Building Bridges-Mending Fences

bridge

It was that very special time of year, early November in Indiana. The leaves had long since turned and were absent from nearly all the trees by now, scattered to the wind they blanketed the forest floor as well as many of the creek banks and farm fields. Farmers had been fortunate this fall with dry weather and that beautiful harvest moon on the clear nights bringing us several early white frosts. The golden brown soybean fields had all vanished to barren farm ground and the remaining cornfields left standing were few and far between. Our raccoon season had just opened two days ago on Saturday and I felt very fortunate to take the entire family out on opening night. We stopped and bought snacks and drinks for the night out while on our way to a farm I’ve been hunting since I was just a young boy. We turned the dogs out and as we sat there on the majestic oak ridge listening and soaking up the night air it seemed as if the deadlines and stresses of the daily grind were long gone and we were in another world all to ourselves. By 11:00 or so the moon was up bright and the kids were cold and worn out, so we loaded up and headed back toward home. We had treed several raccoon, walked a few miles, ate a lot of snacks and had a great time laughing and cutting up. While driving back home I reflected upon how fortunate we were to have this great Hoosier outdoors to enjoy, the beautiful night, these lovable hounds and most importantly to be able to share it all with our children on this peaceful November night. 

On Sunday evening after dinner, homework and bedtime I headed our once again, just me and a young female. It was a still, cloudless night with millions of bright stars and a huge moon lighting the sky. The kind of fall night where there is not a sound in the woods but maybe a faint trickling of water in the creek and a house dog barking several miles away. When you venture out on these clear nights you know Jack Frost is not far behind you. Beautiful yes, but not exactly the kind of night you would pick to work a young dog, but I was enjoying the gorgeous night and the time spent with the young hound even if I did need to keep my expectations low. We covered a lot of ground that evening, made some bad trees, caught a possum and even treed a few coon. For her age and experience I was content with the performance and had her back home in the kennel by 1:00. 

Today was Monday and our local club had a one hour event scheduled and it was my turn for the hunt director duties. I loaded the three year old gyp and as I pointed the old Toyota east we stopped one more time just to make sure my old rain jacket was behind the seat where it was supposed to be. The weather was changing dramatically from the last two days, no more clear and no more calm. A cold front was coming through and with it lots of wind and rain, there would be no frost tonight, that’s for sure. We only had a few casts at the club and I was happy to see we had some good guys and good dogs in our bunch. We managed to tree a few coons, but she lost all my good points by grabbing a couple of leaf-less, coon-less trees. We all congratulated the winner and were on our way back to the club to fill out reports and pay the cast winners. I was more than a little anxious awaiting the rest of the cast to return, wanting to spend some quality training time with my hound before the night got too old. For whatever reason she was having accuracy problems on windy, rainy nights and I wanted to get back out there to see if we could start down some kind of road to recovery. 

Sure enough, when we finished up at the club the rain and wind had not let up at all, setting the stage for the much needed training. I finally released my hound around 12:30 heading north on the property of a local farmer just a few miles from my home. Instead of going where she was supposed to, she looped around to the west, then south crossing the road onto the property of another area farmer. Although she didn’t go where I had originally sent her and intended to hunt, I wasn’t too concerned since I had a good relationship and permission from both landowners. As I followed behind her walking west down the county road she worked a track south through a standing cornfield, a creek and up on to a hardwood ridge. Although normally music to my ears, I was somewhat disheartened upon hearing that big bawl locate and more so as she went into her steady high pitched chop. Unfortunately, she seemed to be directly across the road from a state police officer’s house, a good ¾ of a mile from where I was standing. You see I was out here to coon hunt, to train my dog, not to disturb him or anyone else. I knew my hound was not close enough to the officer’s residence for it to be a problem, but I could hear his yard dogs making a good bit of racket due to her being treed just across the road less than a quarter mile away from his house. Yes, I had permission to be where she was and where I was, but I also knew from past experience this officer would hassle me if given the slightest opportunity. 

