Hounds have been developed and refined to hunt the local animals under the local conditions, whatever they might be. Climates, terrain, and the animals to be hunted all vary. Thus the hounds vary, too. The following breeds are currently eligible for the American Kennel Club’s Coonhound Bench Shows, Field Trials, Nite Hunts, and Water Races:
American English Coonhound
Black and Tan Coonhound
Treeing Walker Coonhound
The United Kennel Club’s Coonhound program is well-established, and many other coon hunts are conducted, both for competition and as recreation. We’ll look here at American Kennel Club (AKC) events, but keep in mind that other events may have different rules, and the AKC rules are sure to continue being refined as better and better ways are always found to run dog events.
The sport of hunting with hounds is centuries old. Following World War II in the United States, hunters began working out how hunts could be judged. They started having competitions and revising the rules based on experience.
In the process of refining the rules of their World Championship hunt, committed coonhunters developed the idea of a point system and a time limit. The AKC’s rules that took effect in February, 2005 have the benefit of what’s been learned in the years since that first World Championship in 1948.
In a field trial, dogs work toward Field Trial Champion, Grand Field Trial Champion and Supreme Field Trial Champion. The classes are Open—for dogs not yet Field Trial Champions—and Champion class for Field Trial Champion dogs working on the two higher titles.
A commercial scent is applied to the tree or pole containing the lure, and flags mark a scent track course to this home tree. The lure is at least 20 feet high and placed where the dogs cannot get it. Firearms are not permitted and game is not taken in Coonhound events.
Handlers release their dogs simultaneously on the starter’s cue, and must then allow the dogs to work without further direction from handlers. Points are awarded for a dog’s work on the scent track area and for barking appropriately at the tree, within specified times.
Water races are held so dogs can compete for titles of Water Race Champion, Grand Water Race Champion and Supreme Grand Water Champion. The Novice Race class is open to dogs not yet Water Race Champions and is a fun class for beginners. The Open Class is for points, whether a dog has won the first title yet or not.
In the water race, a well-scented lure in a cage is floated or suspended on water in such a way that the dogs cannot contact it. Boundary markers designate the entry and exit points and swimming course. The home tree is 20 yards or more from the opposite shore. The dogs are released simultaneously. The handlers are taken around the pond by a marshal, and not allowed to encourage their dogs—or discourage anyone else’s dogs.
Dogs that get outside the boundary markers are disqualified. The line winner is the first dog to correctly follow the scent to the home tree and indicate on it. The tree winner is the first dog to enter the designated circle around the home tree and bark appropriately. Treeing has to happen within five minutes of exiting the water to count. As in all Coonhound events, any dogs that start fights are eliminated and reported to AKC.
The rules of the various events specify all the details of how disputes are to be decided, behaviors that cause loss of points and other penalties, and how winners are selected.
All the dogs entered into the nite hunt are combined into the hunt draw for casts—groups of about four dogs with their handlers—no matter which title each dog has. On nite hunts, dogs work toward titles of Nite Champion, Grand Nite Champion and Supreme Nite Champion.
As in field trials and water races, nite hunts are judged using points and time. There are strike points (indicating the scent trail), tree points (barking appropriately at the tree), plus points (a raccoon is actually spotted in the tree by judge or majority of handlers), minus points (several situations call for this, including a dog quitting or running different game), circle points (for tie breakers), and deleted points (various reasons).
An interesting feature of the AKC Nite Hunt rules is the provision for a handler to question a ruling. The handler can bring up an informal question by asking the Hunting Judge to put it to a vote of the cast members. Or the handler can raise a formal question by requesting it and making a $20 deposit.
At the end of the hunt, all members of that cast go with the judge to the Hunt Committee, where a decision is made on the question. If the Hunt Committee rules in favor of the handler who made the request, the $20 is refunded. Otherwise, the club keeps it.
If the handler or another cast member is not satisfied with the decision, the person must submit a complaint in writing. All manner of things can happen at a coonhunt, which is a competitive sport, and the rules make the sport fair, safe, and exciting.
Is a Coonhound for You?
Coonhounds work in the management of other animals besides raccoons, for various reasons. Some of the dogs work mountain lions, some work big game, and some assist wildlife workers in catching animals to be tranquillized and checked.
Clearly Coonhounds are bred to be high in prey drive, have big voices, and require a lot of exercise—it’s common for recreational night hunts to last several hours. The Coonhounds can go and go and go. You’ll want to be sure you have plenty for your Coonhound to do!