Thirty-nine young coon hunters braved a cool steady rain recently to participate in the 11th annual South Carolina Youth Raccoon Hunting Championship at the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County.
Co-sponsored by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the S.C. Coon Hunters Association, the Feb. 25 event was attended by youngsters and their guardians representing raccoon hunting clubs from around the state. Nine regional events were held statewide to determine who would attend the state championship hunt. All participants must first qualify in a regional hunt in order to be invited to participate in the championship event.
Before the actual competition, participants ranging in age from 5 to 17 years old attended seminars on sportsmanship, scoring and hunter safety. Between seminars, corporate sponsors awarded door prizes to all of the participants. A planned .22-caliber rifle competition was cancelled due to rain.
The hunt divided participants into two age divisions. The Junior Division was composed of youth under 14 years old, and the Senior Division was composed of youths from 14 to 17 years old. Contestants were divided into groups, or “casts,” for the evening competition. Efforts are then made to group the participants within each age division with similarly aged contestants to further even out the competition within each cast. Senior Division participants hunted a two-hour competition hunt, while the Junior Division participants hunted a one-hour timed cast.
Each cast consisted of a judge and guide, and three or four youth hunters, each with a dog. Parents followed along and observed from a distance, but each youth handled and called his or her own dog. For each of the 11 years the state youth raccoon-hunting competition has been held, the Low Country Coon Hunters Association of Shirley, S.C., has furnished guides and obtain access to hunting lands, using many local plantations.
Jay Butfiloski, DNR Furbearer Project supervisor, praised the local hunt club: “We could not have such a high caliber competition without the support of the Low Country Coon Hunters Association,” he said. “The local guides and landowners are really the foundation of this contest. Throughout the 11 years that the State Youth Hunt has been held, they have unconditionally given their time and support as well as access to good hunting areas to allow the youth hunt to be such a success.”
In accordance with competition hunt rules, no raccoons were killed during the competition. Winners are determined based on the dog’s ability to “strike” a trail and tree a raccoon. The hunt awards points based on the order of striking and treeing and the dog handler’s ability to interpret correctly the dog’s actions.
Tyler Gardner, 14, of McBee, and his dog, “Radar,” won the Senior Division representing the Black Creek Coonhunters Association. Tyler qualified to hunt in the state championship hunt by placing second in his division as well as winning the sportsmanship award at the Darlington regional youth hunt held last fall. Noah Ireland, 8, of Edgefield, and his dog “Money,” representing the Red Hills Coonhunters Association, garnered the win in the Junior Division. Noah qualified to hunt in the state championship hunt by taking second in his age division at the Edgefield regional youth hunt.
Butfiloski applauded all the contestants for their perseverance: “These kids were determined not to let the constant rain dampen their enthusiasm for the coon hunting competition, and actually, the hunting was pretty good despite the weather.” Butfiloski also commended all of the participants and their dogs. “These kids are all winners not only because each had to win a regional event to get to this competition, but the level of competitive spirit and sportsmanship displayed by these youngsters was really outstanding,” he said.
Judges also nominated one participant from each division for the Sportsmanship Award. “We feel that the Sportsmanship Awards are at least the equivalent, if not superior to, winning the hunting event, and the trophies and prizes reflect our belief that sportsmanship is important,” Butfiloski said. The Sportsmanship Award in the Junior Division was awarded to Cody Quattlebaum of Edgefield, representing the Red Hills Coonhunters Association. Ty Mills of Marietta, representing the Union County Coonhunters Association received the Sportsmanship Award in the Senior Division.
Butfiloski was also complimentary of the efforts of the S.C. Coon Hunters Association and its president, David McKee. “David and the State Coon Hunters Association deserve much of the credit for this event,” Butfiloski said. “Support from local hunt clubs, sponsors and the community were what allowed us to put this hunt on, and David and the other Youth Hunt Committee volunteers really helped pull this hunt together.
“Youth events sponsored by the DNR for other sports such as fishing and dove hunting have been very popular in the past,” Butfiloski said. “The organizers and sponsors of this event wanted to expand upon the youth hunt concept to make sure the next generation has an appreciation for hound sports such as raccoon hunting. Regional events sponsored by local clubs have helped expand the participation in the youth raccoon hunts.”
This year, nine regional youth raccoon hunts were held prior to the State Youth Raccoon Hunt. Any individual or club interested in sponsoring a youth raccoon hunt can contact David McKee of the State Coon Hunters’ Association at (803) 343-4755 or Jay Butfiloski at the DNR Furbearer Project in Columbia at (803) 734-3609.