For the first time in 26 years, the United Kennel Club Winter Classic Coon Hunt was not in Georgia. This year’s late January event moved to Batesville, Miss., a town of about 8,000. A move like that can be scary for an organization, for several reasons, according to Allen Gingerich, senior director of hunting events.As it turned out, the fear was for naught. In fact, entries were about 25 percent more than the UKC staff anticipated.
That was not a problem for the local clubs supporting the classic, though. “We had about 200 more dogs than we had originally suggested [we would],” Gingerich says. “The clubs stepped up to the plate.” That means they found more guides to go out with the hunting casts – groups of four hunters and four dogs each – as well as areas where the hunts would take place. “I couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome,” he says. Those clubs included the Tinside Coonhunters Association in Batesville, the Northwest Mississippi Coonhunters Association in Arkabutla, the Hatchie Coon Club in Walnut, the Blackhawk Coonhunters Association in Cascilla, the Midway Coon Club in Vardaman, the Winona Coonhunters Association in Winona and the East Arkansas Coonhunters Association in Marianna, Ark.
In searching for a new, expanded event site, the UKC wanted a more centrally located venue, Gingerich says, but it also had to provide the right conditions for treeing raccoons. After all, that is what coonhounds do.
And Batesville did both, much to the pleasure and satisfaction of Dean Miller and Timothy Waters of Berlin, Ohio, whose Black and Tan Coonhound, Gr. Nite Ch. GCh. ‘PR’ Bad to the Bones Black Hawk, was the overall winner of the two-day hunt with a total score of 1,175+. He scored highest in his Friday night cast, then was Saturday’s Grand Nite champion and the American Black and Tan Coonhound Association high-scoring male.Scores are based on each dog’s performance in scenting a raccoon, identifying its location, prompting it to go up a tree, etc. The plus sign after the score means the dog earned extra points for a particular action during the hunt.
The Winter Classic is the first leg in the UKC Triple Crown of Coonhound events held each year. Autumn Oaks will be in Richmond, Ind., over Labor Day weekend, and September’s Coonhound World Championship in Elizabethtown, Kan.
Despite Gingerich’s visit to Batesville and his determination that it would meet both the location and wildlife criteria, he wasn’t expecting such a jump in entries. “I think it was a new place, so it interested people,” he says. The Batesville Civic Center was a “nice facility,” and the location “really gave a lot of people the opportunity to participate, people for whom Georgia was too far.”
Not only did a lot more dogs enter, but a lot more were able to tree raccoons. “I think they were very pleasantly surprised,” Gingerich says. In 2012 at the Georgia event, about 30 percent of the casts were unable to tree any raccoons, in what is known as a “dead cast.” This year, just 10 to 15 percent were dead casts.
Gingerich says he got a lot of “thumbs up” from hunters returning from their hunts. “I have never had so many hunters make a point of coming up to say, ‘great hunting.’ That’s a positive; they will go tell their buddies.”
Surely Jody Bray and Austin Cox of Cabot, Ark., were among those. Their Bluetick Coonhound, Gr. Nite Ch. GCh. ‘PR’ Razor Ridge Blue DUI was Friday’s Grand Nite champion with a score of 750+.
Tanya Raab, vice president of operations for the UKC, who was also in Batesville for the classic, says, the hunters “were all really excited.”So what makes the 100 miles or so around Batesville great coon hunting territory? Yes, some casts traveled as far as 98 miles from the civic center to their designated hunting areas. “The biggest contributing factor is the river bottoms with a lot of good hardwoods,” Gingerich explains, pointing out that hardwood trees, mainly oaks in this locale, create safe dens for raccoons. They build their dens in the hollows of the oaks where “they’re safe from other predators.” In the hunting world, these are called “den trees.” In areas where few such trees exist, the masked bandits may den in the ground and have their babies there where it’s “not quite as safe.” Obviously with safer dens, more babies survive and bolster the local coon population.
The second factor that contributes to the available game around Batesville is the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks wildlife management program, Gingerich says. “It’s obvious that they have a good management program. They set the guidelines and rules for harvest season – how many animals can be taken during a season.” Hunting at the classic takes place on private land – with prior permission from the landowners of course – and on state land, overseen by the department.
Taking advantage of the ideal hunting conditions – the raccoons are only treed, not caught or shot – were 357 dogs on the night of Friday, January 25, and 344 on Saturday night, according to Raab. The bench show drew 217 entries. The total entry for the classic was 885, accompanied by their owners or handlers, along with family members, friends and supporters.
The Nite champion for Friday was Nite Ch. ‘PR’ Nocturnal Bow, a Treeing Walker Coonhound, owned and handled by Previn Blalock of Newnan, Ga., with a score of 687.5+. He was followed by Black and Tan Coonhound Ch. Nite Ch. ‘PR’ Robinson’s Magic Mojo, owned and handled by Jason Robinson of Bowdon, Ga., with 675+. In third was Nite Ch. ‘PR’ Bishop’s Bull Shoals Bell, a Bluetick Coonhound owned by John W. Bishop of Martinsville, Ill., handled by Jimmy Ritter with 600+, who was also the Bluetick Breeders of America high-scoring female. Also ranking were English Coonhound Nite Ch.’PR’ Factory Creek Hardtime Swamprat, owned by Larry D. Limbaugh of Belvidere, Tenn., and handled by Greg Shores with 450+ for fourth, and, in fifth, Treeing Walker Nite Ch. ‘PR’ All Grand Track’s Full Sack, owned by James Bradshaw of Mendenhall, Miss., and handled by Will Hux with a score of 425+. Swamprat was the United English Breeders and Fanciers Associationhigh-scoring male.
