Battling the Coons: Canoeing the southwestern Okefenokee Swamp
Canoeing: a continuing tale of canoes and canoeing inthe southwestern Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia and northeastern Floridanear Jacksonville, FL..
Canoeing and Camping The southwestern Okefenokee Swamp
By William A. Logan
Battling the Coons
We arrived at Craven’s Hammock about 4:00 P.M. From paddling up current and against the wind most of the time, especially the sill canal, we were bushed. We found the small island had an excellent dock about 50 feet long. As good as or better than Billy’s Island.
On the outermost end is a chemical "John" that was very modern and in good condition. We tied up and walked up above about 75 feet to the campsite and checked it out, discussed our plan and returned to the canoes.
We had not even started unloading and here was a `coon already in Chuck’s canoe inspecting everything. (No doubt laying elaborate plans how he would best attack after dark.) We ran him off and continued to set up camp. In no time, there were three more `coons wandering around the camp perimeter, checking everything out and sniffing the air. They were paying no attention to us whatsoever. We had to keep chasing them away. They were obviously HUNGRY.
After setting up everything, we got out our folding chairs and momentarily crashed. Chuck got out our "relaxing medicine" and we each enjoyed something cold and caught our breath. It was a great feeling.
Mac had brought our own oak firewood, knowing there would be almost zero downed wood on the site, so we soon set to work getting ready for a nice fire after supper. All this time there were four or five `coons wandering the outer edges of our campsite checking us out. We sat and savored the moment, enjoying watching the antics of the `coons which at times would come right up to us and smell our shoes or trousers or a piece of equipment.
The temperature was about 68 to 70, the air was still, the sweet smell of the forest around us was clean, there was just enough breeze to rustle the tree tops but not bother us.
Just being there in a relaxed atmosphere was great. We were enjoying every moment of it. One thing we found quite strange. As we were setting up our tents, there were mosquitoes. BIG mosquitoes . . . but not many. I have been in many places much worse. We expected they would really get bad about dark so we were prepared with our repellant.
We were surprised to find that as soon as it got dark, the mosquitoes must have gone to bed. Surprisingly, they became almost non existent. The two young `coons had hung around, the others drifted off somewhere into the brush but we knew they were close by, just waiting for a chance to get into everything.
The two that hung around almost underfoot were about half grown. A male and a female. The male continually letting the female know HE was boss. He had apparently been in a skirmish with something or someone recently since the inside of his rear leg was peeled right down to the flesh in an area about an inch wide by two inches long.
Every time it looked like she would get too close (to maybe pick up a treat) he would pounce on her with vengeance. In other words, "I get the first handout, not you!" She would just cower down and wait for the attack to subside and would then go on her way.
After watching this five or six times, we felt a little sorry for her. She was a cute little thing and not aggressive at all. Where the male was bold in his search for food, she seemed content to just sit and wait until someone offered her something.
After resting awhile, we decided to explore the high ground of the island. Surprisingly, after all the rain the area had received in the last two weeks, the top of the dock was more than a foot above water. We determined that the ground we were camping on was about five to six feet above the dock, We were surprised to find that the water came up on the north side of us to within 100 feet of where we were camping.
On the west side, we only had about 40 feet, and on the south side it appeared we had plenty of high ground. We only went about 50 feet or so down the trail and the vegetation got quite dense. With the high ground being so small, it was no wonder the coon population was so large. We didn’t know it at the time but we were in for a bigger surprise when we went to bed.
Just before dark, we fixed supper and sat down to enjoy our meal. The young `coons again put on a show only this time the little girl would come up right in front of us and stand on her hind legs with her front paws stretched out as if to catch it if someone threw her a treat.
The others that had disappeared soon showed up but would not come in as close. We had finished eating when we heard noisy `coons behind us. We turned to see three `coons doing their best to get into my `coon proof’ PVC food container. It’s a two foot – four inch piece of PVC pipe (the light sewer pipe, not the heavy stuff) with a PVC cap at each end. I usually carry a loaf of French bread, or bagels (halves) cookies and Pepperoni roll in it. It had worked well before, but this was the first time we actually were able to watch the `coons in action.
It was an interesting show, hilarious at times! I had put a piece of "200-MPH tape" on one end since that cap was looser than the other. It took them no time to get that off. I watched in amazement as one `coon actually got his paws on the cap on each side and try to work the cap off. I thought for sure this guy was going to succeed and was getting a little uneasy that it might not be as "coon proof" as I thought . . . when finally they gave up in disgust and wandered off looking for something else to get into. Meanwhile, Chuck had been filming this "coon intelligence show" with his camcorder, also taking several still shots of these guys at work. It was a memorable experience.
After the show, Chuck wandered down to the dock and brought back the "camper’s log sheet" You are required to register when you arrive and when you leave. There is a place for comments on the far right. Most of the comments were quite comical….. some with a serious warning but all carried the same informative message.
Here are some of the comments . . . "Coonzilla Lives!". . . "Coons -3 Visitors – 0" . . . "Coon Haven." . . . "They will destroy everything," . . . "The woods are alive," . . . "We needed armored tents," . . . and the message (clue) that we found to be the most important of all . . . "The only place that is coon proof is the John" . . .
Luckily, we read those log sheets before we went to bed. We each had coolers, foods and crackers, etc. (in five Gal. PVC buckets) so off we trotted to stow it all in the John on the end of the dock. Good move. It turned out to be a great idea. Everything we put in there was safe the next morning.
