“The conditions weren’t ideal, because squirrels often aren’t active in such cold weather,” said Lebanon’s Jim Goodall, a member of the Wilson County Coon Hunters Association which organized the hunt.
“But we still had a pretty good turnout and every dog treed, so it was a good day despite the weather.”
Here’s how it works:
Hunters take their dogs on a two-hour hunt on private lands around the county. The hunts can be held anytime between the hours of 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., at the hunter’s choosing.
A judge goes along to keep the clock and do the scoring.
Points are awarded to each dog that trees a visible squirrel. Lesser points go to a dog that barks at a tree with a hole or nest in which a squirrel could be hiding.
A “treed” bark at a tree with no squirrel and no hiding places draws a points deduction. (A classic example of barking up the wrong tree.)
The judge makes judgment calls if necessary, just as a referee does in a basketball game.
When the hunters return to the clubhouse, Club president Robin Curtis tabulates the scores and rules on any scoring disputes.
“We don’t have a lot of disputes,” says Curtis, of Lebanon, who has been active in the Coon Hunters Association for several years and is in his second year as club president.
“Or at least we don’t have as many as we do with some coon-hunting competitions,” he adds with a laugh. “Some of those disputes are knock-down and drag-out.”
A hound from Hohenwald, High Forrest Blitz, posted the top score in the recent hunt in which 10 dogs participated and six others were entered in the show-dog competition.
As with the club’s competitive coon hunts, no squirrels are killed during the hunts.
“We just enjoy the competition,” says Goodall, who owns two prize squirrel dogs and is a partner in two more.
“We like to watch the dogs work, and at the end of the hunt we sit around the clubhouse and eat, socialize and shoot the bull.”
Curtis agrees. “I’ve always enjoyed squirrel hunting, duck hunting and coon hunting,” he says. “For me, the fun is working the dogs. My world revolves around hunting dogs.”
While the squirrel hunting competition is bragging-rights friendly, it’s also serious business. No cash awards go to the winners, only plaques, but those trophies can bolster a hound’s resume and make his or her bloodline more valuable.
“There’s good money involved in breeding squirrel dogs, just like there is with coon hounds and bird dogs,” Goodall says. “These hunts are taken seriously.”
The club has three more squirrel hunts scheduled for February, March and September. It also has a number of competitive coon hunts coming up, and a Feb. 3 predator hunt based out of the Wilson County Coon Hunters Club in Watertown.