Roy Braddock of Walterboro is the best of the best among Grand American coon hunters.
The 70-year-old has been coming to the Grand American Coon Hunt since 1975 and holds the record for the most Grand American wins of any of the hunters.
He has won the top trophy six times: 1979, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1993 and 1999.
“It is just about having a good dog,” Braddock said as he arrived at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds on Thursday for the event’s 57th year.
“I won it with dogs that I raised and trained. I didn’t buy them. I have been raising Walker hounds for about 50 years,” he said.
Braddock still hunts, but says a lot has changed over the years.
“It is a different breed of dog now,” he said. “The hunting terrain is not as plentiful as it used to be, finding places to hunt.”
Braddock is not hunting this year because he broke his collar bone just last Wednesday while coon hunting.
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The Grand American “just gets in your blood – the excitement of it and visiting old friends and making new friends,” Braddock said.
“It is like a tradition, fellowship, camaraderie,” he said.
Jeffrey Robinson, a UKC master of hounds, came from North Carolina. He’s been visiting since 1990.
While he has never placed in the Grand American, he comes for the friends and fellowship.
“The way time flies — your young dog turns into your old dog into your dead dog, but the friends you meet through this lasts a lifetime,” Robinson said. “You come down here, it is like a family reunion. You get to see people you might not see but once a year.”
Robinson praised Orangeburg as an ideal hunting location.
“They have plenty of hunting within a two-hour area of here,” he said. “A lot of the other places that have held hunts for many years, with the development of building houses and businesses, they have lost of their hunting around and had to move them.
“Orangeburg still has got a lot of good hunting close by, so this is a good location.”
The hunters will share their “war stories” when they get together, he said.
“A lot times the dogs will get in places that you don’t want them to be,” he said. “You have to crawl to them or have to swim to them. That is just a part of it.”
Coon hunting is also about, “just spending time in nature and being out in God’s creation,” he said.
The hunters also form bonds with their dogs, he said. “You watch it grow and watch it mature. You get the feeling of accomplishment when you see the dog do good and turn it into what you want it to be.”
Thousands of hunters are expected to come out to the annual Grand American Coon Hunt at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds. Between 225 and 250 dogs are expected to participate.
The Grand American will be held through Sunday.
The Grand American typically brings in about 1,000 dog/owner teams and between 25,000 to 30,000 visitors, according to the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce.
License plates could be seen at the fairgrounds from Missouri, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.
“The Grand American Hunt has become such a staple in the overall existence of Orangeburg that we just wouldn’t be the same without,” Chamber President James McQuilla said. “It represents tradition, family and Southern culture.”
“Orangeburg is a community steeped in family traditions and Southern charm, so we are the perfect place to have been chosen for ‘the coon hunt,’” McQuilla said. “Now in its 57th year, the Grand American Coon Hunt is as popular as ever, and even though COVID-19 has reared its ugly head once again, we are confident that every reasonable precaution has been taken to make this hunt a safe event.”
As the kickoff to the United Kennel Club coonhound events calendar, the annual Grand American is the first major event of 2022.
Presented by American Cooner magazine, the Grand American is a national event that features dog/owner teams, which represent each of the seven coonhound breeds, competing for various prizes.
The Grand American includes nightly competitive hunts in which coon hounds and their handlers earn points for treeing and identifying raccoons.
The raccoons are not killed or attacked in the hunt.
New this year, South Carolina-based The Flatland Express Bluegrass Band will also perform on Saturday afternoon.
In addition to the hunt, the event offers a chance for people to admire, buy, sell and trade hunting dogs and gear.
Gale Parks, from Booneville, Mississippi, says he has gone to a lot of coon hunts over the past ten years. The eight-hour drive from Mississippi is well worth it, as he says the Grand American is “one of the best.”
“It is the way the people treat us, the town treats us, the grounds here,” he said. “They are all so good to us.”
He mostly sells dogs at the hunts. The Parks have about eight big dogs and ten puppies.
“Every year we sell every dog and most of our customers are repeat customers,” he said. “I really enjoy coming here.”
Kaelyn Parks, 8, has been coming before she could walk and talk.
“I like the hunts,” she said. Sometimes she gets to go on the hunts.
“I like to listen to the dogs run. I like to see them tree. I like the dogs,” she said.
Jim Crump of Beaver Dam, Kentucky has been coming to the Grand American for the past five years. He was introduced to the hunt by a friend.
He sells Stephens cur dogs.
“We have tried to preserve this breed,” Crump said. “It is an old mountain breed. They are mostly a little black dog with some white on them. If it goes up a tree, we hunt them with it. We mostly coon and squirrel hunt ours.”
Crump enjoys coming to the Grand American because “the people are friendly” and he gets to see old friends.
“There are plenty of good places to stay and they are always very accommodating here at the fairgrounds,” Crump said. “It is a very good family atmosphere.”
North Carolina resident Binkey Carver has been coming to the Grand American since he was 5 years old.
“I like to come down to see all these guys around here. I like to watch them swap and trade these dogs. That is the best part of it,” he said.
Carver says he has hunted before.
“I didn’t place,” he said. “I like coming to Orangeburg, though. It has always been fun. I like this old hunt down here. You see all these guys you ain’t seen about every year. You look forward to it.”
Opening ceremonies for the Grand American are at 10 a.m. Friday in the Bates Building at the fairgrounds.
The Grand American got its start in the 1960s when prominent coon hunters searched for a hunt in a warmer climate because snow prevented much winter hunting in the North.
A panel of national competition hunters was formed, including some hunters from The T&D Region.
One of its members, Jim Mathis of Denmark, met with the newly formed Orangeburg Coon Hunters Association’s president, Lynn Anderson, who agreed to have the initial hunt in Orangeburg.