert Duke

Some of you may remember a comedian I used to listen to all the time in the 1970’s. I know, I’m old but this guy was from Liberty, Mississippi, and yes that’s a real place, who was hilariously funny. His name was Jerry Clower. He left this world in 1998.

Jerry was a traveling seed and feed salesman who was all over the South but especially West Alabama and East Mississippi. He was born in 1926, did a stint in the U.S. Navy, graduated from Mississippi State University having studied Agriculture, and eventually became a seed and
feed salesman. He was well known for his stories and seemed to never meet a stranger. He was just that kind of guy. His stories were always “clean” and by that, I mean no cussing or ugly talk of any kind. Just good ole’ country humor. Humor that a large amount of folks around here at least used to intimately understand.

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In 1970 he was speaking at an Alabama Dairyman convention at Point Clear, Alabama when he was approached by someone there who told him he should move into the comedy industry. Long story short, he did just that.

He would use his “gift of gab” to sell that feed to both farmers and feed stores and would always have a story or joke for those he often saw. He ended up having some of the funniest comedy concerts, records, and now CD’s I have ever heard. They still sell them. Google it!

Even though they were funny to anyone, to truly understand a lot of his jokes, you would need some common reference. You know, like racoon hunting or just living on a farm. Having grown up right here in West Alabama, I could totally relate to the stories he told as I lived most of them myself.

Thinking back, talking about Mr. Clower always reminds me of one particular story which happened to me when I was just a small kid of around 7 or 8 years old. It is almost identical to one of Jerry’s stories. But not nearly as funny or amusing as his.

There was a man who lived near us to whom I apologize for not remembering his proper name. Everyone called him “Sonny-man.” I would bet some readers will know him by that name. In any case, for some unknown reason to me, he loved to go racoon hunting. I have no idea what he did with the racoons after the hunt, but I know some old folks used to eat them. Some tanned the hides and sold them, I guess. But, the racoon hat went out of style when Davy Crocket died.

I don’t know about you but I will eat a lot of crazy stuff but I do have a line I won’t cross easily. On the other side of that line is racoon. Racoons have a lot of company over there like tree rats (squirrels) and opossums. I will say here though I don’t remember ever trying to eat a racoon or a possum but I would like to keep it that way. As long as I can buy beef or chicken, catch fish, and hunt deer I will keep it that way. Tons of them were consumed in the South during the Great Depression and that’s likely what it would take to make me try one. A Great Depression. On the other hand, I have eaten tree rat more than once but only because that’s what mama made so that’s what we were Eat’n. But, back to Sonny-man.

Sonny-man came by the house one afternoon to ask my dad if he could go racoon hunting on our place that night. He agreed and after some other polite, adult conversation of which I was totally oblivious, Sonny-man asked me if I wanted to go with him. I looked at my dad and he nodded that it would be fine if I wanted to go. So, a little excited and a little apprehensive about it, I agreed. I had recently found out what a “Snipe Hunt” was and that had me a little concerned that this hunt would just be a dirty trick played at my expense.

Sonny-man came by the house to pick me up though at around 9 p.m. and I was ready to go. I had my little plastic flashlight and my double-barreled .410 shotgun and had put on my best rubber boots with only the one hole in the toe. The hole was good because even though it didn’t keep water out of my boot it did allow for the water to run out that inevitably got in there somehow walking in the dark. I didn’t even know why we were hunting in the dark but didn’t dare ask to not sound ignorant, which I was of course.

Now Sonny-man only had one good arm, the other had been lost at some point long before and appeared to have been amputated right at his elbow. I never knew why and would never ask.

So, he couldn’t manage a shotgun and a flashlight at the same time forcing him to wear one of those “carbide” lights on his head. Now carbide lights have been used for over a century by miners, railroad workers and apparently coon hunters. Carbide lights work by combining water and powdered calcium carbide to produce flammable acetylene gas. The more water you pump into the carbide the more gas is produced the brighter your light burns.

In any event, Sonny-man wore one of those contraptions on his head and could pump it with his nub while holding his shotgun with his other arm.

Off to the hunt.

We also had dogs to deal with. They were easy though as they knew their job well. We just stopped the truck, let the dogs out, and sat on the tailgate to wait on the dogs to tree a racoon and start barking at it to let us know where they were. Then, we would move toward that tree wherever it may be. I had no idea what we were going to do once we got there. Back in those days my little flashlight was barely bright enough to light the ground in front of me. But, Sonny-man’s carbide lamp was pretty bright.

We arrived at the tree and began looking for that old racoon. Bark. Bark. Bark. Lots of dogs making lots of noise. Bark! Bark! Exciting. Sure enough, we could see the racoon’s eyes shining, from our lights, way up in that tree. Then he moved and we couldn’t see him. The dogs were really excited running back and forth back and forth bark bark! Sonny-man had his shotgun up and was pumping up that light on his head trying to find those shiny eyes again. Just then I heard something. I didn’t know racoons could roar like a really big cat. Wait a minute. That sounded like a bobcat!

Then it happened. BOOM!

At first and because of the searing light, I thought lightening had struck me. I was frozen, paralyzed, blind and deaf. I could hear or see nothing. Then again, BOOM! What is happening? Where is that bobcat? Why am I blind? Did I go to the bathroom before I left the house? How fast can I run in the dark? Which way do I run? Where is Sonny-man?

I turned around to see if it was just as dark behind me as it was in front of me and out of the corner of my eye I saw something burning. Just a little fire about 6 feet off the ground. What in the world is happening? Just then the dogs went crazy. They were gnashing teeth, growling and what sounded like fighting for their lives. Where is that bobcat? Where is Sonny-man?

Suddenly I realized I wasn’t deaf. I could hear the dogs fighting in the dark and Sonny-man said, “shine your light over here.” I shined my little plastic flashlight on his face and was horrified and became paralyzed again. His face was ash covered and his hair was smoking. He
had pumped up that carbide light so much to see that racoon-bobcat that it had blown up on his head and set his hair on fire. After everything went dark he told me he was able to shoot down that ole racoon that turned out to be a bobcat that was whooping our dogs. Finally, the dogs and the bobcat ran in opposite directions and we got Sonny-man’s hair fire put out.

On the way back to the truck I was trying to figure out what happened. I asked Sonny- man how he was able to see the eye-shine after his light blew up and he said it must have been reflecting the fire from his head.

We never did see that bobcat again and I don’t believe I ever went racoon hunting again. After I felt safe again back in the truck on the way home, I finally got the nerve to ask Sonny-man how he lost his arm. He said “ever been gator hunting?”