ALBANY, Ga. -- There is something about coon dogs that brought people out by the thousands to the Exchange Club Fairgrounds Saturday.
Eight-year-old Ragen Howell explained her attraction to coon hounds. She was cuddling her new best friend, a bluetick coonhound puppy, her father bought her.
"I picked him out because he is so cute," said Howell, of Blackshear. "I don't hunt coon. I hunt deer."
There were plenty of coon hunters and deer hunters at the United Kennel Club Winter Classic coon dog hunt. The hunt has been at the fairgrounds for 20 of its 24-year history.
"I've been to every hunt across the country and all 24 of the Winter Classics," said Woody Galloway, a bluetick breeder from Ohio. "I like this one the best. It is a 13-hour drive but it is a lot warmer here than back home. And the people here are super friendly and honest."
Galloway sold all six of the blueticks he had to sell. Dogs at the hunt were priced according to pedigree and breed. Judging from signs on dog pens prices ranged from $100 to $2,000 and perhaps higher for the coon dogs.
Many other dog breeds on sale at the hunt weren't coon dogs. They did have a hunting connection.
Dachshunds, yes those long Tootsie Roll dogs, came from hunting breeds. Megan Harris, of Lulu, Fla., had several to sell at the coon hunt along with pit bulls and hog dogs.
"The dachshunds hunt rabbits when we are at home," Harris said. "They go after the rats and mice at the barn too. They are little hunters."
Other dogs on sale were French bulldogs, border collies and some breed called a puggle from a mix of a pug father and a beagle mother for sale by Carol Walker from Arkansas.
It was Walker's first time to the Winter Classic. She was impressed.
"My brother is a coon hunter and he comes every year. We thought we'd see what it was like," Walker said. "This is the nicest town. People are so nice and helpful. We've had a really good experience, we'll be back."
The coon hunt is the real, well, meat of the two-day Winter Classic. Toward evening hunters and their dogs head out to chase raccoons up trees and score points towards trophies.
Saturday afternoon 45-year, coon-hunt veteran Dudley Read, of Glasgow Ky., sat and considered his dog's score, 500 points.
"He's got the highest score so far. He treed three coons," Read said. "We had a good time. It is good hunting down here."
When they aren't hunting many of the human participants at the Winter Classic like to show off their dog's poise, talent and of course beauty.
Dave Myers, of South Fork Pa., and his black and tan dog, Hitman, took home a 3-foot-tall trophy for best of breed.
Hitman positioned his head to look up and held his tail straight up as Myers gently bumped the dog's chin and straightened his tail.
"This is my third trip here. I've been involved with the dogs for three years," Myers said. "The judges look for how the dogs hold themselves and how they walk."
Walking around the parking lot it was easy to see license plates from what seemed like every county in the state, every state in the south and others from Iowa, Ohio and even at least one from New York.
"We estimated between 10,000 and 15,000 people came through over the weekend," said Allen Gingrich, of Michigan and the UKC coonhound manager. "This is our 24th year. Next year will be our silver anniversary. We'll be back in Albany."