Festival puts spotlight on Haywood-bred Plott hound
This year’s PlottFest will give hound enthusiasts from the region, across the country and around the globe a chance to celebrate their favorite breed of dog in its ancestral home.
Although the fledgling festival, only in its second year, will showcase a wide variety of mountain music, fishing and other events, this year, organizers have decided to place an emphasis on the pride of Haywood: the Plott hound, which has been deemed the state dog of North Carolina.
The result is a full lineup of Plott hound events, from raccoon and bear treeing contests to a bench competition comparing the canine competitors’ statures, weights, muscle definition and overall physique. Two national Plott hound organizations — the American Plott Association and the National Plott Hound Association — have even been brought in to help organize the dog show.
While only a handful of Plott hounds made appearances at last year’s festival, event organizer Kevin Duckett said that with increased publicity and the help of the Plott enthusiasts, he expects there to be a lot more dogs this time around. Much of the appeal comes with the county’s history as the virtual birthplace of the breed.
“To these guys that own these Plotts, it’s almost a mystical creature,” he said. “This thing, I think, is going to grow into something bigger than we’ve ever expected.”
Having a festival celebrating the Plott hound in Haywood County was a natural fit, and it even surprised Duckett that it hadn’t been done before. The dog carries the name of the local Plott family, who made the breed famous for its abilities to track and hunt without end.
Duckett found an affinity for the hounds while caring for the eight Plott puppies of a cousin while he was away on a work trip. He said he was impressed by their grittiness and loyalty, even at the juvenile age of eight weeks.
Though not a hunting enthusiast himself, Duckett was so enamored with the dogs he started thinking about a way to celebrate the hunting heritage in the region. Throw in some mountain music, some fly fishing and a charitable cause — the proceeds are donated to Haywood and Jackson counties Head Start programs — and you’ve got Plott Fest.
“There are stories about these dogs that go back 400 years,” Duckett said. “I thought, if we could do a festival that has music and the dogs and we could turn the proceeds over to charity, everybody is going to win.”
And because the breed has since grown popular far beyond the confines of Western North Carolina, it is one of the most beloved and common hounds for hunting. David Williams, president of the American Plott Association, said in the hunting world there is really no rival.
Once, Williams’ two Plott hounds kept guard underneath a treed bear in the dead of winter for 23 hours before the hunting party caught up with them to finish the hunt. Last week, his determined dogs tracked a wild hog 15 miles on a hunt in South Carolina. Those stories are not particularly out of the ordinary for Plott owners, Williams said.
“And that’s not saying mine are better than the next guys, that’s just one example of the heart in the Plott breed,” he said. “There’s not a better breed.”
Furthermore, Plott owners are some of the most enthusiastic about their dogs. Williams said the organization’s past Plott competitions have drawn more than 1,000 dogs plus their owners. He said there is already a buzz among the association’s approximately 1,000-person membership for the upcoming PlottFest in Haywood County.
The festival will have several events for dog owners to pit their Plotts against the next. The competitions include a barking contest to determine which dog can bark the most in a short span of time at a scented bear hide; and in a similar event, a raccoon hide, hoisted into a tree by a pulley system.
The other hunting-related event is called a baying competition and dogs are judges based on the aggressiveness, bark speed and attentiveness they demonstrate toward a scented bear hide on the ground. Well-proportioned Plott hounds will also be on display in an old-style dog show.
Dog owners from as far away from Germany and northern Wisconsin have already committed to attend. Organizers like Williams are hoping visiting Plott owners take time not only to attend the festival, but also to explore the historical stomping grounds of their dogs.
“At other events, some people come just for the competition aspect,” he said. “But everybody is really excited about Plott Fest to pay tribute to Plott family and their dogs.”
If they do come to WNC, the Plott enthusiasts will have a chance to meet up with hound expert Bob Plott, one of the descendants of Johannes Plott — who brought five of the dogs that would come to be known as Plott hounds from Germany to WNC in the 1700s.
Bob has written books and articles on the history of the breed and how it evolved from a local legend to the official dog of North Carolina. Over the years, the Plott hound has demanded the attention and acclaim from the likes of Appalachian writer Horace Kephart and Raymond Camp, the first regular outdoors writer for The New York Times.
Bob even has photos of his family members who raised the dogs with Branch Rickey, the baseball executive who signed Jackie Robinson and integrated the sport. Rickey was a Plott enthusiast.
“There’s a great history behind this thing, a national history,” Bob said.
And the list of accomplishments goes on.
Bob has seen one Plott hound in Virginia sell for $65,000 to a wealthy Japanese man. In the 1960s, the emperor of that same country drafted several of the dogs and their owners to rid the countryside of bears terrorizing local villages. Today, there are a dozen or so facebook pages devoted to the breed, attracting fans from all around.
But, Bob likes to remind people that the legend got its legs in Haywood County, centuries ago, with his bygone family members who bred the dogs to sell to people from across the region. Some buyers would come to Plott Valley to buy while others had them shipped by crate.
Bob still raises the hounds, carrying on the family tradition. He will be at PlottFest signing books and sharing dog stories with other Plott owners, because even if they’re not from Haywood County, they bring a bit of the place with them at their side.
“Plott hound owners are more fanatics,” Bob said. “The people who own Plott hounds understand the unique story of the breed and the unique talents of the breed.”
Want to go?
PlottFest will be at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds on June 22-23. The festival opens at 9 a.m. Saturday and noon on Sunday. Dog competitions, live music, food and craft vendors will also be onsite. Tickets are $15 for Saturday, $10 for Sunday or $20 for a weekend pass. www.plottfest.org.
American Plott Association and National Plott Hound Association events:
9:30 a.m. – Dog Bear Bay
10:30 a.m. – Dog Bear Bay
Noon – Bear Treeing Contest
12:30 p.m. – Plott Youth Bench Show
1:30 p.m. – Sanctioned Bench Show
2:15 p.m. – Coon Treeing Contest
1 p.m. – Kid’s fly fishing catch clinic
10 a.m. – Timbre Fox
11 a.m. – Mark Bumgarner
Noon – Sam Lewis
1 p.m. – Ghost Town Gunfighters
1:15 p.m. – Balsam Range
2 p.m. – Eddie Rose & Highway 40
3 p.m. – Darren Nicholson Band
4:15 p.m. – Mark Winchester Trio
5:45 p.m. – Balsam Range
1 p.m. – Anita & Luis Diaz
1:45 p.m. – Danielle Bishop
2:15 p.m. – Eddie Rose & Highway 40
3:15 p.m. – Ila Knight
4 p.m. – The Primitive Quartet
5 p.m. – Balsam Range