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My Walk Through the Woods with the Great Berton Oney

On Whitney Road in Wellington, Ohio my grandparents had a 40 acre farm that seemed like and endless horizon to a 9 or 10 year old kid. There was a pond where my brother and I learned how to fish. The Jackson place was off to southeast and it too had big ‚Äúwater hole‚Äù and we‚Äôd sneak in there and clean out some of the big bass every now and then after watching Bill Dance on an old black and white TV.  

Erwin Zepp, my grandfather, kept a stack of Outdoor Life magazines under a 35mm Argus camera in his den, where he smoked a pipe and kept a white and red tin of cherry tobacco. The first puff of that smoke smelled so sweet but after that, it got pretty sour quick and I‚Äôd retreat to another room!  While reading one of those Outdoor Life‚Äôs I saw a small classified ad for Full Cry, a coonhound magazine, so I filled out the address, stuck five or six dollars in the envelope, licked a stamp and waited. 

To say that Full Cry and the subscriptions that followed to American Cooner and Coonhound Bloodlines magazines and the folks who filled their pages changed my life would be an understatement.  Every month my ‚Äúheroes‚Äù talked to me through the black and white pages. I read every word of John Wick‚Äôs training articles, wrote him letters as a 12 year old kid, and unbelievably, years later, would move half way across the country to Missouri to go to work for John and Linda after graduating from college. I spent 10 wonderful years living the life of a young man and part time gypsy, traveling from town to town and state to state across this great country selling products to hound hunters for Wick Outdoor Works.  After years of endless journeys, starring at Rand McNally road maps and watching the white lines, Mountain Dews and Reece Cups, many of my boyhood heroes became friends and mentors. 

Berton Oney from Greenwich, Ohio was one of them. He won the ACHA World Hunt in 1967 in West Point, MS with Vanzant‚Äôs Sam and was decades ahead of his time as a promoter of English Coonhounds.  He was the first guy, and one of the only to this day, to use really quality photos in his stud dog advertisements.  It was one reason my grandfather eventually passed along that camera that was on top of the magazines in his den to me. Oney‚Äôs early ads helped get me interested in photography which would later turn into video production and our line of predator hunting DVD‚Äôs.

met Bert a few weeks into my job with the Wick Outdoor Works at the Kenton Nationals, a big flea market, and hound water race. I had walked around the huge ‚Äútrade days‚Äù in my teen years as it was a staple of coon hunting history in Ohio, but I was now on ‚Äúofficial business‚Äù on my way to becoming John Wick‚Äôs ‚Äúright hand man‚Äù.  Oney had a magical smile, the perfect handshake and a twinkle in his eyes.  He was a gentleman in all walks of his life. Most folks don‚Äôt know it, but it was Berton Oney, along with J.C. Ellis, Joe House and Bill Boatman, all deceased now, who got together and brought the annual Grand American Coon Hunt in Orangeburg, South Carolina to life.  It is now rated as one of the largest events in the south. Oney went out of his way to stress that all of their wives played a part in the organization of that historic event as well. 

I would see him many times over the years at events I attended but hunt with him only once.  I was in Ashland, Ohio, at ‚ÄúThe Fin‚Äù, to do a predator calling seminar and afterward got together with Bert and his grandson Scott.  The Ohio air was crisp, the stars bright and the raccoons in big trouble when we turned my redbone Gabby and his fine English hound Dan loose. At one point in the night, Scott went to ole‚Äô Dan who was treed on one end of a cornfield and an 85 year old Bert and I walked to Gabby, treed in a small patch of woods off to the west.  I have been on many hunts with lots of folks, but walking into that tree with Bert and watching him shoot out that big ole fat raccoon down to my prized dog on the first shot is one of my favorite hunting memories.  Then he turned to me and said, ‚ÄúSon, you have to have the best redbone hound I‚Äôve ever seen.‚Äù I doubt that was the truth.  But it was Bert, always having something nice to say to someone. You always felt better about yourself and maybe a little more important in the world after talking with Bert.  It is too bad most of us do not have that gift.When coon season in Ohio opens in mid-November, it will be the first time in nearly seven decades that the hickory smoke out of the rusty wood stove in the old white barn on North Kniffin Street won‚Äôt be from a fire started by Bert.  At 91, still sharp as a tack and after a life full of hard work and adventure, he passed away surrounded by family on September 17th, 2017.  We should all be so lucky. 

Thank you Bert, for all of those wonderful memories and all that you did for the sport of coon hunting.

– Big Mark


Allen Alderson‚Äôs favorite predator killer was a 
Zepp’s Rattler

This is the original, super raspy, dual reed call for big, open country. 
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Great call for coyotes, greys, reds, and cats.

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Zepp’s Cat Rattler
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Zepp’s 1080 is Big Mark’s favorite open reed call!!

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