At 3 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, as the scores were being tallied for the double cast winners, David McKee called on his three nonhunting judges to step into the Grand American Coon Hunt headquarters office.
The year’s judges were James Atwell, Sam Drain and Mendel Miller. As we all gathered into the office to get ready, David was going over the scorecards one more time before he made the final four call-out.
David then went to the door and called out Allie Girl, owned by Ronnie Mills; Sam, owned by Elliott Shuler; Robbie Rhodes and Worm, owned by Dillon Bradshaw; and Slam, owned by Rocky Hall. They all proceeded to the office.
Once all handlers were in office and congratulations was said to everyone, they went over the rules for the hour hunt-off and had to sign a paper saying they agreed to all the terms and rules. Once everyone signed, we were informed we would be guided to the Branchville area by Sam Drain.
He took us on a 30-minute ride south on U.S. Highway 21. We turned off and pulled through a gate and drove way back on a piece of property where all dogs were out of danger from a main road.
The handlers unloaded their dogs and James Atwell went over a few things to make sure everyone was on the same page. He told them to get them ready to cut and gave them the go-ahead.
The minute started with silence. About three minutes in, a call was made to strike Allie in for 100 points. She trailed to our left; about a minute later, Worm was struck in for 75 points. He was going right-handed.
We listened for a few as Allie was pushing a track deep to our left. Everyone decided we should split the difference and tighten up on her. As we came to a stop to listen, Sam was struck in for 50 points. As we were listening for Allie, Sam struck pretty close to where Worm was carrying his track off too.
We could then hear Allie, so we started to tighten up on her again. Then Worm was declared treed in for 125 tree points at the 19-minute mark. Five minutes was put on Worm’s tree, and time expired with him being solo. We scored his tree, which was a cypress tree and a small pine tree growing together, with a nest. No coon was seen, but the tree was circled due to the nest, so Worm was at 200 circle points with 31 minutes gone. He was pulled off the tree, and we stepped back out on the dirt road and started the eight minutes on Allie and Sam due to neither opening.
As we stood there listening with about three minutes gone, Sam opened up straight in front; and not long after, Allie opened up left-handed of us. Worm was recast toward Sam as he trailed off in the distance. Minutes later, Allie located and was treed in for 125 tree points with 43 minutes gone in the hunt.
Five minutes was placed on her tree; as time expired she was still solo. We started to her tree walking through some small pines and a road around a cutover, where we found Allie treed on one of the biggest oak trees I had seen all night. Let me say, it would have taken four people to reach around the base and it was as thick and green as a Christmas tree at the top. But he wanted his first two minutes to shine alone.
After the first two minutes to shine, by that time it was 58 minutes gone in the hunt and everyone could shine and squall, but no coon was found with eight minutes expired on the tree. The tree was closed, giving her 225 circle, and the hunt was over.
Allie was crowned the 52nd Annual Grand American Champion. Once she was pulled off the tree, we had three nice Treeing Walkers in three different directions. Sam was treed straight in, and Slam was showed treed about mile to our right. All the dogs were gathered, and we were pulling in back on the grounds at daylight Sunday around 6:30 a.m. I would like to close by saying a big thank you to David McKee, the Grand American Association, UKC, Orangeburg County and all the helping hands that put together a great hunt for us to enjoy year after year.
Congratulations to Ronnie Mills and Allie Girl on the overall win.