Just as day broke and the sun peeked over the horizon, a loud racket was heard in Grenada, Mississippi. It was the sound of dogs. Not of strays or mutts fenced into backyards, but of serious sportsmen of the canine type, raring to go and letting out the enlivened woofs and howls of a chase.
“The Master of Hounds says, ‘Cast your dogs!’ You can hear this loud pack of dogs, because for 20 or 30 minutes, all the dogs stay together,” said Charlotte Dailey, Grenada Tourism Commission executive director, describing the opening moments of one of the longest-running and most recognized fox hunt and field-trial events in the nation.
“The All American Running Hound Classic is a part of the National Fox Hunters Preserve Association,” she said, of the event that’s a pretty big deal for her small city about an hour and a half north of Jackson.
For a week every winter, hounds and their owners descend upon the city and take in all things rustic. They socialize. There’s a banquet, a bench show and dogs are “cast” – set loose to chase – on four different mornings. It culminates in a final cast at the end of the week, where the top 15 percent among hundreds of dogs are allowed to compete. Dailey said the hunts are held on Corps of Engineers land, “on the other side of Grenada Lake.”
“The dog owners, they bring their dogs from all over the country and some are from Canada,” Dailey said. “All of these dogs are bred to hunt fox. They are judged on how well they chase or run the fox.”
Daily said the National Fox Hunters Preserve Association has been in existence for 121 years, and the local classic has been in existence for 49 years.
In an era when hunting for sport may not be favored as it was in the past, the All American flourishes nonetheless. Its mere existence in 2016 is no doubt controversial in some quarters. Some might consider it a bit savage, something that should be left to the past. But in Mississippi, quite often, tradition reigns.
Addressing this point, Dailey said: “They are not supposed to kill the fox, and very seldom do they catch the fox.” She said some hounds do receive scratches from brambles, or are scratched or bitten by coyotes they encounter, and need antibiotics. Sadly, some don’t make it out alive. The hunt can be as dangerous for the dogs as it is for the prey, but Dailey says the goal of the contest is to simply observe the dogs for how they chase.
“Twenty judges follow the pack,” Dailey said. “By the end of the five hours, the judges have watched. They are actually scoring points, tracking them and scoring.” For instance, a dog loses points if it gets distracted and attempts to chase a deer chanced upon in the forest.
Daily said at the end of each hunt, some dogs come back on their own, some have to be located in the woods by their handlers, and “some of the dogs are so tired, they just lay down where they are.”
The event is lucrative for local tourism. Dailey said a large number of hotel rooms are booked that week each year, and as a bonus, “they are eating in our restaurants, they are drinking in our bars.”
Some will also take in the nature in and around Grenada Lake.
“Grenada is known as a sportsman’s paradise. Grenada Lake is the number one crappie fishing lake in the nation. It is 36,000 acres,” said Dailey, about the local treasure. “There’s manmade beaches – it has everything.”
For those visiting in September, the spillway of Grenada Lake is the site of a free-admission old time music event, Pickin’ at the Lake. Guests brings their own folding chairs, and bluegrass, gospel, country and Cajun music (on acoustic instruments only) is enjoyed in the great outdoors. The 2016 fest happens September 23 and 24; both finger pickers and listeners are welcome.
Other sites for nature enthusiasts include Malmaison, a Wildlife Management Area. Contained within the 9,483 acres are woods that are home to wild turkeys, whitetail deer and other wildlife and the Yalobusha River and Oxbow lakes, where bass, bream and catfish proliferate.
“It’s great for hiking – oak, ash, cypress. And people hunt there,” Dailey said.
Grenada offers several hiking, nature and fitness trails. Primitive tent camping, RV camping, and rustic cabin lodging are among other options for those wishing to sleep, eat and relax close to nature during their stay. Many of these options lie within the Hugh White State Park, located six miles from Grenada.
Also in Hugh White State Park is a nationally-ranked golf course on the Magnolia Trace Golf Trail. Those interested in some sporting on the greens might want to play a round at 18-hole championship Dogwoods Golf Course, situated among the pines.
“It is beautiful,” Dailey said. “The 9th hole is especially beautiful, because it is built around the lake. That golf course is beautiful. And I mean, beautiful,” she said.
Once the dogs have had their day, Grenada is waiting with her hills, woods, greens – and a big lake just begging to be fished.
Want to go?
For more information about The All American Running Hound Classic or about Grenada outdoors, visit visitgrenadams.com.