They decide to spend one night on the road before heading to the campground the next day. And we don't mean spend a night in a motel along the highway; they set up a lean-to by the side of a creek.
Billy's grandpa wants to pamper the dogs a bit, so he gives them some canned corned beef. Yummy!
Well, sure, if you're comparing it to corn mush.
When Billy dumps the corned beef in front of Old Dan, the dog just sniffs if and waits. It turns out, he won't eat without Little Ann. Check out the manners on that dog!
Long after his grandpa and dad fall asleep, Billy lies awake listening to the sounds around him and thinking about the hunt.
Well, maybe he should have gone to sleep, because he ends up hearing two screech owls, which is evidently a really bad omen.
During breakfast, his grandpa teases him a bit about his superstition. His dad tells him there is nothing to worry about, "These mountains are full of that jinx stuff" (15.42).
So, we're thinking maybe Billy is still a bit more boy than man.
When breakfast is over, they pack up and head to the hunting campground.
They reach camp in the afternoon, and boy is it big. Billy has never seen so many tents all together.
He wanders around looking at all the hounds and people. When he gets back to their tent, his grandpa tells him the hunt is holding a best-looking hound contest in the morning.
Billy decides to enter Little Ann, because Old Dan has too many scars from tangling with coons.
The next morning he steals his grandfather's comb to brush down her coat. Then, lacking any oils or hair gels, he uses some of their butter and works it into her coat to make it all glossy. And probably kind of rancid, after a few days.
Round after round, dogs are eliminated from the contest, but Little Ann remains. In the end it comes down to Little Ann and another hound.
And the winner is…
Little Ann! Well, duh.
Billy is so proud of his little girl that he can't stop crying. All the men slap him on the back and congratulate him.
That evening the judges announce the rules of the hunting competition: each night five hunters go out with a judge, and in the morning they count up each hunter's catch. On the first night the hounds that catch the most will qualify for the final round. After the first night, each hunter must tie or beat the first night's top scores to qualify. Got it?
There are 25 hunters, so five nights of five hunters. The hunters then draw cards for which night they will hunt. Billy draws the fourth night.
This sounds like a seriously long competition. Also, wouldn't the fifth night be at kind of a disadvantage? Like, aren't the raccoons going to catch on after a while?
When the first set of hunters leave, the rest of the men stand around the campfire listening to the sounds of the hunt. Eventually they get tired and go to bed.
Here's how the first three nights of hunting break down:
The first night, the top hunter catches three coons, and the other four hunters are eliminated.
The second night, no one catches more than two coons. All the hunters are eliminated.
The third night, one hunter catches three coons, and the rest are eliminated.
Billy's grandpa asks him if he's ever treed three coons, and Billy has, but only four times.
Billy tells his grandpa they should go downstream a bit, so they can get away from where the other dogs have already hunted.
Okay, that's some good thinking at least.
Now we come to Billy's night. It's the forth night, the moment of truth, the big day, the…well you get the point. Lots of pressure.