Leonard Young, left, is pictured with Kentucky River Superman, center, and Micah Ayres, at right. At right, Jenny is treeing hard.
By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
What began as a family pastime when Leonard Young was just a child has now become an almost nightly activity-and a way to win trophies, recognition—and cash.
Most nights, Leonard goes “coon hunting” with a friend or family member. And pretty often, he hunts competitively. Over the course of the past couple of years, he’s hunted in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.
Coon hunting is a year-round sport, and Leonard says it rarely gets too cold or snowy for it.
He and his pals often take “Nine-mile Jenny,” a Walker coonhound co-owned by Leonard and a couple of other friends. He says he’s won $8,000 in prize money with her. She seems to be pretty partial to him, because he’s the only person who has ever won with her.
Leonard hunted Jenny in Alabama in the Coon Hunters Kennel Club (CHKC) Scott Crump Truck Hunt. They made it to the final four out of 64 entries. Had they won, they would have driven home a new truck. He and the other co-owners of the dog still brought home a $2,000 check.
Leonard also hunts dogs who belong to someone else, one being Superman, owned by Micah Ayers. They took Superman to the Winter Classic (United Kennel Club) in Batesville, Mississippi, and placed 10th among about 750 entries.
National hunts provide the opportunity to win even more money—as in $30,000 or even more.
Competitive hunts have time limits, typically 1 ½ to 2 hours. Names are drawn, and hunters and their dogs are separated into groups of three or four, called casts. One of the group serves as guide, and one serves as scorekeeper.
The dogs are taken to a particular location and turned loose. The first dog to “strike,” or pick up the scent of a raccoon and bark, gets 100 points.
The first dog to “tree,” or chase a raccoon up a tree, gets 100 points. Points decrease from 75, to 50, to 25, for second, third and fourth places. Sometimes dogs strike or tree multiple times during the allotted time, and sometimes they don’t pick up a trail at all.
If a dog trees, and the raccoon can’t be spotted in the tree, points are taken away. If the tree has a hole where the raccoon could be hiding, the points are circled and can be counted if a tie-breaker is required. The dog who accumulates the most points within the time limit is declared the winner.
While the dog does the work, the hunter is important. It’s about knowing the rules, and keeping scores in your head, says Leonard.
If he’s paying close attention, he knows the dog needs to locate another raccoon if he’s going to take the lead.
Twenty year-old Leonard began tagging along on hunts as a small child. He’d sometimes go with his father James Young, his grandfather Venice Bicknell, his brother Matthew, or his uncle Carl Bicknell.
When he was in middle school, he and some of his school friends began to hunt more seriously. His buddies would ride the bus home with him on Friday afternoons and head out for the creek and river bottoms when the sun went down.
Because raccoons are nocturnal animals, coon-hunting is a nighttime sport. It involves loading up the dogs in boxes in the backs of pickups and wearing tough clothing and boots. It means traveling to cornfields and wooded areas, and turning the coon hounds loose so they can sniff out raccoons and give chase. It means wearing headlamps to spot the raccoons after the dogs chase them up trees.
It means sleeping half the day, because you’ve been out all or half the night.
Sometimes it means making enough money to pay for the gas for trips and entry fees, or even having a little extra to pocket.
Besides all these things, it’s something that Leonard Young loves, and he says he wouldn’t mind at all to make a living out of it.
Cutlines: From left, Joey Craver, Leonard Young (seated) with Walker coonhound Jenny, Albert Ballard, and Cassius McAlister. Leonard came close to winning the pickup truck in the background.
Left, Leonard Young with Kentucky River Superman and Micah Ayres.