Down a winding, tree-lined road on the outskirts of Clanton, Ala., is a destination that attracts a select group of individuals and their canine companions. It’s the Coonhound Cabin, which sits on 85 acres and provided the perfect site for last weekend’s AKC (American Kennel Club) Southern Heritage Hunt and Show for coonhounds.
Danielle Kunz and her husband, Kenny, purchased the property in 2018 and soon started to share their passion for the coonhound breeds.
“We started three years ago hosting coonhound events and a lot of kids’ events because this is something kids just don’t do anymore, hunt with coonhounds,” Danielle said. “We live in Hoover, and we love bringing the city kids down here to hunt at night. They always have a good time. They said they didn’t know you could walk around in the Alabama woods at night and not be afraid.
“We have had the Alabama State Coonhunters Association (ASCA) Youth State Championship two years in a row. We have sponsors who donate everything from hats, shirts, lights, boots and waders. If the kids come and don’t have a coonhound, we let them borrow one of ours. We have members who will take the kids out on a cast, and we crown an overall youth state champion.”
Several of those youth hunt participants have embraced the sport and have their own coonhounds.
Coonhound Cabin has hosted several UKC (United Kennel Club) and NKC (National Kennel Club) events, but last weekend’s hunt and show is the first AKC event held on the property. Danielle said they are trying to attract the youth and women’s world hunts to Clanton.
Danielle has been outdoors oriented all her life, hunting with her dad, Danny Fields, and five uncles near her hometown of Oak Grove, southeast of Birmingham.
“Down at Oak Grove on Toadvine Road, you hunt and you fish with your daddy and his brothers,” she said. “We always had hunting dogs. We either had coonhounds, Walker-blue tick mixes, and squirrel dogs, feist dogs. We have a hunting club in Epps, Alabama. He would carry me on his hip to the treestand in the mornings, sometimes still in my pajamas. I’ve always been involved with outside and hunting.
“I waited until my son was 10 and daughter was 14 before we got our first hound, a blue tick named Harley.”
Danielle later added Jewel, a redbone, to their kennels. Harley has since earned Grand Champion on the bench show, while Jewel is a bench and field trial champion. Danielle hired Kayla Cooper of Warrior River Kennels to perform obedience training with Harley, and a friendship developed.
“Kayla is an incredible trainer,” Danielle said. “Training a hound is not easy, so she has helped me an enormous amount.”
Cooper is also secretary/treasurer of the ASCA, one of the sponsors of the Southern Heritage event, which was held outside of Georgia for the first time in its 10-year history.
“Our association was created to represent the small game hunters in the state, particularly the raccoon hunters, and to preserve the heritage of coon hunting in the state and coonhound breeds that we have,” Cooper said. “Every dog is created for a purpose. These dogs were selectively bred for hundreds of generations to actively pursue a raccoon. So, it is very important to us that these dogs continue to do what they were bred to do, which is something we don’t get to see a lot anymore.
“The majority of Labradors are not duck dogs anymore. They are family pets. They make great family pets. You don’t see Dalmatians trotting under coaches. You don’t see terriers out riding on farms. But our coonhounds get to do what they were bred for, so it’s really important for us to preserve that.”
Cooper said of the seven coonhound breeds, the treeing Walker is the most common by a wide margin. Other coonhound breeds include the black and tan, bluetick, redbone, English coonhounds (redticks), leopard and Plott hounds. All breeds were represented at the Southern Heritage event.
“The Plott hound is the only breed not derived from fox hounds,” said Cooper, whose redbone, Chaos, scored an award of merit at the 2019 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. “The Plotts are a German breed. They came over with the von Plott family to North Carolina.”
During last weekend’s event, night hunts were held on Friday and Saturday at nearby properties, which meant the handlers were up until the wee hours of the morning. The hounds are scored on finding the trail, barking and treeing. If the hunters spot the raccoon, the hounds are awarded a plus. The raccoon is left unharmed to be treed another night.
The Southern Heritage event had a bench show, field trials and water race. A scented raccoon hide was dragged through the woods and hung in a large oak. The coonhounds were released, and points were awarded for the first dog to cross the line at the tree and the first to bark after crossing the line. A water race followed where four dogs were placed in boxes on the edge of Coonhound Cabin’s 2.5-acre lake. The scented raccoon skin was then tied to a cable that was pulled across the lake about 6 or so feet above the water line. The first dog to splash and swim across the pond to the tree receives the most points. If the dogs do not swim, no points are awarded.
“I’ve been to several water races, and we designed our race to go across the middle of the lake,” Danielle said. “When the dogs come out of the boxes, they’ll try to outsmart the system. If you give them bank, they will run around the bank, and they are struck if they do that. We wanted to make it so that it was shorter to just go straight across instead of trying to go around.”
Cooper hopes the Southern Heritage Hunt and Show will advance the ASCA’s mission to highlight the coonhound breed and gain the interest of the younger generations. Visit alabamastatecoonhu.wixsite.
“What our association really focuses on is spotlighting the youth,” she said. “You hear so many people say, ‘My grandfather used to coonhunt’ or ‘My dad used to coonhunt.’ Every year less and less hunting licenses are sold in Alabama. It’s definitely about the breeds we’re so passionate about and the sport we’re so passionate about, but it’s also about getting kids involved so there is another generation to take this on.
“It’s just a lot of fun to work with the dogs. Hounds make great pets, too, but to see them enjoy doing what they were bred to do, it’s so much fun, and that’s what we try to show the kids.”
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.