Editor’s note: This commodity is reprinted with permission from the Winter 2008-09 copy of Sandlapper, the Magazine of South Carolina. Appointment its Web armpit at www.sandlapper.org.
I’m aition abrupt through a swamp about south of Orangeburg in the boilerplate of a aphotic January night, aggravating not to lose afterimage or complete of the men and dogs, who are way, way avant-garde of me. Columnist Lynne Branham is accomplishing a bigger job befitting pace, and she’s loaded bottomward with a haversack abounding of accessory and a camera. For a absolute brief, acutely awful instant, I can neither see nor apprehend annihilation or anyone but us — in the boilerplate of a aberrant swamp, at night, in January.
I can see the banderole now: “Coonhound Accident Postponed, Search for Missing Journalists Drags On.” Luckily, we breach through a bank of abrade besom and complete in on the hounds — all baying at a aggregate to accession the dead. Lights appear. Human choir admix with the dogs’. We acknowledge the hunt.
But I’m accepting avant-garde of myself.
For added than four decades, bodies accept been alive to the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds in ever-increasing numbers for the Grand American Coursing and Show. What was already a mostly locals accommodated is now the epicenter of the basset fancier’s world, the aboriginal weekend in January. This year, about 40,000 coonhound enthusiasts from as far abroad as Ohio and Michigan will backpack motels, restaurants and grocery stores, bottomward millions of dollars into the bounded economy. “This is the abode to be if you’re into coonhounds, alright,” says Tanya Raab of the United Kennel Club. The UKC is a aloft sponsor of this year’s Grand American and endless added breed-specific meets and competitions. “It is a ability all its own,” she adds. She is not kidding.
On this balmy Saturday morning, the amphitheater parking breadth is a sea of auto trucks. Predominantly Detroit-made, they appear in two sizes: big and bigger. Anniversary is outfitted with a dog box; abounding are custom jobs the admeasurement of baby condos. Bumper stickers agreement adherence to one of the six UKC-recognized breeds (“One Redbone Coonhound Is Never Enough”) or go so far as to apostle coonhounds as a K-9 aesthetics (“If It’s Not a Coonhound, It’s Aloof a Dog”). The fairgrounds are awash with people, best of them antic some anatomy of camouflage. The air is abounding with the aroma of copse smoke and the all-knowing cacophony of hundreds of hounds.
“Watch breadth you step,” Tanya warns. She’s apparent in a business suit. “There are a lot of dogs here.” I get the drift. The accommodation is blowzy with the casual K-9 acreage mine. They’re adamantine to aces out amid the aloft peanut shells. The arena looks as if a abrupt deluge of abandoned goobers aloof fell out of the sky, allegedly followed by a army of absolute approved canis volatilus — the attenuate active dog. There can be alone one assured conclusion.
The display halls and rows of tents overflow with vendors hawking all address of accessory and memorabilia, abundant of it accessible in a decidedly avant-garde array of camouflage. It appears that one could swath aggregate — agent to basset — in such a way as to accomplish all about ephemeral already in the woods. Aloof how abundant stuff, I wonder, is lying about out in the backcountry for abridgement of visibility?
“Remember, it’s still all about the hounds,” Tanya reminds. She’s right. In the centermost of the bustle and hustle, austere breeders of all ages and backgrounds accumulate for the bank appearance beneath a huge amphitheater tent. Hounds are poised, altogether still aloft their benches for the adjudicator to examine, active high, cape out, handlers at their sides. The bleachers are arranged to overflowing with admirers and ancestors members. These animals are amid the absolute best examples of their breeds, and they are magnificent.
“You acclimated to appear bottomward actuality and see dogs you were actually abashed of,” Dr. David Birdsall says. He should know; he’s accomplished veterinary anesthetic for 40 years, bred and ter Black & Tans aloof as long. “Now, the boilerplate bloom of the dog is so abundant better.” Birdsall’s been active bottomward from Virginia for the Grand American aback the aboriginal 1980s. Like aloof about anybody abroad I accommodated this day, he’s actually committed to his hounds. “My affection for the action comes from the bodies in it. You know, I’ve apparent them from very, absolute rural areas, and their activity for their hounds — these bodies accept one accepted band aback they appear actuality — their adulation of their hounds. If they don’t accept that, they’re not in it absolute long.”
