Chasing Raccoons Through The Ozarks by Muleback

Tracked and Treed

It’s rare to see a raccoon so easily in the early season, but Jedi surprised this one, causing it to scramble up the nearest trunk—a relatively small one.

Saddle Tricks

This was a training exercise for both dog and mule: Could each stay focused on their task? Fern didn’t lose a beat barking, and Izzie kept calm amid the chaos.

Family Affair

From left: Newcomb with Jedi and Fern; 15-year-old River Newcomb atop Boudreaux the donkey; and Shepherd Newcomb, 11, with Izzie the mule. Not pictured: The two additional mules Newcomb is training.

Dynamic Duo

Jedi (far left) is a hard hunter with a lot of drive. “He doesn’t have the nose that Fern does,” Newcomb says, “but she hunts harder and better with him than without.”

Go for Broke

Riding over rough country in the dark can be dangerous, but mules have a self-preservation streak—often called stubbornness—that helps keep their riders safe, too.

Coon Hunter’s Kit

No matter how many folks join his hunts, Newcomb always packs just one rifle—this Ruger 10/22—and the Ruger Mark II pistol he received for Christmas in high school.

Hill Country

The ancient Ozark Mountains offer abundant public ground, but hunters pay for the privilege in vertical feet. Here, Newcomb and Fern navigate a steep bank.

Tracking Trackers

Dogs don’t understand property lines, but GPS helps keep everyone legal: Newcomb can see Fern and Jedi’s location, and summon them with an e-collar tone.

Tree Climber

For coon dogs, there are four phases of the hunt: striking a track, trailing, locating, and treeing. Each bark indicates the phase and clues to its progression.

Draw a Bead

When a coon holes up in a tree with dense foliage, Newcomb will often take the shot for the best chances of recovery. He and Shepherd couldn’t locate the coon among these leaves, but Shepherd got to pull the trigger on their hunt the following night.

Unlikely Trio

“To be able to put a hound on the mule’s back when that hound is just barking every breath—that tells you you’ve got a good mule,” Newcomb says. “And a good hound, too. Fern trusts me enough to let me throw her up there, and she still stays focused on that coon.”

Release the Hounds

Though competition hunters train coonhounds to ignore other dogs that open up on a track so they can keep searching for their own, Newcomb likes his dogs to honor each other and hunt together. Here, Jedi tears off in search of Fern, who’d just struck a scent.

Critter Control

Although Newcomb prefers to hunt late fall and winter, Arkansas has a nine-month coon season with no bag limits. And in July, the state expanded its already liberal season to allow year-round hunting on private land. Raccoons are thriving with urban sprawl, and declining turkey and quail populations have wildlife managers encouraging hunters to take more of the egg-eating varmints.

Skinning Trailer

Hides aren’t currently worth much (about $2 each), but Newcomb skins them anyway. If a new hunter kills a coon, Newcomb always makes sure to tan it and return the pelt.

The Late Shift

Sometimes the Newcombs turn in early after a short track, other times they’ll stay out as late as 3 a.m., as they did on this hunt. Here, Bear, 13, rounds up the dogs so they can call it a night.