By now everyone in town knows how important the Grand American Coon Hunt is to our area. At its peak, the hunt brings about 30,000 people into our community.
It has taken more of a local flavor lately but is still considered one of the most important events in the raccoon-hunting trials toward a national championship. It is a great boon for our community and I would guess is second only to the S.C. State football games in economic importance to our city.
At one point, the local administration in its infinite wisdom was going to impart individual business license fees on the folks coming to the event to barter their wares and sell dogs. The coon hunt was said then to be eyeing moving the event to Ladson, which waited with open arms. Eventually an arrangement was worked out where the hunt stayed in Orangeburg and the business license was muted to a tolerable level.
Even for folks not understanding the coon-hunting aspect (where no animals are harmed) of the Grand American, it is a lot of fun to walk the fairgrounds most any time of the day to take in the sights and sounds of the hunt. The bawl of hundreds of dogs and the festival-type atmosphere are a nice break from the routine.
The various vendors displaying their wares, especially those items you may not see every day like hip boots, briar-proof jackets, headlamps, radio tracking collars and truck parts are fun to poke in and among. Most outdoor areas are represented by local stores, but there are also home safes for sales, wood-burning stoves, and ATVs.
The local clubs are always looking for area folks to participate and are grateful for larger tracks of land on which to run, and for residents to serve as guides.
For those who haven’t been initiated, a cast is sent out with four dogs, four owners, a guide and a judge. Basically, the dogs are judged on the first to strike, the first to tree and even the number of barks. The points only count if the coon can be spotted. The animal is not shot or caught. Seeing it in the tree is enough.
The winners will square off in a final hunt to determine the champion. In the meantime, dogs are also entered in a bench show.
Winners of the various competitions then become very valuable dogs that can be sold or their pups or breeding rights sold or traded. We are talking about values well into five figures.
For the Grand American’s 53 years in Orangeburg and continuing, it makes sense for the community to put its best foot forward and support the coon hunt. They need us and we need them. If you see hunters in restaurants or local venues, it’s OK to go up to them and talk or even thank them for coming to our town.
Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.