• News/Talk
  • Music
  • Entertainment

Weekend Pass

'Coon Hunting Back Home

Michael May

Listen to this Story
Larger view
Matt Blakemore is a 28 year-old staff sergeant
(Michael May)
View the Slideshow

When U.S. Army Sergeant Matt Blakemore isn't in Iraq or Afghanistan, he likes to relax by hunting raccoons, aka 'coons. While on leave, Sergeant Blakemore goes hunting five times a week, often with fellow soldiers. Independent producer Michael May joined them in Killeen, Texas, before they headed back to Iraq.

It's 10 p.m. on a Friday night. Sergeant Matt Blakemore is in the woods. He's shouldering a .22 caliber rifle. He's wearing overalls and a miner's helmet. Behind him is his wife April and two fellow soldiers. By his side is his hound Josie. Her nose scans back and forth through the night air. Blakemore lets her off the leash, and she disappears into the thicket of juniper and pecan trees. "You ready girl? Get 'em Jos'. Yep. This is 'coon hunting. Until the dog barks, this is what you do. Sit here and tell lies," he says.

It seems ironic that Blakemore goes raccoon hunting during his free time. There's something about a bunch of soldiers running around the woods at night with guns that feels almost like work. But there's no where else that Matt would rather be. "It's a pride thing, you know? We don't have any children. So, when my dog shows me a coon - it's like I scored and won a touchdown! That's how I look at it."

Blakemore rarely actually shoots 'coons, he just likes working with his dog. But tonight he's brought along his rifle. "Every now and then I do," he explains. "And I got those two guys with me, and you know they're going to want to see blood because they're GIs."

Blakemore has brought along two teenage privates, Evan Taylor and Alex Fentress. It's unusual - even frowned upon - for a commanding officer to hang out with subordinates outside of work hours. But Blakemore says it's good for morale building. Plus, he doesn't buy into that evil drill sergeant routine.

"If I had to work for a butt hole all the time, I would not want to come to work, you know? If I can't have fun, I don't wanna go," he says.

Alex Fentress works directly for Matt, and this is the first time they've done anything outside of work. "I'm not going to call him 'Matt.' I'll just call him sergeant. It's kinda weird to call him by his first name," Fentress admits.

And even out here, Blakemore's still in charge. He's from a small town called Good Hope, Ala., and his great-grandfather and grandfather were full-time hunters. They bred and sold 'coon hounds, fed the family with possums and sold 'coon hides for $25 each. But Blakemore is in it for the sport. He and his dog Josie have earned a shelf full of 'coon hunting trophies from competitions. The other soldiers joke that he loves his dog more than his wife.

"You have a picture of you and her in the office, and I just found out what [April] looks like tonight," Fentress jokes.

"That's saying something, right there," adds Taylor.

I pointed out to April Blakemore that she has a sense of humor about the whole thing.

"Yeah, I know he loves me, if not, I love him enough for the both of us," she says.

"Hold on, hold up. Wait, listen. You hear that dog? Listen, there she goes again," Blakemore says, hearing Josie's bark.

Blakemore cuts off the sweet nothings at the sound of Josie's bark. The dog is heading away from us, and fast. "She found a track, so she barked, to say, 'hey I got this track going here.' And she'll bark around on it, you know, wherever the coon is, that's where she'll bark," he explains "And when she hits a tree that's when her bark will change. It will go from a short ball to three or five long balls, 'ahh-ooo,' five of them. And then she'll sit down and go, 'Oh. Oh. Oh.' And when her bark changes, that's when you go to her."

Blakemore heads towards the dog. The rest of us bottleneck in front of a four-inch, red and black spider that's spun her web above the path.

It turns out all three of these soldiers have something in common. They all joined the Army at a young age to escape a life that seemed to be going nowhere. Fentress is from a small town in Tennessee.

"I had a lot of problems at home with my stepmother and my dad," he says. "Kept getting in arguments. So I decided to get my GED, move on with my own life, get away from home, do my own thing."

Blakemore and Fentress's unit work on Army radios. The only one likely to see combat is 19-year old Evan Taylor. He's an infantryman. He's a quiet guy, but when he talks, it's obvious that he's young, a bit drunk and clearly someone who has never gone to war.

When people ask him why he chose infantry, he says, "I don't know. Rage. Not many people can say they get to shoot people in the face for a living."

After standing around for 45 minutes, we stop and sit down. We haven't heard the dog for a while. Usually Josie has cornered at least one coon by now. Blakemore only knows one way to get Josie back,wait until she's treed a 'coon and follow the barking. So we sit and talk.

"Tonight is not a good night for the coon hunting," Fentress says. "And whenever this fails, we drink beer. Only on weekends, right Sergeant?"

What's more interesting is what they don't talk about. These men will head to Iraq in two weeks, but the subject rarely comes up.

"I just can't believe how cool and collected you guys are about going to Iraq. Are all soldiers like that?" I ask. "Do you get scared but just don't talk about it? Or are you completely in denial?"

"I mean, a lot of people, if they're scared they won't talk about it just because they don't want to be made fun of," Blakemore explains. "You hear how we talk to each other all the time. You don't want to get made fun of all the time. The beatings will continue until morale improves."

Taylor agrees. "Everybody's scared. You gotta be scared. That's what keeps you alive."

It's now well past midnight, and we haven't heard a howl from Josie in more than an hour. At one point, Taylor takes the gun and starts crawling along the path on all fours with the gun stretched out in front, like he was stalking an enemy. Eventually Blakemore leads us off the dirt trail and on to some train tracks that rise above the forest. We walk along under the faint moonlight. Finally, Josie sounds the call.

We find her at the base of a mammoth pecan tree. Blakemore turns his headlamp on bright, and starts making a strange 'coon call to lure the critter out. But there are too many large branches. The 'coon could be hiding, or it could have escaped to another tree. It's tempting to make a metaphor about how this is like fighting terrorists in a foreign land. Blakemore is clearly frustrated.

"I don't see a coon, and I've looked in the whole tree. I just don't see a coon. But I'm going to pet my dog anyway."

With that, we trudge back to the cars.

  • Music Bridge:
    Untitled Bright Format V2
    Artist: Kiln
    CD: Ampday (Thalassa)
More stories from our Weekend Pass series


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By summer sanchez

    From round rock, TX, 02/04/2013

    I know matt for years i would like him to contact me. PleasePlease

    By summer sanchez

    From round rock, TX, 02/04/2013

    I know matt for years i would like hom to contact me. Please

    By Travis Jones

    From boston, KY, 05/24/2009

    i am a speicalist in the army curently in iraq. i love to hear about anouther soldier that loves to coon hunt there isnt many. i cant wait to come home and hit the woods my self. well good look and good hunting.

  • Post a Comment: Please be civil, brief and relevant.

    Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. All comments are moderated. Weekend America reserves the right to edit any comments on this site and to read them on the air if they are extra-interesting. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting.

      Form is no longer active


    You must be 13 or over to submit information to American Public Media. The information entered into this form will not be used to send unsolicited email and will not be sold to a third party. For more information see Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Download Weekend America

Weekend Weather

From the January 31 broadcast

Support American Public Media with your Amazon.com purchases
Search Amazon.com:
 ©2015 American Public Media