I hesitated for just a moment wondering if I should walk back to the truck and drive around, or should I go ahead and walk straight through to avoid any potential disturbance my vehicle may cause. Deciding to just get over there ASAP, I walked the length of the un-harvested cornfield with my hands up in front of my face to keep the wet leaves off. The night was pitch black and the wind and rain was not letting up a bit as I sloshed through that muddy field. In order to approach the tree I had to scale several very steep, muddy banks and work through a substantial amount of underbrush. The tree was a very large red oak with some remaining leaves so I shined first with my red lens, squalling as I walked around the tree. After the first trip without finding eyeballs, I plugged in the spotlight and shortly thereafter found the coon in an upper fork. I had no intention of shooting the raccoon, wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible, but I just had to know if she had it or not. I felt much better about the whole ordeal now since the coon was spotted as I reached down to leash her and give her an atta-girl before heading back down the bank. 

While standing back up I noticed a bright light flash in front of me and I looked around the tree to find someone approaching quickly through the underbrush. Identifying himself as a state police officer, he stepped forward out of the darkness in plain clothes displaying his badge. He then asked for my hunting license, which I pulled out and handed to him. He seemed to be incredibly upset and wanted to know what I was doing and indicated that my hound had disturbed him and his family. I explained what I was doing and apologized for bothering him and detailed where we had started out and that I had no intention of being anywhere near his house. He remained very loud and abrupt asking if I had permission to be there. I said I did and he reprimanded me by saying he thought I was lying, but would check out my story and be writing a ticket if it was untrue. I said that I understood and reminded him that he had checked me on this same farm several times over the last few years, each time I had permission and each time I was in lawful pursuit of game. 

At this point the officer became much more upset and yelled, “OK, NOW YOU ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE”! I asked him what he meant by that. He said he was going to walk me back to his house to write a ticket. I asked what the ticket would be for; he did not answer as we proceeded through the thick underbrush out across the county road and on to his driveway. The ticket he wrote cited a violation of “Hunting Without Consent”, to which I felt strongly would be dismissed outright since I did in fact have permission to be there. When the officer handed me the ticket he asked very sarcastically, “Do you have anything else to say now?” I simply said no as I did not want to argue the point knowing I was in the right. I turned, walked down the road back to my truck and went on home, extremely aggravated with the night’s events. 

The next morning I got up early and went to visit the landowner to make sure everything was all right as far as my permission to hunt on his land was concerned. He said yes, and that everything was fine with him. I asked him for written permission to avoid future problems, which he willingly gave me. The landowner then explained to me that the officer had already phoned him that morning asking about my hunting privileges. According to him, when the officer found out that I did in fact have permission, he seemed very upset and said, “Well if I can’t get Mr. Moll for hunting without consent, I do intend to get him for something because he copped an attitude with me last night”. The landowner explained to the officer that he knew me and my family and had never had any concerns about me whatsoever, but this information seemed to have no affect on the officer’s state of mind. 

I waited two weeks and stopped in at the County Courthouse to check on the status of this citation. I assumed when the written permission from the landowner was produced, the pending charge for hunting without consent would be dropped. The clerk’s office informed me that this particular ticket had never been turned in by the officer, but that I should check at the prosecutor’s office to be sure. The prosecutor’s office also said they had not received the specific ticket I showed them, but they did receive another citation and handed me a copy. This baffled me because I had no knowledge of a second ticket and looking at the date, it seemed odd that it was not even written until this past Wednesday, a full eight days following our encounter. I also did not understand this “new charge” of hunting without a light because I had at least one continuous light burning the entire time hunting that night. While shining the tree I may have had two or three lights on simultaneously. Also the officer had made no mention of a light problem whatsoever during the initial encounter two weeks prior. 

