The Grand American Coon Hunt is the Super Bowl of coon hunting and Orangeburg, South Carolina, hosts the 49th annual weekend January 3-5. In 2014 coon dog enthusiasts will come from 17 states and Canada to test their hounds in the hunt trials.
It all began in the 1960s when a few local coon-hunting enthusiasts wanted to emulate the hound competitions already established in the Midwest. Orangeburg was picked for its central location by forward-thinking hunters and today as many as 30,000 people visit the Orangeburg County fairgrounds, which serves as home base for the event.
The gates open for Coon Fest on the first weekend of January each year and usher in a weekend of vending, hunting, dog sales, dog shows and family fun. Local coon hunting clubs in conjunction with the United Kennel Club and American Cooner magazine run the event. Friday's events include a prayer session, a drawing to set the order of competition, and the first night of coon hunting.
David McKee is the President of the Grand American Association. "We have 340 dogs hunting each night, with four dogs to a cast. Dogs that win their cast both Friday and Saturday nights will qualify for the cumulative points total. The top four dogs will compete in a second hunt on Saturday night in a playoff scenario to crown the 2014 Grand American Champion," said McKee, adding that the final awards ceremony is around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning. Finishing on top as 2014 Hunt Champion is 'Fogles Southern Belle' owned by Adam Mattson of Aiken, South Carolina.
The accumulation of points during each hunt involves the ability of the coon hounds to strike, track and tree the raccoon. A significant plus for the Grand American is that no raccoons are killed during the competition, rather, they are merely chased and treed. When it comes to public perception, no harvest of any raccoons is important to keep this hunt tradition growing.
Of course, many attendees do not hit the woods at night for a coon hunt. Most folks come to Coon Fest to check out the coon hunting accessories the Grand American has to offer. One barn is set up with dog breeders who show their hounds. The breeder's section is very popular because anyone getting serious about coon hunting wants a good dog. Some coon dog breeds include Blue Tick, Redbone, Walker, Plott's and English.
A part of Saturday's schedule includes a bench show, where coon hounds are judged by their breed, gender, color and stance. This is a serious competition, with nearly 200 dogs entered each year. There is also a special youth division in the bench show designed to get kids involved early in the sport of coon hunting.