JC crawled through his bedroom window on a secret mission. It was a clear night with plenty of stars. The moon was full, making it easy to see without a flashlight. He was careful not to wake Molly in the kennel next to the house. The family’s wire haired pointer was old and didn’t hear or see well anymore, but she was still a good guard dog. If she didn’t recognize JC right away, her barking would awaken the entire family. Then he would be in big trouble.
James Cecil Younger, better known as JC, was taller than most twelve-year-old boys. This made it easier to drop the short distance from his window to the yard. His blonde hair, blue eyes and quick smile gave him an innocent appearance, but JC had an adventurous nature.
Most of the Younger family lived in southern Illinois, not far from the Shawnee National Forest. There were plenty of hills covered with trees and deep ravines waiting to be explored, and great hunting on the family farm. The Younger’s owned over 500 acres of pasture and timber ground. JC’s Uncle Biedert owned more than twice that amount.
A long ridge on the Biedert farm, leading to one of the highest points in the state, was known as Turkey Ridge. It was JC’s favorite section of the farm, and the setting for many a hunting story. JC and his parents lived out in the country, just southeast of Harrisburg, in Saline County. It was a fifteen minute drive into town where he went to school with his two cousins, Bill and Sarah. The three were as close as brothers and sister, and seldom seen apart.
Tonight however, JC and Bill were in search of nice fat Illinois raccoons. They planned to make coon skin caps just like their heroes Jeremiah Johnson and Bear Claw, two legendary mountain men.
Uncle Jacob Troy Russell often told them stories about old western mountain men. Uncle Jake lived in Cody, Wyoming, making a living as a taxidermist and government trapper. He explained how those old trappers wore caps made of animal skins. At first the boys didn’t believe it, but as soon as they finished watching Uncle Jake’s favorite video about Jeremiah Johnson, they were totally hooked. The boys became determined to make caps of their own. No store-bought versions for these two bona fide junior mountain men. That’s what Grampy Cecil Younger had called them just last week. JC wasn’t quite sure what bona fide meant, but the mountain man part was to his liking.
Neither cousin had trapping gear, so they decided to go after the wild raccoon with bow and arrow. JC hadn't given much thought to whether or not hunting raccoons with a bow was legal. He hadn't yet learned about hunting regulations.
For several weeks JC and Bill practiced shooting their bows. Each expected to take his first wild game animal as easily as hitting a 3-D target. Archery was a family tradition in the Younger family. Even the girls shot bows. In fact, Cousin Sarah Marie Younger was the best archer among these three cousins. She wasn’t going on this latest adventure. Sarah was a year older than JC and wasn’t crazy about the idea of wearing a coon skin cap.
“Too bad, she’s going to miss out on our first big game hunting trip,” JC thought, as he dropped the short distance from his bedroom window.
When his feet hit the ground, JC stopped and held his breath, hearing only an occasional cricket chirp. Molly continued to snore. JC looked at his 3-D raccoon target in the moon light. It was full of holes. He was ready. It was time to get Bill and head for their grandparent’s house. The raccoons would be coming out soon. Grampy said the darn things seemed to have an alarm clock set for midnight. The raccoons loved to raid garbage cans for left over tid-bits of food. Sometimes they slept during the day in an old tree behind Grampy’s house.
JC slung the bow and arrows over his shoulder, hopped on his bike and eased down the driveway. The gravel under his tires sounded louder than normal. JC prayed the noise wouldn’t wake Molly.
It took just a few minutes to reach Bill’s house. They lived on the same road, just a couple miles apart. The bedroom light was on when JC pulled up outside. He feared the worst and started to turn around. Seconds later the light went out. JC held his ground, waiting to see what would happen next. The window opened slowly and a camouflage jacket flew out. A pair of gloves, some hunting boots and a flashlight came next, landing in a heap. Bill poked his head out the window, saw JC, and grinned.
William Dean Younger, or Bill, as he insisted on being called, was slightly shorter than his cousin. He had blonde hair like JC. His face was dotted with freckles and his sense of adventure was more daring. Bill was 6 months younger than JC but always seemed to come up with the ideas that got them into trouble. Bill was fascinated with the old west. When he was younger, he refused to dress as anything but Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickock or Billie the Kid during Halloween. He was determined to move to Wyoming someday and work for his Uncle Jake.
