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March 17, 2003 DNR News (803) 734-3950


The sweet sound of coon dogs echoed through the Lowcountry night air recently as 32 young coon hunters participated in the eighth annual South Carolina Youth Raccoon Hunting Championship at the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County. For the first time since the competition has been held, two girls claimed the top prize in the contest.

Jessica Johnson, 15, of Walterboro, and her dog, "Spike," won the Senior Division, representing the Colleton County Coonhunters Association. Jessica qualified to hunt in the state championship hunt by placing first in her age division at the Darlington regional youth hunt earlier this year. Whitney Cash, 12, of Anderson, and her dog "Silk," garnered a win in the Junior Division. Whitney qualified to hunt in the state championship hunt by placing second in her age division at the Clemson regional youth hunt.

Co-sponsored by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the S.C. Coon Hunters Association (SCCHA), the Feb. 22 event was attended by 32 youngsters and their guardians representing raccoon hunting clubs from around the state. Seven regional events were held statewide to determine who would attend the state championship hunt. All participants must first qualify in a regional hunt in order to be invited to participate in the championship event.

Before the actual competition, participants ranging in age from 6 to 17 years old attended seminars on sportsmanship, using a scorecard for competition raccoon hunting, using a compass and hunter safety. Strong storms threatened the competition, but passed before the hunt commenced. "Earlier in the day we were concerned that the severe weather would impact the hunt; however, we had an excellent turnout for the contest," said Buddy Baker, DNR Furbearer Project supervisor. Between seminars, corporate sponsors awarded door prizes to all participants. The .22-caliber rifle shooting competition, normally held during registration, was cancelled due to heavy rain. Before the hunt, all participants enjoyed a barbecue meal courtesy of the event sponsors.

The hunt divided participants into two age divisions. The Junior Division comprised youths under 14 years old, and the Senior Division comprised youths from 14 to 17 years old. Contestants were divided into nine groups, or "casts," for the evening competition. Senior Division participants hunted a two-hour competition hunt, while the Junior Division participants hunted a one-hour timed cast.

Each cast consisted of a judge and guide, and three or four youth hunters, each with a dog. Parents followed along and observed from a distance, but each youth handled and called his or her own dog. For each of the eight years the state youth raccoon hunting competition has been held, the Low Country Coon Hunters Association of Shirley has furnished guides and hunting lands, using many local plantations. Baker commended the local hunt club: "We could not have such a high caliber competition without the support of the Low Country Coon Hunters Association," Baker said. "The local guides and landowners are really the foundation of this contest. Throughout the eight years that the State Youth Hunt has been held, they have unconditionally given their time and support to allow the youth hunt to be such a success."

In accordance with competition hunt rules, no raccoons were killed during the competition. Winners are determined based on the dog's ability to "strike" a trail and tree a raccoon. The hunt awards points based on the order of striking and treeing, and the dog handler's ability to interpret correctly the dog's actions.

Baker had high praise for all of the participants and their dogs. "These kids are all winners," Baker said.

"The level of competitive spirit and sportsmanship displayed by these youngsters was really outstanding."

Judges also nominated one participant from each division for a Sportsmanship Award. The Sportsmanship Award in the Junior Division was awarded to Kyle Case of Joanna, representing the Union Coonhunters Association. John Grizzle of Boiling Springs, representing the Spartanburg Coonhunters Association received the Sportsmanship Award in the Senior Division.

Baker was also complimentary of the efforts of the SCCHA and its president, David McKee. "David and the State Coon Hunters Association deserve much of the credit for this event," Baker said. "Support from local hunt clubs, sponsors and the community were what allowed us to put this hunt on, and David and the other Youth Hunt Committee volunteers really helped pull this hunt together.

"Youth events sponsored by the DNR for other sports such as fishing and dove hunting have been very popular in the past," he said. "The organizers and sponsors of this event wanted to expand upon the youth hunt concept to make sure the next generation has an appreciation for hound sports such as raccoon hunting. Regional events sponsored by local clubs have helped expand the participation in the youth raccoon hunts."

This year, seven regional youth raccoon hunts were held prior to the State Youth Raccoon Hunt. Any individual or club interested in sponsoring a youth raccoon hunt can contact David McKee of the State Coon Hunters' Association at (803)694-3364 or Buddy Baker at the DNR Furbearer Project at (803) 734-3609.

13-and under group

bullet1st - Whitney Cash, Anderson, Clemson Regional Hunt
bullet2nd - Justin Knowlton, New Zion, Hell Hole CHA
bullet3rd - Raymond Sanders, Luray, Bowman CHA
bullet4th - Kevin Wilburn, Union, Union County CHA
bullet5th - Ethan Gardner, Mooresville, NC, Spartanburg County CHA
bulletSportsmanship: Kyle Case, Joanna, Union County CHA


14- to 17-year-old group

bullet1st - Jessica Johnson, Walterboro, Colleton County CHA
bullet2nd - Jeremy Davis, Orangeburg, Colleton County CHA
bullet3rd - Christopher Gravely, Pickens, Upper SC Bearhunters and Houndsmen Assoc.
bullet4th - Clark Odum, Walterboro, Colleton County CHA
bulletSportsmanship: John Grizzle, Boiling Springs, Spartanburg County CHA


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