Each episode of Tennessee Uncharted documents the experiences of Erick and his crew across the State of Tennessee. This is the full text of the short story that resulted from their adventure in Middle Tennessee.

I’m raiding the woods of Middle TN to get a modern day look at a few old fashioned ways and to learn how some of our state’s students are taking two TN sportsman traditions to the world level. Yes, this is a story of the unexpected. An unlikely tale of connection, education, and inspiration.

Typically characterized by quaint downtown squares and cozy family circles, there’s a lot about the communities of Middle TN that you may not know about. And while Music City may be the lively lynch-pin of the region with which you’re most familiar, I’m told there are many other goodies you’d be crazy not to treat yourself to.

In case you haven’t noticed, over the last 5 years the food truck industry has been booming. Just take a look around, and you’re bound to see one sitting on a street corner somewhere near by serving up some delicious treats. But these days, depending on what you’re in the mood for, you might want to double check the menu before ordering. Because thanks to the folks at See Spot Eat, food trucks aren’t just for foodies anymore. Or, at least, they’re now for four-legged foodies as well.

Yes, what started as a trial in training soon became a trip in treats too. Now, seven years after opening their doors, the folks at See Spot Eat are not only known for their quality doggie delicacies, but their cruisin’ kitchen.

From dog treats to training, See Spot Eat is definitely traveling in the right direction, serving up the very best for man’s best friend.

You may not know it, but raccoon hunting has been around for a long time. Actually, I’m not ashamed to say that my family is part of that small few who have explored the more edible aspects of the raccoon. In fact, just as my parents had first started dating, the first meal that my mom ate at my Mama Baker and Daddy Cecil’s house was raccoon roasted on a bed of sweet potatoes. (However, mom actually ate a 2-piece chicken snack pack from the gas station instead.)

As unlikely as catchin’ coons may be these days, for the Hopkins family, carrying on this traditional pastime is a family favorite that runs four generations deep.

In many ways, Allie Hopkins is a typical 14 year old girl… She has a lot of energy, a short attention span—she even wears pink—but unlike most girls her age, on the weekend she’s more likely to be found in the woods with her father, than at the mall with her friends. In fact, Allie recently won the Professional Kennel Club’s TN Youth State Championship for competition raccoon hunting, and was among only a handful of girls competing at the PKC World Coon Hunt.

Just in case you’re wondering, let me be clear… Competition coon hunting does not mean killing. In fact, when it comes to most modern day coon hunts, guns aren’t involved at all. This style of hunting is actually more of a field trial that’s primarily focused on competition and paying tribute to a TN tradition.

The way a competition coon hunt works is that a judge goes out with a group of competitors and their dogs and waits for them to track and tree a raccoon. Each time a dog successfully trees a raccoon they get points, and they have an hour to tree as many as they can.

I was actually surprised to learn that tracking a raccoon, which is noted for its intelligence, can be very difficult. The paths they take on their nightly voyages to find food or cause mischief are often winding and span may different terrains, making it difficult for the dogs to keep up.

But, for me, today wasn’t about the raccoons or the hound dogs at all. It was about the surprising connection between a daughter and her dad, through a nearly forgotten TN sportsman’s tradition. For Ashley and Allie, competition coon hunting is not about wins or loses, it’s just about being together.

After all the trackin’ and treein’ tonight, my dogs are really barking. Luckily though, the raccoon isn’t the only nocturnal forager in these parts, and there’s a place nearby that’s open all night where the crew and I can get a snack to silence the bay in our bellies.

For many, donuts are a morning mainstay, but in order to be fresh at first light, all that baking has to take place earlier still. And in a town full of students, set on snagging snacks for study sessions galore, the donut quickly claimed its place as a cornerstone of this community. 

Going into this, I thought making donuts would be pretty easy. A little dough, a little drizzle and there you have it. But as it turns out, there’s a lot more to making a donut than you would think. And with an emphasis on quality over quantity, I’ve managed to take a bite out of another modern-day masterpiece, made the old fashioned way.

I’ve given several unlikely engagements a shot—from a truck full of treats all the way to donuts after dark. So it seemed only fitting that before I set off for home, I make one last stop to check out a sport that’s causing quite the sensation.

Today I’m in Nashville to get a world class education at the 9th annual National Archery in the Schools Program World Tournament, where nearly 5,000 student archers from all over the world, including the UK, Canada, South Africa, and Namibia will be competing. The program is a joint venture between state departments of Education and Wildlife. What may surprise you is that not only is the archery taught by NASP accessible to students of nearly all ages, genders, physical, and mental abilities, but educators participating in the program are reporting that NASP “engages the unengaged” and inspires students to greater achievement in school. In just 13 years, the program has shown such incredible results that thousands of educators across not just the country, but the world, who are looking for ways to improve student motivation, attention, behavior, attendance and focus have found a bulls eye with archery. 

As the host of this year’s world tournament, this event owes much to the TWRA. So I sat down with Don Crawford to talk about TWRA’s efforts to bring the world to TN and how programs like NASP can not only serve the future of our youth, but wildlife conservation as well.

The fact of the matter is, we need more teenagers in the outdoors. Too many young people are staying inside, missing out on all the education and inspiration found in the wild places around us. 

Former NASP World Champion, and student manager of this year’s USA team, Cameron Peyton provided terrific perspective when he told me, “We met as archers and ended up as life long friends. We came from different areas and backgrounds but ultimately archery united us all.”

Over the last few days, I’ve learned that it’s ok to treat yourself. But if this experience has taught me anything about life and about TN, it’s to expect the unexpected.

However, for me, this is so much more than just a story of the unexpected. We are all looking for a connection in life, be it to our past, our pals, our passions, or all of the above. It’s one of the treats that just makes life better I truly believe we can all learn a thing or two from Allie and Ashley. I now see that we don’t have to take fancy trips or vacations to find a connection. We don’t have to travel halfway around the world to inspire and educate. Sometimes just a simple trip, into the woods or even your hometown donut shop is all it takes to find a kinship that can last a lifetime.