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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Weaver

Youth Coon Hunt challenge is Saturday

One of the noisiest events in Columbus County kicks off Saturday with the annual Youth Coon Hunt Challenge at Hallsboro.

The event is sponsored by the Tri-County, Coastal and Columbus coonhunting clubs. It features a bench show, calling contest, treeing contest, dog care class and judged night hunt. The event is held at the Old 74 Fox Preserve on N.C. 214 (Sam Potts Highway).

The event is free for all hunters 18 and under, said Jamie Dew, an avid hunter and one of the event’s organizers.

“This is all about trying to preserve the history and heritage of coon hunting,” Dew said. “There are some diehard hunters out there still, quite a few, but we have to get the younger generation interested.”

Coon hunting with hounds traces its roots back to early colonial times. Hounds are used to find, trail and tree raccoons. While coons were once harvested for both food and their distinctive furs, the drop in the wild fur market and less demand for raccoon meat, along with hunting for other game species, has led to fewer and fewer coonhunters.

National competitions are still held, but they are only a shadow of the heyday of competitive coonhunts that took place from the 1920s through the late 1970s.

Many modern coonhunters never actually harvest the coon, but are content to see how accurately and quickly the hounds can follow and locate their quarry.

The hunt isn’t always about killing an animal, Dew said.

“Things have changed,” Dew said. “People just don’t understand enjoying the sound of the dogs. Fewer people understand the connection you have to have with your hounds. That’s something that has to be developed through time, patience and discipline. The hunt is just a small part of it.

“We want to bring some of that back for our young hunters.”

Saturday’s events include a treeing competition, bench show, YEP class (which teaches dog handling and care), squalling contests, and a judged night hunt.

All events are split into under 12, and 13-18 categories. Even the most tenderfoot hunter can participate, as there are loaner dogs available for kids who don’t have their own animals. Absolutely no experience is necessary, Dew said.

“We have some really young kids out there handling their own dogs,” he said. “We have teenagers who are just learning.”

Hounds and handlers are judged on how many times a hound barks within a set time period during the treeing contest, which uses a fur decoy, not a real coon. Traditionally, live raccoons in cages were raised and lowered in trees for treeing contests. The practice fell by the wayside with changes in laws.

“We use a coon hide and it has the same effect for the dog,” Dew said. “The dog still has to stay within the circle of the tree, and still has to bark. It still has to be under the handler’s control.”

The squalling contest gives young hunters the chance to demonstrate their skills using a calling device (similar to a kazoo) that is used to simulate coon vocalizations. Properly used, the calls can sound like a coon looking for a fight. The squalls can make a curious coon move out of its hiding place, exposing it for the hunter and his hounds.

The kids squalling contest, however, is often more about enthusiasm than skill.

“It’s really just a lot of fun for everybody,” Dew said.

The YEP class teaches young houndsmen how to properly care for and show their dogs, and the bench show later in the afternoon is a way to demonstrate training as well as physical attributes, Adults are allowed to help younger contestants lift their hounds to the platforms for the bench show, but overall, Dew said, “the kids are the ones doing the work.” The same goes for all the events. Parents can provide some help for younger or inexperienced hunters, but the boys and girls are doing most of the work.

“The whole idea is for children to learn and have fun,” he said. “We rarely have to call down an adult for getting unruly or trying to take over, but the judges are chosen for their skills at being firm but polite with folks. It’s understandable when adults get excited, and they want their kids to win – we see it in ballgames all the time – but the goal here is for children to learn to do things on their own.

“They learn confidence, and how to communicate with their hounds.”

Since the event is UKC sanctioned, winners earn points toward national recognition. Prizes are donated by area businesses and the coonhunting clubs.

Dew said that while there are vendors of coonhunting supplies, the event isn’t designed to make money. All expenses are handled out of clubmembers’ pockets, fundraising or donations.

A popular tradition with the annual hunt is the cake auction, where homemade cakes have gone for as much as $200, with all proceeds going to the show.

With fewer overall hunters, much less coonhunters, Dew said the youth challenge is as much about preserving the outdoor heritage as well as the traditions of coonhunting.

“We’re trying to pass this down to the next generations,” he said. “People before us handed coon hunting down to us. We want to do the same. It’s hard to compete with all the electronics that kids have these days. We want them to understand the blessings of the outdoors, and to help keep this sport from going away.

“There are those who say coonhunting is dying sport,” he said. “It’s expensive and time consuming to take care of dogs and train them. It’s harder to find a place to hunt. But we aren’t giving up. As long as we’re around, coonhunting is not going away.”


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