On one other trip into the Okefenokee several years ago, I found out the hard way that food inside a tent brings unwelcome visitors. When camping out west, I knew VERY well not to put food in my tent since the bears would come right in. It was my first camping trip to the swamp in 35 years and I was not concerned with bears. After all . . . there were only small animals here. I knew there were `coons around but never gave them much thought.
Neither did I realize they could be very destructive to my new tent. (I had used it only once before) In the middle of the night I woke up hearing the munching and rustling of plastic paper. I unzipped my tent flap and shined my flashlight into the face of the biggest darn coon I had ever seen. He must have weighed twenty-five lbs. And he was chowing down on my loaf of bread. I thought that strange, since I didn’t leave anything on the table . . . then a horrible thought came to me . . . I ducked back inside and shined my light on the tent wall.
To my horror . . . here was a one foot rip in my tent wall shaped like a cross. That sucker had done a job on my tent. I wanted to kill him on the spot . . . but I gritted my teeth realizing it was my fault . . . not his. So I rolled back into the sack with an angry disgusted feeling in my stomach.
Back to Craven’s Hammock . . . We had finished supper, stowed all our food and gear, threw a couple more logs on and again sat down to enjoy the fire. We were discussing the events of the day when here comes the little girl back. She checked us out once more, then satisfied there was nothing else to eat, she decided to join us enjoying the warmth of the fire.
My jaw dropped as I watched her go to the side of the fire ring, climb up on one of the large stones and hunker down next to the fire just like a cat. She even curled her tail up around her feet. It was obvious she was really enjoying the warmth of the fire. Soon, she closed her eyes and looked quite content to soak up the heat. We enjoyed a good laugh. She had joined us in enjoying the fire as if she was one of us.
I made a comment that she seemed to have quite a bit of intelligence and I had a sort of sympathy for her. Chuck popped up and said, "Oh Oh! Lookout Joyce, Bill’s going to bring home another animal" . . . we cracked up! He had been referring to a starving stray dog I had found on a Suwannee River canoe run a couple year’s back that captured my heart with her plight. I brought her home and she has made a wonderful pet and companion ever since. But that’s another story. Back at the cabin I had trouble getting out on my cell phone and had suspected it was because of tower or line damage from the storm. So, sitting by the fire, I decided to try the phone, to see if it worked from deep within the swamp. To my surprise, my wife answered. I told her about the days events and sitting around the fire with lots of company etc. It was surprising the cell phone had worked well so deep in the swamp.
It was about 10:00 when we decided to call it a day. We made several passes around camp to make sure all was out of reach of the `coons. When we were satisfied, I turned out the Coleman lantern and we turned in. We had no more than got in our sleeping bags when we heard a crash. I heard Chuck say . . . " What the *^#@!**&%#& was that?
I laughed and shined my light over to see two `coons had knocked the stove over and were trying their best to open it.( I had closed and latched it) Next morning I found two little pork & beans had spilled into the stove. Knowing they couldn’t get in, I again climbed back in my sleeping bag and in minutes, there was another loud crash. This time I was mystified as to what this one was, so again, up, shined the light, only to see this time a `coon had climbed up on my folding chair and had tipped it over onto the stove. Again, back in the sack.
We lay there listening to all the noises of metal being crunched as the `coons got into several empty pop cans left by the fire. They actually tore them to pieces. I was just getting comfortable thinking all was well when we heard a loud crash at the canoes. Again, "What in the @#!%$&* was that?" Up I go, and chased two `coons out of the canoes. At this time I didn’t know there was anything in there they could get into. So, back in the sack I went.
It was not ten minutes until we heard more crashing and banging in the canoes. Up again I go, this time getting rather ticked at all this comedy. I was shocked to see a `coon come running off the dock with a whole roll of Ritz crackers. Two more `coons were in my canoe and had discovered my "Bailey’s Irish Cream" metal cans that were tucked under my seat, (I had forgotten about them) they contained Ritz crackers and cookie snacks . . . the heavy wire bail not only was snapped shut, I had added an extra safety wire tie down to the latch, around the can expressly for the purpose of keeping animals out. Being strong metal cans, I had thought they were `coon proof.
WRONG! Those darn guys had one of the can’s top chewed through and popped off and were eating my cookies.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. As I lunged for them with a paddle, they swiftly climbed a tree next to the dock and in seconds were sitting in the very top looking down at me with those beady little shining eyes (and I’m sure they were laughing to themselves) I gathered what was left of the open can, cookies, etc. and the second can they had not yet opened and put them with the rest of the food stored in the John.
Once again . . . I checked the canoe for food or anything else they could get into. When satisfied there was nothing else . . . back to the sack I went. I had no sooner climbed into my bag when I again heard those rascals rummaging through the canoes. This time I rolled over and ignored them.
Next morning we discovered what they had found were pop cans. One in mine and one in Chuck’s canoe . . . both cans were in shreds. I hear Chuck laughing like crazy so I came over to my canoe to see what was so funny. He said with a big grin, "looks like you made those ole boys really mad at ya!"
I looked into my canoe to see they had gotten even with me for stealing "their food." There was not one, but two, big piles of "coon poop" in my canoe where the cans had been. Yet there was none in any of the other canoes. I said with a grin, "you’re probably right! They were getting even" . . .
Gads! What a night! We made sure we left a comment in the log that would alert those coming behind us.
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