For the first time the United Kennel Club (UKC) hosted its annual Hunting Beagle World Championship event in Tennessee, and even more amazingly, out of the whole state chose the Trade community as the particular site. This decision was made largely because of the efforts of the Doe Valley Sportsman Association, and members Art Fenner and Woody Crowder in particular. Working with the UKC, the Doe Valley group was eventually picked to host the championship but quickly realized that their facility on Cross Mountain Road might not be suitable to handle an event of this size.
Seeking a better location to hold the beagle hunt, the Sportsman Associations call for assistance was answered by the Trade Days Committee, who offered to cooperate with the project and use the building and grounds of the old Trade Elementary School. Over the course of the three-day event, Trade Days members made and sold several meals worth of food for the hungry hunters, including a fish fry on the opening night.
The competition was held from September 30th through October 2nd and drew in participants from all over the Eastern United States and as far west as Missouri. There were more than 130 entries and over 120 present for the championship. With a high level of anticipation, some hunters and their dogs filed into the county a full week before the contest was scheduled to begin. Many bringing their families along, the participants steadily filled the hotels, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants around the county.
As one of the premier championships that the UKC holds each year, many of the participants were already accomplished award winners, and the competition was fierce. The championship was divided into two contests, one for show beagles and one for hunting beagles. Because beagles are primarily rabbit dogs, the hunting portion of the championship was held at various field locations across East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. The competition was elimination based and each of the competing dogs was put into groups or four, known as a cast. Each cast was chosen at random and in the first round of the hunt three of the four would be eliminated, with the highest scoring dog going on to the next round.
The dogs are scored by which was first to stir a rabbit from its hiding spot, known as opening on the rabbit, and were also rated by which was the first to track the rabbit back around or go through its line. Because this was a competition based on the ability of the beagles, no rabbits were actually killed. As the winners of each round were announced the numbers of remaining competitors continued to go down, eventually leaving only four in the final cast.
The last round of the hunting competition was held Sunday morning on a Christmas tree farm in the Mill Creek Community. UKC judges handled the final scoring, and despite unusually cold weather the dogs all performed very well. Eventually a single dog pulled out ahead of the pack and was declared the 2011 UKC Hunting Beagle World Champion. The victory went to a five year old female named Circle H Too Purty, owned by Dave and Walter Hummell of Coschocton, Ohio.
The other competition, known as a bench show, was judged not by the abilities of the dog, but rather its physical qualities. The name of the competition comes from the small platforms or benches that the dogs stand on to be judged. Although the show would have typically been held in an outdoor pavilion, the cold weather forced the contest to be held inside the Trade School. Yet despite the change, the dogs and their owners performed amicably. Eventually a nine-month-old female named PR Butchers Whiteriver Maci was declared the 2011 Beagle World Show Champion, much to the pride of owners Timothy and Phillip Butcher of Charleston, West Virginia.
There was also a childrens bench show, where beagles were borrowed for the kids in attendance to practice showing off. Other than a few setbacks due to poor weather, the championship was an overall success and a testament not only to the professionalism of the UKC but also to the Doe Valley Sportsman Association and the Trade Days Committee.
Although the World Beagle Championships may not be to everyones taste, it is still remarkable that Johnson County would ultimately become the destination of some of the best in the sport. Rabbit hunting and the use of beagles has a long history and tradition in Johnson County, and like many skills of the past, has become the hobby and passion of a dedicated group of enthusiasts. For these reasons and countless more, it seems the United Kennel Club couldnt have picked a better spot.