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You never really know what to pack for the Grand American when it comes to essential attire. Those of us in the North always hope for short-sleeve T-shirt weather, but there’s always that chance that won’t be the case.

In 2018, the Southeast saw an unusual cold front come in and a healthy dump of snow they hadn’t seen in years! A big deal for those living in that part of the country, including Orangeburg -- site of the 53rd Annual Grand American.

As it turned out, insulated jackets and stocking caps attired most event participants. A good number of those entered in the hunt gave up their advanced hunt entry and opted to leave the ice and snow-covered roads leading to Orangeburg.

Nonetheless, the hunt goes on. Conditions be what they are. During the day, temps rose to above freezing but it cooled down quickly to well below freezing at night.

The Final Four at the Grand American is comprised of the four highest two-night cast win scores. A total of seven coonhounds managed to win their casts on both Friday and Saturday at the 2018 Grand American.

At 3 a.m. on Sunday, in front of those seven anticipating hopefuls among the crowd, Grand American President David McKee announced the top four double cast winners. He called each of their handlers to the hunt office to meet with the judges and to go over the non-sanctioned rules as they would apply to the final cast.

The top four hounds advancing to the Final Four were:

• GR NITE CH ‘PR’ Clean’s Mr. Bubbles is a two-year-old Treeing Walker male owned by Michael Reaves and James Huggins of Hamer, South Carolina. Bubbles was handled by Justin Allen, scoring 475+ on Friday and 450+ on Saturday. Bubbles placed second in the Top 20 overall on Friday night and seventh overall on Saturday night.

• NITE CH ‘PR’ Oconee River Waylon Jr. is a four-year-old English male owned by Trent and Tucker Saxon of Watkinville, Georgia. Waylon was handled by Mark Looney, scoring 450+ on Friday night and came in with a score of 225+ on Saturday night. He placed fourth overall on Friday and 19th on Saturday.

• NITE CH ‘PR’ TBS Tree Talken Worm is a five-year-old Treeing Walker male owned and handled by Dillon Bradshaw of Connelly Springs, North Carolina. Worm scored 425+ on Friday and 225+ on Saturday. He placed 8th overall on Friday and just missed the Top 20 on Saturday night.

• CH ‘PR’The Tree Slamming Judge is a two-year-old Treeing Walker male owned and handled by Franklin Card of Sumter, South Carolina. Judge scored 350+ on Friday and 225+ on Saturday. He placed 13th overall on Friday and 18th on Saturday night.

James Atwell, Josh Livingston and Mendon Miller were selected as the judges, while Don Nettles was designated to guide the cast. By this time in the morning, the temps had dipped to near single digits. Everyone knew that it might be tough to get a coon treed in these conditions but that wouldn’t stop the Final Four from going after the Grand American Champion title along with the prestige and loot that come with this long-standing marque event.

As it turned out, the hunt was not much to write about in terms of scoring raccoons. Several minutes into the hunt, Worm was the first to get struck and called by Dillon Bradshaw.

Ten minutes later, he ate that 100 when he didn’t make good on it for eight minutes. Shortly after the eight caught him, Worm again struck back in for a hundred, followed by Waylon and Judge. The three hounds banged around for a while, and Bubbles decided he didn’t like the conditions and came back in to the cast for a while. He narrowly escaped cutting his hunt short when he took off again before the 15 caught him.

Eventually, Waylon and Judge both convinced Mark Looney and Frank Card to call them treed, only to be minused for leaving before the five was up. The three hounds kept working around while hunt time kept winding down. Eventually, both Judge and Waylon convinced their handlers to call them treed for the second time before the end of the hunt. Meanwhile, Worm continued to work while Bubbles still hadn’t said a word.

After several minutes, the cast headed in their direction, stopping along the way to listen for Worm and Bubbles. It was obvious that something just wasn’t right as the two-minute clock had been put to use on a few different occasions only to be broke long enough for the cast to arrive and find that Waylon had skipped out and he took another tree minus. And unfortunately, Judge and Bubbles were found having an unfriendly dispute. The judges ruled they could not determine the aggressor, and both were scratched for the infraction with no time left in the hunt.

Throughout the past 13 years, I’ve been on numerous Final Fours at the Grand American. Some that came with plenty of great action, while others not as much. This was not one of those action-packed hunts by any measure, but considering the tough conditions that time of the morning, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. There’s no doubt that each one of these hounds is a very capable coon treer, but on this morning the odds were stacked against them all. Staying out of trouble and taking the least minus ended up being the winning factor in this hunt.

Congratulations, to Dillon Bradshaw whose hound Tree Talking Worm persevered to be named the 2018 Grand American Nite Hunt Champion!

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