The two cousins were on another great adventure, sneaking out of the house just before midnight for their first wild game hunt. The excitement was almost unbearable. The danger was real. It wasn’t the coon that promised danger. It was the fear of getting caught and the overwhelming boredom that would be their punishment. Almost no fate was worse than being grounded. It might be weeks before their next adventure could take place. Throwing caution to the wind, Bill jumped from his first floor window and landed on the mound of gear below. JC noticed there were quite a few things in the pile.
“What on earth is all this stuff?” JC asked.
“It’s everything I need to catch this coon,” Bill responded. He also had a rope, a pocket knife, two pillow cases and a canteen.
“Ok, I can understand why you need some of these things, but why the pillow cases?” JC asked.
“In case there are more than two coons!” Bill explained. “We can’t just leave them behind to raid more trash cans. It only takes two coons to make two caps, and it wouldn’t be right to shoot more than we need. We have to catch them and move them at least a mile away. I saw them put snakes in pillow cases on television, so that should work for coons too don’t you think?”
JC pondered this a moment. He hadn’t thought about more than two raccoons. Bill was right. Their mission would be to get the entire raccoon family, one way or another.
“Mom and Dad said never to use our bows and arrows to shoot at birds, or dogs, or cats or people. I don’t remember them saying anything about raccoons,” Bill grinned. “Last one there is a dweeb,” Bill laughed as he pounced on his bike and took off. JC scrambled to catch his cousin. It was less than a mile to Grampy Cecil and Grandma Daisy’s farm house.
Just as they turned into the driveway Bill spotted the first coon. It scurried across the yard, heading straight for two trash cans behind Grampy Cecil’s garage. Bill and JC stopped and looked at each other. Their hearts were beating wildly from racing down the gravel road. Grampy’s black lab was sleeping on the front porch. She raised her head and yawned. Jet was the most gentle, easy going lab known to man. She got up and walked over to meet the two midnight visitors.
“What now?” Bill asked. JC wasn’t quite sure. They had planned to be set up long before the raccoons came down from the tree.
“I think we can stalk past those bushes around the garage to the other side without that coon seeing us. Then we should wait until another coon comes out before we shoot,” JC reasoned. Bill agreed. The would-be hunters hid their bikes in the ditch and grabbed their bows.
“How many arrows do you have?” Bill asked .
“Six,” JC answered. “Why?”
“Give me three of them,” Bill demanded .
“Three arrows! Use your own,” JC whispered.
“Well, I don’t have any. Don’t you remember? I shot at that groundhog target so many times, most of mine are broken, or bent, or the feathers are gone,” Bill replied.
“You must have been hitting the ground and not the hog! No way am I giving you half of my arrows! I’ll give you one. So you better make a good shot,” JC snorted. Bill reluctantly accepted the arrow and crouched in a stalking position, eyes peeled for any raccoon movement. Suddenly, a second raccoon scampered down the old oak tree behind the garage and waddled over to the garbage cans. Bill clutched Jet’s collar. Gentle as she was, he knew she would race toward the masked invaders the second she spotted them.
“Shoot him!" Bill hissed at JC. “Hurry up, before he gets inside that can." JC slipped between the garage and the oak tree for a closer shot. It took every ounce of Bill’s strength to keep Jet from breaking free of his grip. As JC drew his bow and took aim, the coon saw him. It ran straight past him and darted through a hole under the porch. There was no time to shoot. “What now?” JC whispered.
“Where is the other one?” Bill asked. Just then the raccoon’s head popped up over the edge of the garbage can. Jet tore loose from Bill's grasp and ran straight toward the coon, scaring it half to death. The raccoon exploded out of the can and raced to safety under the
porch. JC and Bill stared at the hole, half expecting the coons to pop back out as quickly as they disappeared. Minutes passed and neither cousin moved an inch. Jet looked at the boys and back at the hole. She seemed to be waiting for their next move.