Was it possible that the officer did not see my light as he flashed his light on me due to my being through the thick underbrush, or standing on the opposite side of the big oak tree and/or bending over to either leash or pet my dog? Or was this simply an irate person using his position to get revenge against a law abiding citizen? Based upon what he said to the landowner, it seemed to be the latter. But why in the world would anyone be so irate and whacked out about a legal Coonhunter’s dog treeing a coon on someone else’s property where they had permission to be? How could this possibly drive someone to trump up a fictitious charge about an innocent person? All of these questions puzzled the heck out of me, but I had no answers and really did want to try and understand. 

As time went on I became more informed about the officer’s convictions and motivations. I learned he was an avid and sometimes fanatical deer hunter. In recent years he had run off several types of sportsmen hunting raccoon, squirrel, rabbit and deer. These hunters were on properties adjacent to his few acres and as far as I know all had permission to be where they were. The night of our encounter was just five short days before the Indiana Deer Gun Season began and he must have thought I was chasing off the Bambi he had been stalking for months. No wonder he awoke so easily, there were probably visions of big antlers dancing in his head. I also heard of him making many negative and disrespectful comments about Hoosier Houndsmen and their dogs to the point I’m sure he sees no redeeming value in either. 

As you can imagine I was finally able to get these newly fabricated charges against me dismissed, but it did cost me several hundred dollars that I didn’t have to spend on such foolishness. The officer may have known the charges would be dismissed or he may have assumed I would just pay the fines. Either way, he knew the negative publicity and financial jeopardy was my problem alone and would not affect him in the least. He was at no risk whatsoever in his endeavor to scare me away from a neighbor’s land by what ever means he decided to employ via the advantages of his profession. The facts that I was in the right and was 100% legal in all respects meant absolutely nothing to him, nothing at all! 

All of these events and information could have easily caused me to place the entire blame on this officer, but in reality I’ve heard many similar stories from other Houndsmen over the years. As time soothed my initial feelings, I’ve spent more time pondering why. The scenario I’ve described and hearing of these other similar incidents have caused me to ask many more questions about myself and fellow Hoosier Houndsmen. Think about this; it is one thing for the anti-hunting groups to prey on us Sportsmen, but another thing entirely when other hunters are treating us in this manner, we have a major image problem. What have we done so wrong or what are we not doing right that anyone could possibly have that low opinion of us? Have we not communicated the positive attributes of our sport and its effects or lack thereof on other hunting sports? Have we not demonstrated an atmosphere of respect and appreciation for landowners allowing us the privilege of hunting on their private ground? Have we not taken the time to communicate our respect and appreciation of our state’s Department of Natural Resources and the steps they take to preserve our hunting heritage? How often have we contributed to the negative impressions others have about Houndsmen and how often have we gone out of our way to boost the credibility and image of our group in the public eye? 

What can we do? The first thing is to join and support your state’s tree dog organization, such as the Hoosier Tree Dog Alliance. Ask what your organization is doing to promote and elevate the image of the Houndsman in your state and community. Find out what is being done to educate other sportsmen about how hunting with hounds does or does not impinge on their sport. If there is not enough being done, volunteer to get things rolling to build solid bridges and to mend torn fences. Make contact with your local conservation officer, if he has not been exposed to Tree Dogs, educate him about our sport and invite him to go hunting. Talk to local deer, fox, rabbit and bird hunting groups and explain how our hounds will not hider them in their pursuit of game and offer to show them in the woods. Make yourself known to the head of your DNR and ask to be involved in discussions that may affect our sport. Offer to take 4-H and FFA groups coon hunting and ask teachers and/or leaders to come along. Don’t be afraid to let everyone know the positive impact the Coonhound sport has on the nation’s economy and what our hobby does in support of worthwhile charities, such as; raising over three million dollars for the Decatur County World’s Largest Coonhunt, Benefit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Winston Churchill succinctly summarizes the impact of sitting on the sidelines: “Too often the strong, silent man is silent only because he does not know what to say, or how to say it and he is reputed strong only because he has remained silent.”