A. B. Vaughan is one of those people who still rate a "mister" in front of their names, even though that's not the fashion anymore.
"Here's a fellow I think you ought to meet," said Ray Yowell, secretary of the Rappahannock Coon Hunters Club. "This here is Mr. A. B. Vaughan."
Vaughan has just turned 80. He was perched on a lawn chair under a shade tree at the club's spartan headquarters in Culpeper last weekend, listening to the baying of a hundred assembled hounds.
It was steaming, tortured hot.
Vaughan didn't get up. He sat still, spat occasional brown streams of Red Man tobacco juice and talked about racoons, foxes, opposums and dogs and what they've meant to him.
"I believe," said Vaughan, pausing to spit into a small pile of rocks in the red clay, "that I've had as many good dogs as any man in America."
He grew up in Louisa, Virginia, in the flat farmland where hunting with dogs was every man's sport. He attended his first field trials when he was 15 years old, in 1914.
"I can remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "Fox hounds, it was, at Carl Norton's place in Hanover County. I entered with a black-and-tan and white dog. Their names were Barron and Ora. I didn't do a thing # with either of those dogs."
Vaughan fooled with fox-hunting and possum-hunting in his early years, then went to coon-hunting and never strayed again. He's been hunting and trading in coon dogs around the state ever since. "It's a foolish thing," he said, "but it's fascinating as hell."
He believes that coon-hunting "is the greatest sport that a man can do today," and describes the appeal in a strange way.
"It's to love it yourself," said Vaughan, "and what causes you to love it is the call of the hounds. It's just like listening to an orchestra play. You listen to your banjo player, your guitar player, your piano player. It's the same with your dogs.
"It's hard work, all right," he added. "I've fallen in the creek up to my neck a-many and a-many and a-many a night. Off all the business I've done and all the hunting I've done, I believe the coon-hunter is the most down-to-earth man that I know of."
To his dismay, Vaughan never passed his fascination along to any of his offspring. He has two sons, a daughter and a host of grandchildren, none of whom "have any more interest in a dog than if it was an aeroplane," he said.
There remain plenty who do, as evidenced by the turnout for the Rappahannock club's first bench trial and water race of the year last weekend. They came from all across Virginia and Maryland in oversize trucks, toting blueticks, redbones, Plotts, redticks, black-and-tans and mixed breeds.
Coon season doesn't open until November, preceded by a short "chase" season that starts October 15, during which hunters can run their dogs after coon trails but are not permitted to kill the prey once it's treed.
Until about five years ago, the season opened on September 1, but it was shortened to keep from depleting raccoon stocks, with the advice and consent of the Virginia Coon Hunters Association.
But old habits die hard. The long, hot days of July and August still whet the appetites of coon-hunters who grew up under the old season regulation and who still feel as if coon-hunting is just around the corner.
They want to run their dogs.
Some of them even hunt in the mosquito-riddled lowlands all year long.+ Essex County has an all-year coon season by legislative act. Darrell Sturgell of Woodbridge, a hugh man who breeds blueticks, drives to Essex tcounty three or four times a week during the summer to hunt, he said.
"I'm a body-and-fender man in the daytime," said Sturgell. "When I get home from work I take a shower, eat supper and hit the timber. There's many a night I've come home from the hunt just in time to go to work."
Sturgell and Yowell, the club secretary, claim that hunters who go out all year are not after hides, which bring about $25 in prime season, but for the sport and to listen to the dogs working.
"When I hunt I can't afford to kill every coon I tree," said Yowell. "There'd be none left to hunt for."
The state has a bag limit of 25 raccoons a season for both hunters and trappers. So much of a coon hunters' time and energy is spent simply working with his dogs, as at Culpeper last weekend. There were three events: a bench show, in which dogs were judged on looks and conformation, plus a treeing contest and a water race.
There was something pathetic about the latter two, in which a single caged raccoon was dangled before the canine horde and dogs were judged on their ability to yap at it and chase after it.
The cage was hoisted to the top of a scraggly pine for the treeing contest, and dog owners released their hounds one by one into a roped circle. The winner was the dog that barked the most times in 30 seconds, which doesn't seem to prove much.
The the caged coon was transported to a pond for the water race, where it was suspended by a steel cable in front of a cage crowded with four dogs. When the cage opened the coon was hauled along the cable clothesline-style across the pond, dogs in hot pursuit. First dog across took a prize.
Yowell said the coon was trapped by permit and held under state permission, and would be released immediately after the contest. One dog got too close and left a bloody streak across the raccoon's snout.
This was only a warmup.On August 4 the Rappahannock club has state permission to run field trials at Culpeper, at which actual hunts will be conducted and dogs will be graded on their skill in the woods.
It will be the same as a real hunt, but with no guns. CAPTION: Picture, THE RACOON-TREEING CONTEST. By Angus Phillips.