Despite the prevailing tone of bland objectivity, such arguments may grow heated. But they do not reflect directly on a particular man's dog.
"Evra man is proud of his dog," points out Chilcoat.
"That's right," says Thomas. "You don't run a man's dog down. You might as well say. 'Your baby's ugly.' "
The preliminaries to a competition hunt used to include coon-on-a-log, coon-in-the-hole and the waltzing keg. In these events a coon is put, respectively, on a log floating in water, in a hole whose opening is just the size of a dog's head, or in a keg suspended in the air on ropes. Then all the entered dogs are turned loose on it. The dog that seizes, holds and removes the coon wins. Especially in the hole, the coon has the initial advantage, but this hardly makes up for its chances in the long run, and Humane Society pressure has forced such activities out of UKC-licensed hunts.
The rule now is that there can be no direct contact between dog and coon in a preliminary event. This leaves room for water races and treeing contests. In a water race, a coon is towed across a pond in a Styrofoam boat suspended from a cable, and the dogs, divided into heats, swim after it. A redbone of T.K. Chilcoat's once jumped into the wrong heat and finished creditably even though it got a late start and had to tow the big piece of pulpwood it was tied to. The swimming dogs in the pond and the tied-up dogs around it are all bawling; dogs are getting loose, jumping in, splashing, dragging little girls into the water; the little girls are yelling "Stop! Daddy, come catch your dog!" and Daddy is yelling, "I told you to hold that dog."
A treeing contest is also tumultuous. A caged coon is set up atop a sapling or pole. All the dogs in the contest are given a good look at it. They bark and lunge at the pole and sometimes get loose and ascend it about halfway. Maybe the cage hasn't been pulled up to the top and one dog is able to grab it with its teeth. The treeing-contest officials pull the cage up to shake the dog off but it hangs on until it is four feet off the ground and even then it has to be pried off. Then one dog at a time is loosed to show off its tree form. In most contests the winner is determined purely by the number of times it barks—100 chops in a minute is good.
Now comes the bench show, in which dogs are judged solely on their looks. But looking good and hunting good are known to be two different things. It is when dark is falling, and men start saying things like, "This old dog can't find enough woods to hunt in," that the real action develops.
The entries hunt in casts of four dogs, which hunt together for three hours, with a local man along as guide and score-keeper. Right. A man carrying an official scorecard. Coon hunting has been refined to that point. Scoring high requires close teamwork between dog and handler. As Everette Endsley, who handles Danny Boy for J.P. Tyree, puts it. "You got to really call like your dog is doing. And he's got to really be doing it, too." The reason Danny Boy is the incumbent best coon dog in the world, says Endsley, is that he is a good honest dog. "If he smells a coon he'll bark. If he don't he won't. If the coon runs off through yonder he'll run off through yonder after him. He won't fool around."
The testing of such honesty gets underway as follows: the different casts fan out over, say, a 40-mile radius. It takes a few hours to get gear and dogs together and drive over dirt roads to an isolated spot. The dogs in a given cast are turned loose.
As soon as Danny Boy bawls once, Everette Endsley will call "Strike Dan," but a less distinguished dog handler will probably want to wait for the second bawl to make sure. At any rate, the first man to say "Strike my dog" is accorded 100 points on the scorecard. The second striker gets 75, the third 50, the fourth 25.