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Lee Fahrney: Letting the kids stay out all night
Times photo: Lee Fahrney The Wisconsin Youth State Championship Show and Hunt attracted young coon hunters from throughout the Midwest. Sniper, a red bone coon hound, trees a raccoon for his handler, 14-year old Calvin Abst of Luxemburg.
BROOKLYN - What do aspiring young coon hunters and teenage partygoers have in common? Well, how about getting together with friends, staying out late and coming home exhausted in the wee hours of the morning?

The difference is the young hunters have gathered for the Wisconsin Youth State Championship Show and Hunt held Sat., July 5 at the Brooklyn Sportsman's Club.

The affair, hosted by the Sugar River Coon Hunters Association, attracted more than 40 youths from as far away as Ohio.

Sanctioned by the United Kennel Club and the Wisconsin Coon Hunters Association, the event is open to any youth from seven to 17, according to association president Todd Brewer of Albany. "It's a family-advertised activity," he said.

"They come from throughout Wisconsin and several surrounding states," Brewer said. "We're trying to keep the young kids involved. They are the future of coon hunting."

Ken Risley of Monticello would agree. He derives as much pleasure from working with kids as he does hunting the wily, masked bandits that spend their nights roaming the countryside searching for food.

Risley speaks highly of several of the youngsters with whom he's worked in the recent past.

"Hans (Marty) and Brad (Bernet) have been hard at it for weeks to get ready for the competition," he said with obvious pride.

Prior to the hunt, the young people showed off their dogs with no less enthusiasm than the bluebloods that enter the annual Westminster Dog Show held at Madison Square Garden in New York each year.

Brielle Hayden, nine-year old daughter of Scott and Danielle Johnson of rural Monroe, was one of the younger ones to enter with her blue tick, Diva. She took home trophies for Best of Show Female and Best Overall Club Member entry.

At 17, Alex Auringer of Madison Lake, Minn. is in her last year of youth competition. She won Grand Champion Male and Overall State Champion honors with her red bone, Joey.

She likes working with animals and enjoys coon hunting.

"I like the sound of the dogs in the woods," she said.

There are monetary rewards as well for those who compete at the national and international levels. Andrea Overturf of Rockton, Ill. has earned a number of college scholarships for her efforts, having garnered national honors for three years in a row, beginning in 2001.

Overturf also won the Youth All-Around World Championship held in Brazil in 2004 with Greaser, her treeing walker. She is currently a student at Madison Area Technical College.

Prior to the hunt, Green County Conservation Warden Nick Webster addressed the group regarding legal and ethical issues related to coon hunting. He stressed the need to get permission in advance of the hunt and respect the rights of property owners at all times.

"Get permission from as many landowners as is necessary," he advised. "If a landowner really pushes it, you could be charged with trespassing if you don't have permission."

Webster also noted that it is illegal to walk along shining flashlights up into trees looking for raccoons.

"Wait until the dog has the coon treed; that's the time to use your lights," he said.

Responsibility for following the rules of the hunt rests with judges who accompany the competitors out into the field. Risley is one of the judges, and he's graciously agreed to have me tag along.

I've known Ken for several years. He's a delegate to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress where he serves as chair of the Upland Game Committee. A long-time member of the Sugar River group, Ken has been a coon hunter since childhood.

"No raccoons are shot during this event," he said. "It's just a chance to get out into the woods, and for the kids to have a good time with their dogs."

Fourteen-year old Calvin Abts has traveled with family members from Luxemburg, Wis. He and his dog, Sniper, will be part of Risley's "cast" of four dogs and their handlers. Six other casts have scattered throughout various rural areas of Green and Dane County on this hot, muggy (and buggy) summer night.

Dogs can potentially earn points for a strike (initial discovery) and for tracking and treeing the raccoon. Points can also be lost for such indiscretions as leaving the treed animal and running off after another raccoon.

The participants in our group release their dogs simultaneously along a creek west of Monticello. Three of the dogs head out in the same direction, howling up a storm as they sniff out a raccoon.

Sniper, however, has a mind of her own. Oblivious of the possible inconvenience to the rest of her cast, Sniper sprints off in the exact opposite direction of the others.

"She can be kind of independent," Abts admits.

The lean and wiry hound leads her handler on a merry chase through the woods, ending beneath a tree that Sniper insists harbors a raccoon.

Risley has his hands full, meanwhile, following the first group through a hay field, a long strip of corn, across a couple of creeks and into a steep, wooded hillside. The woods was logged out a few years ago, Risley notes, leaving a morass of briars, multi flora rose and left over slash to stumble through.

He eventually gets back to Sniper, who has barked continuosly at the base of the tree for more than an hour. It appears there is no quit in this red bone.

A distress call that Risley describes as a "squall," entices the raccoon to look downward. The light strapped to Abts' miner's helmet picks up the glare.

"I see him," Risley reports, meaning Sniper and his handler will get positive points for treeing a raccoon.

"Awesome," shouts Abts, who is competing for the first time. On this night, the youngster will take first place within his cast.

But, that's not what it's all about from Risley's point of view.

"Kids have choices," he says emphatically. "They can get into booze and drugs, or they can take a walk in the woods."

- Lee Fahrney can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at