Bill whispered, "Let’s take a closer look.” He pulled a flashlight from his coat pocket and turned it on. Together they clutched Jet’s collar while easing toward the hole. Jet growled.
“Keep that flashlight beam right on that opening just in case one of the coons tries to make a break for it,” JC commanded. “And whatever you do, don’t let go of Jet. If she catches one of those coons that skin won’t be worth a hoot.”
“Do you see them?” Bill asked.
“Nope, shine that thing in there further.”
“You stick it in there yourself, I’m not poking my arm in there,” Bill said. “Jet sit! Sit! Now stay!”
The dog did as she was told but never took her eyes off the opening. JC scooted forward on his belly and shined the light further into the hole. Two sets of eyes glared back. By now Jet was trembling, but held her ground.
“Those coons are too deep under the porch. I’ll bet they aren’t coming out any time soon,” JC sighed. Their hunt appeared to be finished for this night.
“Not without a little prodding,” Bill said, raising his eyebrows as if he just had a brilliant idea. He reached for Grandma Daisy's broom leaning by the door, all the while keeping his eyes toward the hole. No amount of poking with the broom handle would shoo the angry beasts from their hiding place.
“If we don’t get these raccoons tonight, we are never going to get them,” JC explained.
“What do you mean?” Bill asked.
“Mom told me that Grampy called a trapper. A nuisance trapper, I think is what she said. You know, the kind that comes out and traps animals that are causing problems. He’s coming to trap the coons.”
“Why doesn’t Grampy just trap those coons himself? He has plenty of traps in the garage,” Bill commented.
“I don’t know. But you just gave me an idea. Come on.” JC helped Bill drag Jet away from the hole and toward the garage. “Let me see your flash light. Grampy keeps some old traps in the garage. One of those could still be in working condition,” JC explained. He tested the side door. It wasn’t locked. They found the traps in an old wooden box behind the truck. The few traps left in the box were broken and useless. JC sighed and sat down on the box to think. Then he spotted the live trap. “Perfect! Look!” he whispered as he jumped off the box.
Bill used some of his rope to tie Jet to the truck bumper, much to her dislike. They eased the big cage through the door, careful not to make any noise.
“Let’s set the opening of the cage right next to the hole under the porch and we’ll catch those coons for sure,” Bill giggled. “But we need some bait.”
JC paused to think. “The trash can!” Jet barked in protest as they started to leave her in the garage. The two cousins froze.
“Quiet Jet!” they shushed in unison. After several minutes they decided it was safe to proceed. Jet strained to reach the end of the rope. Luckily it was just long enough she could stick her head out the door to see what was happening.
Within minutes the trap was set. Half a tuna sandwich and some cheese crackers were the bait. JC wiped his fingers on his jeans and looked around for a hiding place. His grandma kept a nice padded lawn chair on the porch, so JC crawled in to wait. He snuggled down into the cushion and imagined he was invisible. He was well hidden. His camo jacket blended with the green flowers on the pad. Bill crawled into a hammock strung between two maple trees not far from the porch. Jet tried to pull against the rope but it held. She lay down to wait.
Forty minutes went by with no sign of the raccoons. JC hoped the creatures would crawl out soon, he was getting sleepy. He struggled to keep his eyes open, but the soft, warm pad was making it difficult to stay awake. Suddenly the cage door slammed shut! JC scrambled to his feet and peered over the edge of the porch.
“It worked,” Bill shouted. “We got one! A coon is in the trap!” Bill flung his legs over the edge of the hammock and spun it around so quickly that he lost his balance and landed flat on his back.
“Are you ok?” JC could hardly contain his laughter.
“I’m fine, thanks for asking,” Bill snarled.
“The coon wasn’t fine. In fact, it was madder than any animal JC had ever seen. He didn’t know animals could look that mad. The raccoon growled and snapped at him.
“How are we going to shoot that thing now?” Bill wondered out loud.
“Are you crazy? You can’t take a chance at shooting through the cage. You might hit the metal and not the coon. Or you might just wound it. That wouldn’t be right. We need to make a good clean shot. We have to get it out of there.”
