There's something to be said for home-field advantage in most every sport.

On Friday, and into Saturday morning, South Carolina coon dogs competing in the 54th Annual Grand American Coon Hunt based at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds proved that recent heavy rains don't hamper their hunting skills at all.

When the 2019 Grand American Friday Nite Hunt results came in, 14 of the top 20 scoring dogs represented the Palmetto State.

And, more specifically, the Treeing Walker Coonhound breed captured 6 of the top 7 spots in the Friday Nite Hunt, with 5 of those being South Carolina dogs.

Curt Bugman of Windsor (near Williston) and his Treeing Walker, CH GRNITECH'PR'Trackman's Insane Mistress, captured first-place honors for the first of two back-to-back night hunts in the yearly competition. Bugman was also the guide for his cast (a 4-dog, 4-handler group hunt).

"I took them back to higher country on the other side of Aiken, and I knew we wouldn't be swimming there," Bugman said. "Seemed like the coon moved early.

"Our first drop, she basically struck and treed right out of the truck. She shut them out on the first two coons, striking and treeing them before another dog barked. From that first coon, I knew she was on her game and she would be fine. I was pretty happy."

More to raccoons than meets the eye

Many Palmetto State hunters in the competition finished the Friday Nite event pleased with their results.

"These dogs come from other states and they aren't used to hunting in water, and a lot of dogs have a hard time with that," Bugman said. "But, we're from here and it's what our dogs are used to. The conditions don't really bother them much.

"I think the coon will really move tonight (for the Saturday Nite Hunt), and I believe there will be some good scores coming in, maybe better than last night. This is the first time I've placed here."

The last two years, Trackman's Insane Mistress was breeding during the Grand American and was unable to compete. So, getting a chance to compete again this year, she proved her hunting prowess.

"Three years ago, I thought I would be guiding and not hunting, so I had her back at the house when I came here," Bugman said. "By the time I found out I wouldn't be guiding and could get in a cast to hunt, it was too late to go get her.

"But, I got her the next night and she won her cast that night. So, this is the second time I've won a cast here and it's the highest we've placed on a hunt. This is the best she has ever done. I'm the president of our hunting club, so I knew I'd be guiding on the hunt. It's a place she has hunted before, so she kind of knows where the coon are at."

The Friday before, when Bugman took Trackman's Insane Mistress on a pleasure hunt, the last three drops she treed a coon at 8-10ths of a mile, 9-10ths of a mile and 1.1 miles. That practice paid off with a first-night win at the Grand American.

Winter here no obstacle for coon hunt

Another Treeing Walker that hunted well on Friday was Santee's CH GRNITECH'PR'Lowcountry's Major, with co-owners/father and son Wayne Shuler and Larry Shuler, along with handler/daughter Savanna DeLoach. Lowcountry's Major, in his third Grand American, posted his best hunt finish at the event, placing fourth in the Friday Nite Hunt.

Meanwhile, a former puppy from Lowcountry's Major, named PR'Majors Bad Bo, placed 13th on the Friday Nite Hunt.

"We hunted locally, in Providence," Larry Shuler said. "Our dogs are used to the water.

"The dogs from the upper part of the country don't have this water to hunt in, so it makes it very difficult for them.

DeLoach had her doubts about how Lowcountry's Major would score after the heavy rain earlier on Friday. But, come Saturday, here only questions were how the Saturday Nite Hunt would go and whether or not she would have a place at home to display the large trophy she won from the Friday Nite Hunt. 

 "The conditions were good, other than the wind," she said. "I didn't think it was going to be a good hunt, with all the rain and then the wind. But, it turned out to be a great hunt. We enjoyed it."

Despite the heavy rains heading into the weekend, Grand American Coon Hunt Association President David McKee said he was hearing no complaints from hunters, and he had only needed to deal with some issues of vehicles bogging down on the fairgrounds property on Friday. Thanks to the many great workers at entrances, exits and across the fairgrounds, he said most problems were solved simply, and alternate driving and parking areas were utilized as much as possible.

"I think it went real well on Friday, considering the rain this part of the state has gotten recently," McKee said. "We were worried about the water and the flood conditions. But, our guys at the clubs have been great, even the ones who had to step up and say 'our place is too wet, I can't guide a hunt here.'

"So, I'm really appreciative for the work that all our local clubs have put into it. The guides who came back from the hunts last night mostly reported that they never got over ankle-deep water. The grounds here have been a challenge, with the mud and all the traffic, trying to make it work. But, it's beautiful today and there's no snow or ice (like there was in 2018 at the event)."

McKee wasn't surprised that in-state dogs fared well in wet conditions.

"We've all been dealing with the rain since September, so dogs around here are acclimated to it, and that was evident in their scores," he said. "The water is still going to be there (for the Saturday Nite Hunt), so it might not be much different with the conditions tonight."

A total of 228 dogs hunted in the competition on Friday night, although about 60 who had preregistered to compete didn't show due to the weather or other circumstances.

Even so, the mostly clear day on Saturday welcomed hunting enthusiasts to the fairgrounds to shop for boots, belts, puppies and numerous hunting accessories. The second day of bench shows and treeing contests were also taking place, without a cloud in the sky for miles.

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