Coon hound judge Lori Mills examines the mouth of Joan Paulter’s redbone hound, Trip, during the Southern Heritage dog show at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds Saturday. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
ALBANY — Despite the chilly weather, Friday and Saturday were “dog days” at the Albany Exchange Club Fairgrounds, the focal point of the 2nd annual Southern Heritage hunt and show.
The event is co-sponsored by The American Kennel Club and South Georgia Coon and Squirrel Hunters Association (CHA) of Albany and will benefit the Exchange Club’s fight against child abuse, said Jimmy Phillips, former Albany Exchange Club member and a field representative of the AKC. The first of two competition hunts took place on Friday evening, said Phillips, with the coon hound show and second hunt set for Saturday.
A seemingly endless array of coon hound breeds from several states arrived with their people, including redbones, blueticks, treeing walkers, leopards and plot hounds. Some of the owners came to hunt, some to show their dogs, and still others to sell their puppies or trained adult dogs. Phillips said that while the cold weather affected hunter attendance, turnout would probably match that of last year’s event.
“I definitely think the cold has hurt us some,” Phillips said on Saturday morning, “but you have to deal with mother nature. We had 162 hunters last year, and right now we’re about 13 dogs down from that — not bad considering the weather.”
The Southern Heritage event replaced the United Kennel Club’s popular Winter Classic hunt and show last year when it unexpectedly left for Batesville, Miss. Phillips, a former Albany resident, was instrumental in bringing the AKC event to town.
“It took the UKC 26 years to get to where it was at,” Phillips said. “So we’re starting over. I started the first UKC Winter Classic here when we had 37 dogs. It takes many years.”
When asked to describe what coon hunters were “all about,” he had a simple answer:
“It’s all about the dogs,” Phillips said. “My wife says a man’s got to be a little crazy to go out at night in 20-degree weather and get wet chasing a dog. But that’s what it’s all about.
“In a competition hunt, there’s no taking of animals. In fact, no firearms are allowed, just a point system to see how many coons you can tree in a two-hour time period. An old fellow told me one time that a coon likes being chased. When he gets tired of it he just goes up a tree, we all look at him and then go get another one.”
Phillips’s message to aspiring coon hunters is that the sport is not for the financially faint-of-heart.
“First of all, he’s got to get himself a dog,” Phillips said, “and then there’s all the hunting stuff, like boots, brier-proof outfits, waders, lights, dog box … the whole deal.”
Phillips said that modern hunters even use hand-held GPS systems, such as a Garmin, to track the movement of their dogs. None of that is cheap, but the single most important — and generally most expensive — element for the successful coon hunter is a great coon hound.
“You can probably get a pretty decent dog for about five … thousand,” Phillips said without a blink. “It depends on how much he’s won and what his title is. If he’s a supreme champion his price is going to be high.
“You can sometimes find one for a couple of thousand or less. Most times, though, when somebody says they got a thousand dollar dog, well, it’s a thousand dollar dog.”
Similar sorts of expenditures await those who hunt the feathered kind of quarry, said Bill Bowles, president of the newly formed Quail Albany Foundation, which sponsors the Celebrity Conservation Hunt in Albany. On Saturday, hunt participants were shooting quail at 15 area plantations, Bowles said, and looking forward to the big Civic Center show with country music star Mark Wills later in the evening.
Bowles said that while a “decent” bird dog could cost almost anything a hunter might want to pay, a good entry-level might be around $500. Of course that makes no consideration for food, vet bills, fencing or a travel dog box. Next comes an acceptable shotgun. Figure on at least $500 for that essential element.
“You might pay anywhere from around to $300 to $7,000 for a gun,” Bowles said. “The cheaper guns are better suited for dove, turkey or duck, so you’d be better off spending around $1,000 for a good quail gun.”
Like the well-equipped coon hunter, the quail quest requires a proper vehicle and thick protective clothing, but other than that, a wildlife management area (WMA) stamp, and hunting license should have the newbie ready for the field.
Bowles said that 20 percent of proceeds from the hunt will be donated to the Future Farmers of America, 20 percent to the Southwest Georgia Tall Timbers Research Station and 10 percent divided equally between the American Cancer Society and the local Quail Forever Chapter. The remaining 50 percent will sustain the operations of Quail Albany for the next 12 months, Bowles said.