Scenthounds were developed throughout Europe beginning in the ninth century. The monks of the Abbey of St. Hubert began keeping an ancient strain in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium during this period, and from their hounds a wide array of breeds was developed in Britain, Scandinavia, France and elsewhere. The French, in particular, cultivated an extraordinary diversity of pack hounds, some of which were imported to the New World prior to the American Revolution, according to the AKC’s “History and Standards for Coonhound Breeds.”
One French hound, the Grand Bleu de Gascogne, is frequently credited with giving rise to several American originals, including one colorful character with a penchant for late night carousing: the Bluetick Coonhound.
In 1785, General Washington received a gift of several Grand Bleu de Gascogne hounds from the Marquis de Lafayette. Crosses of these imports were made to English-bred hounds resulting in a faster American Foxhound that was better suited to the hunting conditions found near the first president’s home at Mount Vernon. Some of these “Virginia” hounds also contributed to the development of a new breed known originally as the English Fox and Coonhound.
Derived from both English and French stock, the New World hounds were used to hunt fox by day and the native raccoon by night. Over time, Coonhounds were further specialized for night hunts throughout the southern and central states. During the 19th and 20th centuries, from the Carolinas westward across Tennessee and down through Louisiana, pioneer families found the Coonhound to be an agreeable companion and a tractable hunter of North America’s game animals.
Coonhound litters in those early days contained puppies of many colors, including bluetick, redtick and tricolor patterns. These hounds were eventually registered with the United Kennel Club as English Coonhounds, but when an emphasis on speed threatened the survival of the slow and steady Blueticks, supporters lobbied for separate breed recognition that was granted in 1946.
Both the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club currently recognize several distinct Coonhound breeds, including the Bluetick. Accepted into AKC’s Foundation Stock Service in 2004, the enduring breed gained approval to compete in the Miscellaneous class four years later. In 2009 the breed became a member of the AKC Hound Group, competing for championship points for the first time in 2010.
The ancestors of the Bluetick and its Coonhound cousins settled much of North America together, providing food for the table and company around the campfire. Thanks to centuries of togetherness both day and night, the Bluetick Coonhound remains a devoted and enduring companion and hunting partner. AKC registrations for the breed in 2012 place it 133rd of the 175 recognized breeds.
Never Clumsy nor Overly Chunky
The General Appearance section of the AKC breed standard describes the Bluetick Coonhound, in part, as never appearing “clumsy or overly chunky” in build. Leave it to an American original to have a standard that uses such familiar terms to describe correct type for the breed.
In all likelihood, the Bluetick’s construction is described in these terms to distinguish it from the much stockier Old World hounds from which it descends. Both the Grand Bleu de Gascogne and the English Foxhound are rather heavy hunters whose many fine qualities were combined to some degree on these shores to produce “speedy and well-muscled” hounds such as the Bluetick.
In an AKC Gazette feature article on the breed, Mara Bovsun comments on the contributions of the Bluetick’s European ancestors: “These were huge, ponderous dogs, easy to follow on foot. [American] breeders mixed in some English Foxhound along with a few other hound breeds to develop a high-endurance and meticulous hunter with a cold nose. (A “cold nose” is one that is capable of detecting trails that are hours, or even days, old.)”
The neat, compact body of the modern Bluetick provides much of the endurance needed. Described as square in proportion or “slightly longer than tall,” as measured from point of shoulder to base of tail, and from wither to ground, the body of this hound is neither stout nor racy.
Size varies considerably in this hunting breed as indicated by the standard’s height measurements. Dogs may stand between 22 and 27 inches at the withers, while bitches measure between 21 and 25 inches. Dogs and bitches measuring over or under these limits are to be disqualified from the show ring, although “entries in puppy class are not to be disqualified for being undersize.”
Acceptable weights are equally broad, with 55 to 80 pounds the range for dogs, and 46 to 65 pounds for bitches. No disqualifications, however, are given for weight.
The Bluetick’s body demonstrates “considerable depth” and descends “well down toward the elbow.” A “muscular” back and a loin that is “broad, well-muscled and slightly arched” provide the framework necessary for a long night’s hunt. The topline “slopes downward slightly from withers to hips” and ribs are “long and well-sprung, tapering gradually towards a moderate tuck-up.”
The Bluetick Coonhound is capable of hunting from dusk to dawn, and then some. To emphasize the breed’s utility, the standard requires “plenty of lung space” and provides ideal measurements for “girth of chest” as 26 to 34 inches for dogs and 23 to 30 inches for bitches.
Head and Tail ‘Well Up’
The Bluetick moves with a characteristic high carriage of its head and tail seen in most scenthounds. “In motion he carries his head and tail well up,” as noted by the standard.
“Well up” is also the direction most likely followed by the Coonhound’s main quarry. The raccoon is an arboreal creature with a home range stretching from Canada down through Central America. When pursued, it seeks safety in the branches of any tree, where the nearest Bluetick typically discovers it hiding, even after several nights’ rest.
The Bluetick’s “cold nose” is its calling card. “Large with well-opened nostrils,” it is capable of leading a hound over a trail that is several days old. Once a raccoon has been treed, the hound raises its voice as well as its head. Bovsun describes the breed’s legendary song by saying, “Of all the Coonhounds, his voice is reputed to be the most melodious – old timers say majestic – the sound so pleasing that people come to hunts just to listen.”
Active and vigorous on the move, the Bluetick carries its tail high “with a forward half-moon curve.” How fitting that a night hunter would receive such a lunar designation!
As with most Coonhound breeds, the Bluetick’s full name describes its coat color and pattern as well as its job description. There’s no mistaking a Bluetick for a Redbone or a Black and Tan, nor can the breed be confused with an Australian Cattle Dog of similar coloration.
The coat of the Bluetick is described by the standard as lying “close to the body.” It is “medium coarse” in texture and appears “smooth and glossy.” Although the coat has some coarseness, it is essentially “not rough or too short.”
The standard’s section on color describes its appearance as “dark blue” and “thickly mottled” on the body, “spotted by various shaped black spots on back, ears and sides.” The head and ears should be “predominantly black,” with or without tan markings over the eyes, on the cheeks and chest and below the tail. The body, it is noted, should be “more blue than black.”
Blue is a coat color defined variously by individual breed standards. It occurs in several sheep and cattle dogs as it does with assorted Hound, Terrier, Toy and Working breeds. A white coat heavily flecked with black hairs creates the bluetick pattern. The Bluetick Coonhound standard emphasizes, “A fully blue mottled body is preferred over light ticking on the body. There should be more blue ticking than white in the body coat.”
Additionally, the Bluetick Coonhound may demonstrate red ticking on the feet and on the lower portions of the legs. No other colors are permitted, and any color other than as described in the standard, including “albinism,” is a disqualification.
As one of several hounds developed in the American South, the Bluetick Coonhound remains a living legacy of the many men and women who’ve enjoyed being serenaded by a beautiful dog on a moonlit evening.