Then again sometimes a tree's limbs are all visible, its trunk is solid and there is no coon anywhere. This means the coon has jumped down, maybe from 50 feet up, and slipped away. The dogs are chopping at a "slick tree." Or, even worse, they may have scared up something other than a coon—a bobcat, a possum or a housecat. If a dog trees "trash" or comes up with a slick tree, it is a "minus dog." Its points all stand, but as a deficit.
In the space of three hours there may be four or five more trees to recoup on, but minus points are not good for a coon hunter's spirits. After a slick tree the talk may well be of bygone dogs that were better. Ben Childress of Fair-field, Texas tells of Sugarfoot, a redbone grand champion who was still hunting at the age of 19. "Sugarfoot had a choking chop, from deep down in his chest," says Childress. Then, while negotiating a creekbed, he lets his own voice go soft saying, "It was just an outstanding privilege to go out in the woods with that dog."
It is at this point that the limits of a competition hunt become evident. Just walking through the woods reminiscing and hoping the next tree won't be slick or trashy is too passive. The compensations are trophies and points toward champion and grand champion status if your dog is one of the top 10 in points for the whole hunt.
All the fun is over for the dog, which is led off to pose for pictures—its toenails scratching uneasily on the clubhouse floor—and doesn't get to kill any coons. And the man has run up against section 15 of the official honor rules: "No shouting encouragement to the dogs."
That is what's missing. That is why there is no recourse for a competition hunter but nostalgia when his dog is not doing its job.
But it may be that while all the official plussing and minusing is going on around the countryside a man swings into the hunt headquarters who isn't entered but is looking to stir up a pleasure hunt. Let us say that, unlike any of the competitors, he has had a little something to drink. This is a man who before the night is over is going to be shouting encouragement to his dog.
Call this man Troy. The dog he brings in looks as if it needs encouragement, or even a doctor.
"See," explains Troy, "his hair's right. But his flesh ain't right. But my flesh ain't right either." He grins at this. Troy is short, gristly and loose-jointed. His overalls hang loose around his next inner layer of clothes. He is feeling good, and in spite of appearances he is proud of his dog.
"He ain't too good to look at," Troy concedes. "But I tell you what, dear dad, when I turn him loose you won't be looking at him anymore. He'll strike as soon as he smells. He ain't a pretty dog, but a pretty dog don't tree coon. I ain't a pretty boy, either, Mr. Man, but a pretty boy don't have that."
Troy holds up his right forefinger, which is half missing.