The silence of a cool Lowcountry evening was broken recently by the sounds of 38 eager young coon hunters that participated in the 16th 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 Feb. 26 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.

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.

"For the past sixteen 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 solely on the dog's ability to strike a trail and tree a raccoon. The hunt awards points based on the order that the contestants interpret their dog's bark to identify when the dog "strikes" the raccoon's trail and when their dog has "treed" the raccoon. Contestants actually lose points if they incorrectly identify their dog's actions or call the wrong dog.

Reba Hughes, 12, of Orangeburg, and her dog, "Ty," won the Junior Division representing the Hollywood Hunt Club. Trey Knopf, 17, of Barnwell, and his dog "Witch," won the Senior Division.

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The hunt judges also nominate one participant from each division for the Sportsmanship Award. "Throughout the sixteen 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 Madison Whetstone, 11 of Cope. Devin Adams, 14, of Walterboro, 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 Reba Hughes, Orangeburg

2nd Austin Gardner, McBee

3rd Heyward Anderson, Timmonsville

Sportsmanship: Madison Whetstone, Cope


14 to 17-year-old group

1st Trey Knopf, Barnwell

2nd Tripp Harrison, Ridge Spring

3rd Kyle Delaney, Cordova

Sportsmanship: Devin Adams, Walterboro