By DON ROWE
A 17-year-old avid coon hunter parlayed his love for dogs and a competitive nature into a college scholarship and some extra spending money with a recent third-place finish in the Professional Kennel Club (PKC) Coon Hunt Youth Race.
Caleb Justice, a senior at Hatley High School, finished third in the nation in the Youth 17-and-under year-long standings and was awarded a $1,000 scholarship to the college of his choice and a $750 cash award.
The awards were presented at the World Hunt sponsored by the Joy Dog Food Co. in Aurora, Ky.
Caleb, the son of Vincent Justice and Lycia Justice, is a relative novice to the sport, but that didn’t stop him from placing third in the national standings.
According to Justice, money earned at various coon hunts conducted throughout the nation accumulates throughout the year which lead to a national ranking.
“You get so much for first place, so much for second and all the money you earn throughout the year determines your final standing,” said Justice.
Justice, who hunted with various friends in the Hatley area, was introduced to the sport by David Pickle, a local store owner who became a regular hunting partner. Pickle then invited Justice to attend the World Hunt at Aurora in October of 2002 as a spectator.
“He came back from Kentucky and told me he wanted to participate in the program to earn scholarship money,” said Lycia Justice.
As a result, Pickle, in turn, introduced Justice to Jarvis Umphers of Myrtle, the founder of the Professional Kennel Club.
“I was the original founder of the PKC in Memphis back in the ‘70s,” said Umphers, who sold the organization about five years ago.
“The PKC is the registry who conducts the various events and Joy Dog Food serves as the sponsor,” he said. “Over the past 20 years, Joy has contributed roughly 150,000 scholarship awards for young hunters to attend college.”
As an avid coon hunter with an eye for talent, Umphers took Justice under his wing.
“Based on Caleb’s sportsmanship, ability to care for dogs and his competitive nature, it didn’t take long for me to realize that he would be a natural for this sport,” said Umphers.
“I furnished Caleb a dog named Zena, taught him the rules, carried him to a number of different events and paid his entry fees and my faith in him has paid off,” said Umphers.
It was with Zena, a Walker dog which is the most popular of six different coon hounds, that Justice earned enough money to finish third in the national standings.
At a typical coon hunting event, Zena and three other dogs, along with their four handlers, are released into actual wildlife habitat where they are scored on their ability to pick up a coon’s scent, trail it to a tree and then remain on the scene until the handler arrives.
“A judge must verify there is indeed a coon in the tree,” said Umphers.
“There are plus points awarded and there are minus points, also,” he said. “In fact, there are more ways to lose points for such things as not picking up a scent, treeing a coon and then leaving, going six minutes without barking or not actually having a coon in a tree.”
According to Umphers, the first dog to pick up a scent is awarded 100 points, the second gets 75, the third 50 and the fourth 25.
The same number of points are awarded to the first through the fourth dog to tree a coon.
“At the conclusion of the event, the winning dog earns so much money and the accumulated amount at the end of the year is what determines the national standings,” said Umphers.
Justice, who hunted year round in Indiana, Illinois, Texas and just about every southern state, kept up with his standings through Pro Hound Magazine.
“Caleb kept track of how he was doing nationally through Pro Hound,” said Mrs. Justice. “After every event, he’d check to see where he was and, at one point here recently, he was just $100 out of second place.”
Justice, who will be moving up from the 17-and-under bracket, said he owes a great deal to Pickle and Umphers for their encouragement and support this past year.
“David Pickle introduced me to the sport and has been a big influence,” said Justice. “And Jarvis Umphers taught me the rules and has supported me through the use of his dog and I’m grateful to both of them for all of their help.”
By DON ROWE