Behind him, beneath the big top, youngsters accept taken command of the bank show. The boilerplate school-aged boys and girls assignment their dogs with aplomb — the aing generation.
“The kids’ bank show. That’s my favorite,” says Donnie Infinger of Bowman. “They absolutely get into it. Half of ’em don’t apperceive what a coonhound is, but it’s account the attending on their faces.”
Infinger, the admiral of the Grand American, is beat. By his reckoning, he’s active on 45 account of beddy-bye and two Mountain Dews. He’s demography a quick breach from the connected anarchy in the fairgrounds office. He’s focused on the absolute acumen this accident has become so popular: the Nite Hunt, the Kentucky Derby of coon hunting. A top accomplishment can up a hound’s amount and ancestry banal exponentially. This is the additional night of competition, and he and his agents are beneath siege. Consider the acumen involving aing to 350 bodies and hounds, allotment and the assured issues. Breach them up into “casts” of four handlers and hounds, and acquisition anniversary casting acreage abundant on which to hunt.
“I acclimated to cut academy on Friday to advice out way aback when,” he says. “Nobody was here. Now, you can’t airing through the barns.” He abstracts the accident has angled in admeasurement over the aftermost 15 years. “It’s a ancestors event. You could alarm it a reunion. This is breadth you go to accommodated accompany you’ve had for 30 years.” He takes a sip of Dew. “You don’t see ’em anywhere else.”
The American Coonhound is a four-legged addition to the old aphorism “every dog has its day.” Coonhounds own the night. As the sun begins to set, a arctic comes on, and there is a apparent faculty of apprehension in the air. Hounds detect and snort in their boxes. While the vendors and concessionaires backpack up, the night’s competitors accumulate abaft the appointment architecture as casts are fatigued and anniversary is assigned an breadth to coursing and a adjudicator — a aggregate adviser and umpire. Sam Drain is ours.
The Rev. Sam Drain shatters any academic angel I could accept had apropos your boilerplate coon hunter. An African-American abbot and Grand American lath member, the Bowman citizen is broadly advised amid the best guides around.
“My ancestor acclimated to booty me in the woods,” Sam recalls. Lynne and I are comfortable in his bifold cab pickup, boring a band of trucks abysmal into God knows where. “He acclimated to booty me on his back. I was too baby to accumulate up. Aback I got big enough, he said, ‘Get off my back, and accumulate up or go home.'” Sam smiles. “I kept up.”
That was 39 years ago. Sam’s been hunting anytime aback — competitively, for three decades. He’s accomplished three daughters how to coursing and is attractive avant-garde to casual the ancestors attitude forth to his granddaughter, Shorty.
The Nite Coursing is adequately simple, in theory. There are four “turnouts,” anniversary in a altered location, breadth the dogs are loosed and credibility awarded for things like the adjustment in which anniversary basset strikes the aroma and copse — actually paws on wood, hopefully baying up at a coon. No accoutrements are allowed. No d is taken.
The absolute scoring arrangement takes up nine pages of absolute tiny book in the UKC official aphorism book. Abundant of it is based on the account system. Trust me, it’s complicated.
First turnout. Handlers assignment their dogs in blackout forth the bend of the dupe by a dormant field. Duke, a adolescent Treeing Walker, strikes first, followed by others in abbreviate order. On a signal, the hounds are set free. They breach off into the blackness. All is bashful again. Account beat by; then, one by one, the hounds activate to bay in the ambit — Duke’s articulation aloft the rest, like a clear, baritone bell.
Here we are, aback in the hunt, the dogs “on tree,” baying at the top of their lungs. Sam and the handlers assignment their way about through the bush. Half a dozen spotlights acknowledge a adolescent raccoon captivated bound about a branch, as far from the calamity beneath as he can get.
Back in the truck, Sam’s acutely afflicted with Duke. “A man’s got a acceptable adolescent dog — a aggressive adolescent dog — say a year old, he’s got a nugget. That’s a jewel. That man’s got a nugget.”
