The bay of hounds could be heard across Tahlequah Sequoyah City Park Saturday, as sportsmen and their coon hounds gathered to compete in a time-honored Okie tradition.
For folks who have never been on a coon hunt, the Red Fern Festival’s Hound Dog Field Trials offers a peek into what the sport is all about.
“It gets to show people that don’t normally come out and don’t know what coon hunting is all about,” said field trials competitor Justin Davis. “I’ve been here before, but this is my first time competing. I love it. I’ve coon hunted my whole life.”
Davis’ English coonhound, Sadie, earned her Stilwell master a second-place finish in the fast-bark competition on Saturday, and he said the Red Fern Festival arranges its competition in such a way that it highlights important aspects of the hunt.
“Sometimes your dogs tree [raccoon] and you’re a long ways off and you can’t get to them,” said Davis. “It may take you several hours to get to them. That’s what the endurance competition is all about. They’ve gotta stay there and [bark] until you get to them.”
The drag race is designed to show how quickly a hunting dog can pick up a coon’s scent and tree the animal. Race organizers used a pelt to lure the dogs during the competition. The pelt was dunked in the creek, then dragged across the grass -covered route to the tree where it was suspended in a burlap bag.
“They also do a swim race, because coons can swim a river or swim a pond,” Davis said. “So your dog has got to be ready for anything. They have a fast-bark competition where you see who’s dog can bark the most times in a short period of time.”
Fourteen-year-old Dustin Hummingbird has been competing in the field trials since 2010, winning both the speed and endurance competitions, but this year found he had to break in a new dog the night before the event.
“I got my dog stolen,” he said. “So I had to get a new dog. I took him out last night and stayed on the tree for two hours. So, I figured he’d be good for endurance. His name is Boss, and he’s the oldest dog in there.”
Locust Grove competitor Marissa Turner is also making a third appearance in the field trials, and recommended anyone considering competing next year to just focus on having fun with your animal.
“Just make sure you have fun with it, and don’t get in the politics side of it,” she said.
Thirteen-year-old Millie Wilson is in her second year of field trial competition, and said it’s important to work with your dog before coming the event.
“We got second last year,” she said. “My dog’s a walker named Sally. It’s a lot of fun. You just need to work hard.”
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