The top registered dogs Friday night – those that haven’t yet earned nite hunt titles – included Black and Tan ‘PR’ Bad to the Bones Queen Of Flo, owned by Dean Miller and Scott Stewart of Berlin. Clay Stephens handled her to a score of 537.5+ for first. In second through 10th were ‘PR’ Midnight Skeeter, a Treeing Walker owned by Samuel Rallinson of Bastrop, La., and handled by Kurt Rallinson with 425+; Bluetick ‘PR’ IL. Smokey River Bobbie, owned by Ed Mauney and Josh Rich of Palmyra, Ill. and handled by Josh, 400+; Treeing Walker ‘PR’ 5w’s Heart Of Gold, by Justin Bonds and Tyre Boone of Walnut, Miss., handled by Justin, 325+; another Bluetick, Ch. ‘PR’ Casey’s Missouri Blue Freddy, owned by Richard Casey and Tim Manning of Heber Springs, Ark., handled by Cody Smith, 325+; Black and Tan ‘PR’ Black River Boots, owned by Chad McCoin and Brad Hile of Hartford City, Ind., handled by Brad, 300+; and Bluetick ‘PR’ Jackson’s Blue Jim, owned by Craig Jackson of Wesson, Miss., handled by James Nathan Jackson, 275+.
Come Saturday night in the Nite division, Nite Ch. ‘PR’ Penny Creek Stylish Boomer, a Treeing Walker owned by Jamie Fuller of Abbeville, S.C., was handled to a first place by Chad Howard with a score of 975+. In second through fifth were Nite Ch. ‘PR’ Carrie’s Lucy Lou, a Black and Tan owned by Carrie Taylor of Brighton, Tenn., and handled by Dan Taylor with 512+; Treeing Walker Nite Ch. ‘PR’ Sun’s Shine, owned by Allen Stonecipher of Centrahoma, Okla., and handled by Chris Lott, 475+; Nite Ch. ‘PR’ No Alibi, also a Treeing Walker, owned by Evan and Allen Wyatt of Clanton, Ala., and handled by Evan, 450+; and English Coonhound Nite Ch. ‘PR’ Main Street Radar, owned by Steve Bennett and Scott E. Jones of Columbus, Ind., and handled by Scott, 450+. Radar was also the Southern English Association high-scoring male.
The top 10 scoring dogs in Saturday’s Registered division were ‘PR’ MO Harry Love, a Treeing Walker owned by Scott Engle and Scott Allen of Hillsboro, Ohio, and handled by BJ Birmingham with a score of 850+; ‘PR’ Ragland’s Tax Collector, also a Treeing Walker, owned and handled by Randy Ragland Jr. of Bethpage, Tenn., 675+; ‘PR’ Triple Lockdown, yet another Treeing Walker, owned by Michael Moody and Jay Tidwell of Byram, Miss., and handled by Michael, 375+; English Coonhound ‘PR’ Main Street Blues Man, owned and handled by Don Gregg of Batesville, 375+; ‘PR’ Zebs Tiny Bigdog Dan, a Bluetick Coonhound owned by Lane Jett of West Plains, Mo., and handled by Will Jett, 325+, and the Bluetick Breeders and Coonhunters Association high-scoring male; ‘PR’ Nester’s Trailer Little Dawn, an English Coonhound owned by Douglas R. Nester of Carrollton, Miss., and handled by Justin Earl, 300+; Treeing Walker ‘PR’ Tyson Road Slick, owned and handled by Jay New of Byhalia, Miss., 300+; ‘PR’ Griffin’s Bella, also a Treeing Walker, owned by Grady and Garey Griffin of Franklin, Ala., and handled by Garey, 300+; Bluetick ‘PR’ Mackie Creek Lil Diamond, owned by Justin Bonds and Tyre Boone of Walnut, Miss., and handled by Justin, 300+; and Treeing Walker ‘PR’ Big D’s Double Duece, owned by Curt L. Messmer of Huntingburg, Ind., and handled by Bryan Whitted, 225+.
Not only were the venue in Batesville and the hunting better than expected, the town, itself, welcomed the hunters too.
“The community and the town were very welcoming,” Raab says. “The hospitality was top-notch. They were just extremely happy to see us. They rolled out the red carpet for us. All the participants really liked that everything was really convenient. All the hotels, stores and restaurants were all on the main drag, so to speak.”
Gingerich agrees: “There was not one business that we got a negative vibe from. We got a very good impression.
“I can’t say enough about Roy Hyde there at the civic center and the crew he works with. They’d never been involved in an event of this nature. They just said, ‘Anything we can do for you.’ And the same way with everybody in the town…police officers being out there. It was just a very friendly town. We couldn’t have been happier.
“I hope we can build on this and be back in Batesville for the next 25 years.”
To see highlights of the 2013 UKC Winter Classic Coon Hunt, click here.