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Winter Classic arrives this week
By Rita Howell
and Billy Davis

When the handlers turn their coonhounds loose Friday night for hunts stretching across rural North Mississippi, it will be the culmination of months of planning by local coon hunting clubs and the United Kennel Club.

This week, the UKC brings its Winter Classic coon hunt and bench show to Panola County via the Batesville Civic Center.

The UKC has reported that 885 advanced entries — a record number — were received for two nights of hunts, and an undetermined number will come for the separate bench shows to be held in the Civic Center Friday and Saturday.

Participants are expected to trickle into Batesville Thursday from across the United States.

Along with the dogs, owners and handlers, there will be vendors offering a range of products used by coon hunters. There will be registered coonhound puppies for sale. 
And there will be spectators.

The event, which moved to Batesville this year after 25 years in Albany, Ga., reportedly has drawn as many as 10,000 visitors for the weekend.

The UKC sought a more centrally located venue further west, but still in the Deep South. In the end, Batesville’s arena and the area’s raccoon-rich rolling hills, Delta woodlands and river bottoms won the UKC over.

What is the UKC?

Established in 1898 and headquartered in Kalamazoo, Mich., the United Kennel Club is the largest all-breed performance-dog registry in the world. The UKC sanctions about 15,000 events operated by affiliated clubs annually for a variety of breeds all over the country. Events include obedience trials,  agility trials, weight pull events, terrier races, dock jumping events,water races, nite hunts and bench shows, events for retrieving breeds, pointing dogs,  beagles, cur and feist.

The Winter Classic is among the UKC’s 12 premier events and staff members from Kalamazoo will be here to direct this large-scale hunt and show.

A local coon hunter confirmed that winning a title in the Winter Classic is more about prestige than cash prizes.

“It’s about bragging rights,” said Billy Applewhite, a member of the Tinside Club which is providing guides for this weekend’s hunts.

The financial payoff can come through selling puppies from a UKC champion coonhound. Puppies can sell for $5,000 or more, local Walker hound breeder Jerry McCullar said.

One of the services offered by the UKC is the Performance Pedigree, an accurate, up-to-date count of the number of puppies produced by each dog on the pedigree as well as the various championships earned by those puppies.

Keeping up with the records of 287 breeds of purebred dogs keeps a staff of 50 busy in the corporate offices. UKC also publishes breed-specific magazines.

Winter Classic specifics
The Winter Classic is limited to seven breeds of coonhounds: Treeing Walkers, Black and Tan, American Leopard, Bluetick, English Coonhound, Plott and Redbone.

The dogs will hunt in groups of four, called casts, Friday and Saturday night. Volunteers from seven area coon hunting clubs will serve as guides, taking the casts to pre-arranged destinations from Pontotoc to Arkansas, and from Arkabutla as far south as Winona.

The dogs accumulate points for tracking and treeing a raccoon. No guns are carried. The raccoons are left in the trees where the dogs have chased them.

The Winter Classic bench show will be held in the Civic Center arena Friday and Saturday. Spectators are invited to sit in the stands and watch as champions are selected by the judges based on physical attributes and conformity to breed standards. Shows start at 9 a.m. both days. A children’s bench show will follow the adult competition on Saturday.

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