On Friday and Saturday night, Jan. 6 and 7, 2023, the woods and swamps from Newberry’s upland forests to South Carolina’s coastal marshes will be filled with the sounds of hounds baying and the night sky will be lit by super bright lights stabbing at the upper reaches of big trees.
Massive manhunt after a major prison breakout? Alien invasion? Halloween in January?
No, none of those. It’s just the biggest and best known coon hunt in the world – The Grand American held annually out of the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds for almost 6 decades.
Veteran coon hunters from the Midwest to the Northeast and everywhere in between – and beyond – will bring several hundred of the best coon hounds in the world to compete for the Grand American Championship.
David McKee of Whitmire, S.C., Grand American President for the past 14 years, explained how the hunt is set up.
“There are two separate hunts, one on Friday night and one on Saturday night. The first casts each night are for two hours. Then we take the top four double cast winners from both nights and they go back out on Saturday night, about 3:30 to 4 a.m. and hunt for an additional hour.”
Iron Swamp Carolina Clifford, a Treeing Walker owned by Wade Windham of Mount Pleasant, S.C., scored 800 points on Friday night’s cast and 600 points Saturday night, enough to qualify for the Final Four Hunt in the wee hours of Sunday morning this past January. Clifford was the only hound in the one-hour final cast to tree a coon and earned the title of 2022 Grand American Overall Night Hunt Champion.
“This is a dream come true,” Windham said in an interview with Travis Boland, sports editor of the Orangeburg Times and Democrat, after accepting the winner’s trophy. “I have been coming to this hunt since I was 6-years-old. This has been a goal of mine for a long time.”
Winning the Grand American title can elevate a coon hound to rock star status in coon hunting circles. The demand for stud service multiplies and the fee for that service can be substantial. Puppies bred by the Grand American Champion become much more valuable in the coonhound market.
The Grand American is the kick-off event for the United Kennel Club’s annual calendar of coon hunt trials around the country. It annually draws upwards of 400 coonhounds, a hundred or more vendors selling everything from hip waders and sturdy rain jackets to sophisticated GPS dog tracking systems, and provides the opportunity to buy or trade for a high class coonhound or a puppy with solid breeding potential.
While the number of people attending the Grand American declined a little during the past couple of years due to COVID, McKee said the number of hounds entered remained steady.
In addition to the night hunts, the weekend features treeing contests on Friday and Saturday afternoons and bench shows each day. A UKC Licensed Youth Bench Show will be held on Saturday following the regular bench show.
Past studies show the Grand American draws about 30,000 participants and observers and pumps more than $7 million into the Orangeburg County economy.
You don’t have to be a coon hunter to enjoy attending the Grand American. It is an event everybody who loves hunting dogs should experience at least once in a lifetime.
58th Annual Grand American Coon Hunt
Jan. 6-7, 2023
Orangeburg County Fairgrounds
314 Alexander Road
No Admission Charge
- 10 a.m. Friday – Opening Ceremonies
- 10:30 a.m. Friday – Bench Show
- 10:30 a.m. Saturday – Bench Show, with Youth Bench Show following
- 1 p.m. Friday & Saturday – Treeing Contests
Information: David McKee, (803) 528-9050.
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