Orangeburg's annual Grand American Coon Hunt and Show is not just a venue for hunters to showcase their dog's tracking and hunting prowess.
The event, which will be held Jan. 4-7 at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds, provides plenty to see and do for families with children as well.
According to the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce, the Grand American typically draws between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors to the area. Of these, about 1,000 are hunters with dogs.
People from all over the United States descend upon the city, making it the largest event held in Orangeburg every year.
Individuals come from near and far to enjoy the opportunity to visit nearly 100 vendors, eat plenty of food and admire, buy, sell and trade hunting dogs and gear. Cars and trucks sports license tags from New York, Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and Connecticut typically pack the parking lot.
For many, the annual event is a time to catch up with old friends and make new ones.
"The Grand American is one of Orangeburg County’s greatest tourist events," Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce President Melinda Jackson said. "It draws a larger crowd than our Rose Festival, which is estimated to receive over 30,000 people each year."
"We invite all people regardless of age or interests to come out to the fairgrounds and enjoy the sights and sounds of this unique gathering," she added.
As the lead agency for tourism, the Chamber of Commerce holds a steak supper for the Kennel Club and the American Hunt Board Members as a celebratory kick off on Thursday evening before the event.
The Grand American, which kicks off with Coon Fest at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, features food, country music, entertainment and door prizes.
"There is free food and fellowship," said Harry Ott, a member of the Grand American Board of Directors. "It is open to anybody out there. It does not cost them a dime."
The event will also have an opportunity for prayer.
The Grand American's opening ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 5, in the Bates Building.
Attendees can watch dog bench shows and trophy presentations.
The bench show is broken down in age groups from puppy class to senior class.
There are seven coon hound breeds, and each will be judged on whether or not they best match their breed standard.
The bench show on Saturday will feature the champion and grand champions. Winners will be brought back for Saturday to determine the overall winner.
This year the Grand American will also hold the new Spotlight Youth event where youth ages 8-13 and 14-18 will be able to show their dogs. The winner of the local event will go to a national event sponsored by the UKC for the chance to win scholarship funds.
The youth show will be held after the Saturday bench show.
"We want to keep the children involved," Bench Show Coordinator Cleo Bowers said. "We would love to see the community more involved."
The Grand American will also feature a Kiddie Event show where any child can come in and show a dog. The Kiddie Event, which drew about 100 kids a few years ago, has been a tradition of the Grand American. The kiddie show will be held between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Saturday.
There's plenty to purchase at the Grand American. Hunting supplies abound -- boots, overalls, jackets, lights and belts.
But wait, there's more.
Camouflage luggage, sweatshirts and T-shirts touting various slogans and images of hunting and dogs are available.
"One can find numerous gifts and specialty items from the vendors who participate over the entire weekend," Jackson said. "There are food trucks throughout the fairgrounds. And an attraction which children most enjoy is viewing the various breeds of hunting dogs from adulthood down to a few weeks old."
Also on sale will be items for home and hearth, such as ceramic figurines of coon dogs. Women will find great buys in jewelry, potpourri, clothing and wood crafts.
In addition to hunting-themed apparel, Southern pride and Confederate apparel will be available including Confederate belts, books on the Civil War, wallets, license plates and bumper stickers.
Ott said attendees will be able to "buy almost anything" at the Grand American.
"We have some local vendors that will be selling art and picture frames," he said. "It is kind of like a big flea market. We have vendors for children, the adults, the ladies."
Dogs will also be available.
"Many visitors take advantage of purchasing dogs that are top of their breed," Jackson said. "Children enjoy petting and even getting in the pens to play with these young puppies."
Ott says everyone should come to the Grand American.
"It really helps the businesses in Orangeburg, such as the motels, the hotels, the restaurants. It is a big boom for the Orangeburg economy. The wintertime is a slow time for the hotels and restaurants."
Event parking is $5 per vehicle.
The Grand American got its start in the 1960s when prominent coon hunters searched for a hunt in a warmer climate as snow prevented much winter hunting in the North.
A panel of national competition hunters was formed, along with some hunters from The T&D Region.
One of its members, Jim Mathis of Denmark, met with the newly formed Orangeburg Coon Hunters Association’s president, Lynn Anderson, who agreed to have the initial hunt in Orangeburg at the fairgrounds.