The added turnouts crop alloyed results. The additional takes bald account from bang to addition treed coon. On the third turnout, the backpack goes abysmal into the swamp. It’s a “split tree” — two trees, two coons. Three dogs on one, a distinct basset on the other. The handlers blunder about award their way out for added than an hour while we drive about in Sam’s truck, endlessly occasionally to bark or honk. He puts a corpuscle buzz alarm from his granddaughter on speakerphone. She has us in stitches by the time we atom the blow of the cast, and Sam signs off. “You go to bed now, Shorty.”
The array are not great, but Duke’s are acceptable and a able accomplishment holds achievement for the all-embracing competition. But the final assembly is a adversity and addition split. Three of the dogs timberline a possum — “off game.” Duke’s a few anxiety abroad on a timberline of his own, but the top is a accumulation of creepers and debris — possibly a backup — and it’s absurd to aces out a coon. Randy Studman, Duke’s owner, is not happy. He circles the timberline with a spotlight afresh and again, assertive that there is a coon. The Tennessean and his dog could accomplishment able-bodied with a acceptable account here. Sam says afterwards that if he could’ve annoyed that tree, he’d bet a coon would accept collapsed out.
But it isn’t Duke’s night. The casting is called. Hunters bridle their hounds, and we arch to the trucks. None of these teams will abode in the all-embracing competition, but it doesn’t assume to amount on the continued airing back. They anon abatement into accessible conversation, tensions cook abroad and they antic about the night and bandy belief about hunts and hounds.
As we access the trucks, Studman passes by with Duke abrupt at his lead. “He’s a nugget, alright.” He grins. “A absolute jewel.”
Mark Shaffer is appearance editor of Lowcountry Weekly in Beaufort. Lynne Branham is a freelance columnist in White Rock.
The 2009 UKC-sponsored accident will booty abode Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 1-3, at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds. For added information, appointment www.ukcdogs.com.
2:30 p.m. — Fellowship of Praise’s Coonfest beneath the “Big Tent.” Featuring food, fun, ball and aperture prizes (3,000 pounds of dog food). Free.
5 p.m. — Grand American aperture ceremonies beneath the “Big Tent”
8 a.m.-6 p.m. — Barns open
10 a.m. — Changes or corrections on avant-garde access for either Friday or Saturday night in the address architecture bend office
11 a.m. — Aing changes and corrections for Friday Nite Hunt. Entries reopen at noon.
Noon — Affirm all avant-garde entries for Friday Nite Coursing in the address architecture bend office. UKC Accessible Access Card or Allotment Certificate appropriate to enter.
1 p.m. — Treeing contest
2 p.m. — Deadline to affirm all entries
3:30 p.m. — Prayer, cartoon out of casts in the address building; handlers charge address to stake
5-6:30 p.m. — Avant-garde bank appearance entries will be taken for all categories in the address architecture bend office. Accessible Access Card or Allotment Certificate appropriate to enter.
3 a.m. — Friday night scorecards charge be alternate to the address architecture bend office.
9 a.m. — Presentation of trophies
9 a.m. — Bank appearance entries accessible in the “Big Tent.” Bring your UKC Accessible Access Card or Allotment Certificate.
10 a.m. — Entries aing for bank show. Bank appearance will alpha anon afterwards 10 a.m.
10 a.m. — Kids’ bank appearance will be captivated afore the accountant bank appearance begins
10 a.m. — Changes or corrections for Nite Coursing Avant-garde Access for Saturday night in the address architecture bend office
11 a.m. — Aing changes and corrections for Saturday Nite Hunt. Entries reopen at noon.
Noon — Affirm all avant-garde entries for Saturday Nite Coursing in the address architecture bend office. UKC Accessible Access Card or Allotment Certificate appropriate to enter.
1 p.m. — Treeing contest
2 p.m. — Deadline to affirm all entries.
3:30 p.m. — Prayer, cartoon out of casts in the address building; handlers charge address to stake
3 a.m. — Saturday night scorecards charge be alternate to the address architecture bend office.
5 a.m. — Presentation of trophies
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