Varmint hunting can raise a big stink

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I sometimes enjoy watching reruns of some favorite television series episodes. I would watch Barney Fife tell Andy Griffith to “Nip it in the bud” any day. Also, I’d enjoy and laugh at any of Ernest T. Bass’s appearances on Andy Griffith, or Tim Conway on Carol Burnett.

Considering that, I’ll warn you that this is a “summer rerun” Musings. It appeared at the end of June 2015, as my very first Musings. I figure that lots of you never saw it. If you did, it’s my favorite and I feel worth a replay -- with a few tweaks.

In June of 2015, Madison County Museum closed for reorganization until July 1, because former curator Lynda Breeding had moved away. Jane Day Reynolds had accepted the position as Museum Curator, and I had assumed the duty of writing Musings.

That July 1, a new exhibit, Hunting and Fishing in Madison County, was scheduled to open and it will always be my favorite we have ever done. There were great photos and stunning mounts, and one, a ringtail cat, still fascinates me. The ringtail cat, on loan from Jerry Reed, has recently made a return visit and should be on display a bit longer. I’ve lived in Madison County all my life and never have I seen such as this ringtail cat.

[I should warn you at this point; I cannot make myself write the word “raccoon” more than once; it’s pretentious to me. Here in Madison County most of us say “coon”. I have fond childhood memories of coon hunts with my dad, uncles, and friends. They’d think me stuffy if I wrote “raccoon” here.]

Jerry Reed has lived in Madison County all of his life. His father enjoyed nature, as did his brother, Dr. J.E. Reed. For many years the three of them made Wednesday their day to hunt and fish together. When Jerry and wife, Mary, had children, Teri, Matt, and Leanne, it was natural for them to take up the family hobbies. I’ve always associated Jerry and Matt with fishing, probably because Jerry sponsored a fishing contest at Reed’s Furniture for years. With the Museum’s exhibit, I’ve learned that family members also hunt.

Around 1974- 1975, coon prices were pretty high, about $10 a hide, and many folks hunted them. Matt Reed was about 12 and liked to hunt coons for spending money. His dad, Jerry, usually went along, and Matt’s friends Bobby Brown and Dewayne Boyette often joined in. However, the night the ringtail cat met its demise, it was just Matt and Jerry. They were just

over in Leon County a little ways, on Yellow Branch, a tributary of Boggy Creek that the Reed family dammed up to make Reed Lake.

Jerry related to me, “One night, we were driving down a dirt trail spotlighting nearby trees for coons, and all the sudden we saw a strange animal running up a tree trunk. It moved a bit like a squirrel, but it had really big eyes looking into the spotlight. When Matt shot it with his .22 rifle, it fell dead. We looked at it then and I thought, ‘What the heck?’ I had never seen anything like it in my life and even all these many years later, I still have never seen another one alive. I cannot remember how we identified it, probably with the help of Mr. Trant or Mr. Foster, who both knew a lot about hunting.”

Jerry continued, “I have read a bit about ringtail cats since then. They are nocturnal and carnivores, and their teeth are very sharp like a cat’s. They are climbers, and they are more prevalent in West Texas and arid areas of our state.”

I’d print a photo of this ringtail cat mount, it fascinates me so, but I think you should see the real thing. It looks great thanks to Danny Singletary, who did the taxidermy work. I hope others of you enjoyed that hunting and fishing exhibit as much as I did. It included photos of folks many of us have loved and lost, including E.N. Trant, Willie and Sherman Bullard, Coach James Byrd, Vivian Morgan, Pebble and Oscar Howard, and more!

The Museum offers books and booklets for sale, all about our area. One of them, Madison County Memories Vol. 1, was printed in 2004 for our sesquicentennial celebration and contains anecdotes from locals. Jerry Reed wrote one of them, about a night in the mid-1950s. He and Hiram Jones, Charles Strawther, and Ronald Standley were teenagers enjoying a favorite pastime, cruising Madison County back roads while taking pot shots at rabbits and skunks from the fender of Standley’s 1949 Ford coupe (love that word?).

Charles and Jerry had been persuaded to sit on the front fenders, to do a fast-draw on varmints. The boys were going about 15 mph on what is now Ranch Road (off Highway 90 South) when they rounded a corner almost on top of a big skunk. When Ronald hit the brakes hard, Charles and Jerry slid off, landing nearly on top of the skunk. The animal did what skunks naturally do, of course. Going back into Madisonville, Ronald didn’t allow Charles and Jerry to get in his car, smelling as they did, so they got back on the car fenders.

Jerry finished his skunk story, “When Ronald hit Highway 90 on the way back to town, he floorboarded that ol’ Ford, and Charles and I were competing to see who would get the firmest grip on the only hand-hold, the hood ornament. Needless to say, we were absolutely scared to death. We made it back to town without falling off, but the wind pressure of the 90-mph trip had broken my glasses’ frame. If you can believe it, Charles and I were still holding onto our guns! If you think that bungee cord jumps are dangerous now, you should have been with me growing up in the 1950s.”

Those 4 young men grew up to be reputable citizens, but what would we say now if we heard about teenagers carrying guns and riding on car fenders on country roads? Thank God they all survived that night, or I’d probably never have seen a ringtail cat!

Now, four years later, I’d like to compile some new local coon hunting stories. Email some of your favorites to me, lacannon1952@hotmail.com, or call the Museum at the number below and I’ll get back with you.

Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison St., opens to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Museum curator Jane Day Reynolds and volunteers welcome your visits. Memorials or donations may be mailed to the Museum at P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864. The telephone number is 936-348-5230.

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