Five-year-old Nicole Martin of Chatsworth tries to lead her black and tan coonhound, Bo, who is a little stubborn Thursday after a long day of traveling to the Albany Exchange Club Fairgrounds. Nicole was in town with her family and other coonhound enthusiasts for the United Kennel Club Winter Classic Coon Hunt, which officially begins today and runs through Sunday.
ALBANY — Whether you call them by their formal name “coonhounds” or by their common name “coon dogs,” they come from near and far to hunt in Dougherty County every January.
The Exchange Club of Albany has hosted the United Kennel Club Winter Classic Coon Hunt since 1991. In addition to a competition for the dogs and their handlers, the hunt helps Exchange Club members raise money to fight child abuse.
The public can join dogs, their handlers and club members at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds starting at 8 a.m. today, Saturday and Sunday to shop, enjoy the bench show and have the famous Exchange Club Boston-butt pork sandwiches at the Road Kill Cafe.
The club’s volunteer kitchen crew cooks, debones and chops the pork just the way it was done on Fussell Hughes’ granddaddy’s farm in the 1950s.
“It is cooked just like he did in the old days, over a slow pit fire,” Hughes said. “Then we put the ‘Butch Griffin recipe sauce’ on it. It is apple juice, garlic and Worcestershire sauce.”
Breeds of dogs that are usually in the bench show, which is described as the type of show put on by kennel clubs on television, are American leopard, black and tan, bluetick, English, redbone and treeing walker.
At the Exchange Club luncheon meeting Thursday, Chris Butts, secretary/treasurer of the Deep South Classic Coon Hunters Association, spoke about how the hunt operates. There are casts, or groups of four dogs and their handlers, that hunt for two hours to tree as many raccoons as they can.
When the dogs get to a tree with a raccoon in it, they are awarded points for being first at the tree and for treeing the raccoon. If the dogs bark at a tree and it doesn’t appear there is a raccoon in it, no points are awarded.
“Sometimes a coon will crawl in a hollow branch and can’t be seen. So we leave it to the handlers to mark their cards if they see a coon,” Butts said. “So far, everybody’s been honest. It’s kinda like fishing. That is why there is a judge with each cast.”
About 690 dogs are registered to hunt Friday and Saturday nights, with about 250 signed up for the bench show, which judges the dogs’ bone structure, coat and other standards of each breed.
“Some dogs in the show will be in the hunt,” Butts said. “Others are just here for the show.”
Butts ticked off states from which some of the registered dogs hail: Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan, Tennessee and North Carolina. Other states that usually have dogs at the show are Ohio, Florida and Kentucky.
The hunt attracts dog breeders with pups for sale, vendors with equipment such as hunting clothing, dog cages and any accessory a dog owner could want, even, it turns out, neon dog collars.
Last year attendance was estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000 people, who came to the fairgrounds at 810 S. Westover Blvd. to enjoy the show and the barbecue. Hughes said it’s not likely his barbecue crew will run out this year; they plan to cook about 390 pounds of pork.