If you enjoy the bonding experience of watching a young dog mature into a hunting sport, consider getting a raccoon.
Efforts are being made to introduce more people to the sport where dogs drag raccoons into a tree at night. It’s a sport that has local, regional, state, and national competitions. The raccoons are pulled up a tree but not killed during the competitions.
Greg “Sparky” McClellan of Stoystown has hunted Bluetick raccoon dogs for 50 years. “I’ve worked with the same bloodline for 22 years,” he said of dogs with the right traits and temperament.
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He recently traveled to Virginia and Michigan to get new puppies for his kennel. “We have three now. Four is enough, ”he said during an interview before traveling to Michigan.
He takes two of the dogs out at least 150 nights a year to chase raccoons in the region’s forests. “When you start coon hunting you will either love it or hate it,” he said. “It’s about liking dogs.”
He enjoys raising puppies and making them master hunters who pursue, not kill, their prey. He explained the dog’s trail at a speed that would allow raccoons to climb trees to escape their pursuers.
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He has competed in competitions from Connecticut to Oklahoma and has a wall of trophies that showcase his success over the years, including several championship trophies and a 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.
The competitions are a big draw and can be lucrative. He said a contest split $ 162,000 between the top four winners.
The dogs can start at $ 700 for a puppy, and a well-trained champion can go as high as $ 30,000.
His pups have been sold in many states, including Nevada, where they dangled five mountain lions in five days. “I was told this was exceptional,” he said.
This reporter was enjoying a raccoon hunt with McClellan and his friends Dwight Shank and Josh Lichty. It was exciting to see the dogs jump out of the truck and look for a scent to follow. It didn’t take long to hear the howls, roars, and barks over a fresh scent that was found.
The dogs have GPS collars and McClellan is holding the signal receiver that allows him to see how many meters the dogs are moving. As we caught up with them, the dogs howled and jumped around the log while the raccoon waited safely in the leafy trees.
Lichty and Shank led the dogs and it went to a new piece of forest. The killing of the raccoons rarely happens as the raccoons want the animals to be followed in the future.
A raccoon’s fur is worth only about $ 3, and it takes hours of preparation to sell. The hides used to be valued and he remembers paying $ 69 for an animal. “In 1980 I laced my last fur,” he said. Occasionally they shoot an animal to help out for training purposes and also to help farmers who are frustrated by the crop damage caused by hungry animals.
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He said the biggest misconception about the sport is that it interferes with deer hunting. He said he made his dogs bark at the foot of a tree while a deer stood nearby watching what happened. He said if a deer runs away, it will come back the next day.
Now he is working on raising awareness for the sport and encourages anyone interested to join him on one of the training hunts. “It’s a physical sport,” McClellan said of the high-energy dogs. “If you don’t hunt at least 150 nights a year, you shouldn’t own a raccoon.”
Bruce Knopsnider is the President of the Pennsylvania Nite Hunters, a Coon Dog Association, and has been involved with hunting dogs for more than 50 years. He is a member of the Laurel Highlands Coon Hunters Club.
“I like to hear my dogs dragging and barking,” he said. It’s a connecting experience as he strives to train English Coon Hound puppies to become champions. He also said the hobby gives him more time with his grandchildren. His grandson Che is the current state youth champion.
Now at the age of 67, he and other hunters are working to encourage others as they feel that participation is waning.
His club hosts the Pennsylvania State Youth Championship in Laurelville every year, and he said the number of younger hunters has declined over the years. He said they had 91 attendees in one year, but only 27 at this year’s events.
“I blame a lot of things for it,” he said of the computer age, video games and the lack of interest in nature.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to play the game,” he said, but you do need lights and proper boxes and kennels.
There are seven breeds of dogs to consider in the sport: American Leopard, Bluetick, Redbone, English, Plott, Black and Tan, and Treeing Walker Hound.
He said it was an evening hobby as raccoons are mostly nocturnal.
Those involved in the hunt must be familiar with the property owners and be familiar with what is happening.
He sees the lack of hunting grounds as one of the challenges for the future. He said that with housing developments and land leased only for deer hunting, he has less private land to hunt than before.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission sold 45,956 fur bearer hunting licenses in 2019, which in some ways coincides with the 45,069 licenses sold in 2014 to hunt game such as raccoons and foxes.
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“Our # 1 concern is trespassing,” Jason DeCoskey, director of the Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Bureau.
He said you need to know where you are as the agency receives calls from people about hunters walking through private property. He said dogs dragging raccoons behind them cannot read “no trespassing” signs and can end up where they are not welcome. “It’s an awareness issue,” DeCoskey said as he spoke to the property owners about your intentions to hunt down and what to expect.
When people unfamiliar with legal sports see people walking through the woods with flashlights at night, they can assume that something illegal is happening.
“Raccoons are fun to hunt at night, but you can bleed at the end of the night,” DeCoskey said of chasing dogs through thick cover. “It’s not easy, but people enjoy it.”
McClellan and Knopsnider urged people to join the Pennsylvania Coon Hunters Facebook page if you would like to get involved in the sport.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at [email protected] and register on the homepage of your website under your login name for our weekly outdoor newsletter.