S.C. Youth Raccoon Hunting Championship held in Lowcountry
The silence of a cool Lowcountry evening was broken recently by the sounds of 31 eager young coon hunters that participated in the 15th annual South Carolina Youth Raccoon Hunting Championship held at the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County.
Co-sponsored by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the S.C. Coon Hunters Association, the March 5 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.
A .22-caliber rifle competition was held before the hunt and sponsors awarded door prizes to all contestants. Before donning their hip boots and striking out, all participants enjoyed a barbeque dinner courtesy of the event sponsors.
The State Youth Raccoon hunting series is divided 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. Generally participants are grouped 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 timed 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 15 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.
"For the past fifteen years the members of the Low Country Coon Hunters Association and the various local landowners have graciously given of their time, and in some cases, access to their property to make this hunt as successful and enjoyable as it has been," said Jay Butfiloski, DNR Furbearer Project supervisor.
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 their dog's actions. The hunter must be able to identify their dog's bark and when this barking indicates that the dog has treed the raccoon. Incorrect interpretation of the dog's actions subtracts from the contestant's score.
Vonne Doran, 14, of Johnston, and her dog, "Tank," won the Senior Division representing the Red Hill Houndsmen. Preston Shiell, 10, of Ridgeville, and his dog "Hammer," won the Junior Division representing the Barnwell Coon Hunters Association.
The hunt judges also nominate one participant from each division for the Sportsmanship Award.
"Throughout the fifteen years of all the regional and state championship events, DNR and the S.C. Coon Hunters Association have stressed to the participants that winning the Sportsmanship Award has always been just as important as winning the hunting event itself," said Butfiloski. This year the Sportsmanship Award in the Junior Division was awarded to Nikki Kilgus, 12 of Branchville. John Harrell, 14, of Pacolet, received the Sportsmanship Award in the Senior Division.
Butfiloski commended the efforts of the S.C. Coon Hunters Association and their affiliate clubs. "The State Coon Hunters Association and their local clubs deserve most of the credit for this event," Butfiloski said. "In fact, the support from these local hunt clubs, sponsors, parents, and the community is what allows us to put this hunt on."
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 S.C. 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 Preston Shiell, Ridgeville
2nd Michael Boles, Cayce
3rd Heylan Anderson, Timmonsville
4th Hampton Beard, Orangeburg
5th Chase Dyal, Ware Shoals
Sportsmanship: Nikki Kilgus, Branchville
14- to 17-year-old group
1st Vonne Doran, Johnston
2nd Gage Freeman, Ridgeville
3rd Taylor Harrison, Alcolu
Sportsmanship: John Harrell, Pacolet
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