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March 20, 2008

Girls take three of the four top spots in Youth Raccoon Hunting Championship

Thirty-eight young and eager coon hunters participated in the 13th annual South Carolina Youth Raccoon Hunting Championship held at the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County. This year, girls took three of the four top spots.
           
Co-sponsored by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the S.C. Coon Hunters Association, the March 1 event was attended by youth and their guardians representing raccoon hunting clubs from around the state. Regional events were held statewide to determine who would participate in the state championship hunt. All contestants must first qualify at a regional hunt in order to be invited to the championship event.

Before the actual competition, participants ranging in age from 6 to 18 years old participated in a .22-caliber rifle competition and attended seminars on sportsmanship and using a scorecard for competition raccoon hunting. Corporate sponsors awarded door prizes to all participants. Before the hunt, all participants enjoyed a hot dog and hamburger meal courtesy of the event sponsors. 
           
The hunt divided participants into two age divisions. The Junior Division consists of youth under 14 years old, and the Senior Division is for youths from 14 to 17 years old. A contestant may participate in the championship hunt at 18 so long as they qualified at a regional hunt when they were 17 years old. Contestants are divided into groups, or "casts," for the evening competition. Efforts are then made to group the participants within each age division with similarly aged contestants to further even out the competition within each cast. Senior Division participants hunt in a two-hour competition hunt, while the Junior Division participants hunt a one-hour timed cast.
           
Each cast consists of a judge and guide, and three or four youth hunters, each with a dog. Parents are allowed to follow along and observe from a distance, but each youth handles and calls his or her own dog. For each of the 13 years the state youth raccoon-hunting competition has been held, the Low Country Coon Hunters Association of Shirley furnishes guide and obtained access to hunting lands, using many local plantations.
           
Jay Butfiloski, DNR furbearer biologist and championship coordinator, praised the local hunt club: "The members of the Low Country Coon Hunters Association and the various local landowners selflessly give their time and access to their property to make this hunt so successful over the years."

In accordance with competition hunt rules, no raccoons are 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 correctly interpret the dog’s actions. The hunter must be able to know their dog’s bark and when this barking indicates that the dog has treed the raccoon. Incorrect determination of the dog’s actions subtracts from the contestant’s score.
           
Kelsey Ryan, 15, of St. George, and her dog, "Cook," won the Senior Division representing the Bowman Coonhunters Association. Taylor Harrelson, 12, of Alcolu, and his dog "Gomer," garnered the win in the Junior Division. 

Judges also nominate one participant from each division for the Sportsmanship Award. "We feel that the Sportsmanship Awards are as important as winning the hunting event, and the trophies and prizes reflect that belief," said Butfiloski. The Sportsmanship Award in the Junior Division was awarded to Sarah Way, 11 of Walterboro. Katy Davis, 18, of Bamberg, received the Sportsmanship Award in the Senior Division.

Butfiloski commended all of the participants and their dogs. "Except for finding a few armadillos, the hunting was pretty good this year and many of the contestants scored very well," he said. "Nevertheless, all of the kids are winners not only because each had to win a regional event to get to this competition, but the level of competitive spirit and sportsmanship displayed by these youngsters is really outstanding. I even had one parent tell me that although their child was not doing particularly well scoring-wise, she was having a great time and that’s all that really mattered."
           
Butfiloski was also complimentary of the efforts of the S.C. Coon Hunters Association and its president, David McKee. "David and the State Coon Hunters Association deserve much of the credit for this event," Butfiloski 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," Butfiloski 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, nine regional youth raccoon hunts were scheduled 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 Jay Butfiloski at the DNR Furbearer Project in Columbia at (803) 734-3609.

13-and under group
1st   Taylor Harrelson, Alcolu
2nd   Devin Adams, Walterboro
3rd   Michael Boles, Cayce
4th   Seth Fulmer, Pomaria
5th   Hunter Miles, Summerville
6th   Cledus Williams, Latta
Sportsmanship:  Sarah Way, Orangeburg

14- to 17-year-old group
1st   Kelsey Ryan, St. George
2nd  Jody Carter, Ruffin
3rd  Bradley Davis, Walterboro
4th  Jordan Betcher, Moncks Corner
Sportsmanship:  Katy Davis, Orangeburg

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.


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