“Well how are we going to do that? As soon as you open that door the raccoon is going to dive right back under the porch.” Bill said.
JC and Bill sat on the edge of the porch and thought about this for awhile.
Finally, Bill spoke, “We have to move the cage away from the porch and away from the trees. We have to get it far enough away that it can’t get past us before we have time to shoot.”
JC didn’t think much of the idea. “You know this isn’t really fair chase any more, letting him out of a cage and trying to shoot at him. It just doesn’t sound right.”
Bill agreed. “I guess you are right. But we better let him out anyway. We can try hunting them again tomorrow night. We still have one more night before the trapper comes.”
JC reached for the cage and the raccoon lunged at his fingers. “Yikes, that coon has some sharp looking teeth.” JC tried again. The raccoon tried to bite him again. “I need to hook that cage with something and pull it around. Then we need a tool to open the door, I’m not interested in losing any fingers.” They went back into the garage to look around.
On the top shelf of the workbench, next to the tool box was a big pair of gloves. “Surely that coon can’t bite through those heavy work gloves,” JC said with some hesitation. He stepped on the front bumper of the truck and leaned over the toolbox, reaching for the gloves. A split second later his foot slipped off the bumper. When he tried to keep from falling, he knocked the toolbox off the bench instead. It crashed to the floor and the lid burst open, scattering tools all over the place. This was more action than Jet could tolerate. She started barking wildly. Within a minute the porch and garage lights came on.
“What’s going on out there?” Grampy Cecil yelled from the bedroom window. JC thought about making a run for it, but knew that would be wrong. Running like a chicken wasn’t the right thing to do. They would have to come clean.
“It’s just us Grampy, JC and Bill. I was looking for some gloves and I fell. We caught a raccoon, you won’t believe it!” JC and Bill tried to tell the whole story at the same time.
“Just a minute, let me get my boots on. You two stay put,” Grampy hollered.
Lights came on throughout the house. Both grandparents emerged from the back door curious to hear an explanation. Grampy looked at his watch. “It’s almost two o’clock in the morning, what on earth are you two doing?”
Both boys began to explain the grand scheme, but Grampy only caught some of the words. “Coon skin caps, mountain men, bows and arrows, trapped coon, the tools fell, Jet went nuts and a coon is under the porch?” he asked. "Slow down, you aren’t making any sense. One at a time! What are you talking about? What on earth are you doing out here? You should be in bed!”
Grandma Daisy started to laugh. “Look at this mess! What coon? And what is Jet doing tied to the truck bumper?”
To JC and Bill, Grandma Daisy was an angel on earth. They adored her. “Come on I’ll show you,” yelled JC.
“Turn Jet loose first, then show us,” Grampy ordered. Bill ran to untie Jet while JC showed Grampy the live trap.
“There, in the live trap, see him?” JC said proudly.
Daisy and Cecil Younger stared at the raccoon and then at each other with a puzzled look. “You two have some explaining to do," Grampy said. "Get in the house, I’m calling your parents. First of all you need a permit to trap wild animals. And it’s not even hunting season either, so the bow and arrows aren’t legal either. And who ever heard of bowhunting for raccoons anyway? Have you two gone loco?” Grampy demanded to know as he turned the raccoon loose.
JC and Bill hadn’t thought about all that. Besides they were bona fide mountain men and surely didn’t need such permits.
Just then a ferocious growling, snarling, snapping ball of fur burst from the hole under the porch. While no one was watching, Jet crawled under the porch from the far end trying to ambush the hiding raccoon. The coon raced toward the nearest tree with Jet hot on its trail. She lunged half way up the trunk and nearly caught the fleeing coon.
“I really need to get that porch fixed. Get that dog and come in the house,” Grampy Cecil sighed. JC and Bill scrambled to catch Jet as she streaked around and around the tree, barking at the coon. Grampy whistled and Jet darted toward the back door. She dashed back and gave the coon one last woof as if to say, “This isn’t over.” Then she followed Bill and JC into the house.
Secrets of Turkey Ridge: Younger's Wild Adventures (Volume 1): Brenda Kay Potts: 9780988327214: Amazon.com: Books