In the dead of the night, 16-years old Laken Reynolds stands at the edge of the oak-brown forest holding back two restless hounds.
She releases the purebreds, and the dogs sprint into the wilderness on the hunt as the sound of twigs crunching beneath their paws echoes off the foliage.
The dogs methodically bark, breaking the silence of the after hours, sounding off their location to their owner.
After time has elapsed, the barks systematically bawl — the prey has been cornered.
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Reynolds finds the dogs and leashes them to protect the raccoon.
The light of the moon and Reynolds’ helmet flashlight reflect off the coon’s marble eyes to confirm the treeing.
A judge rewards Reynold by scoring points on a card, and the process restarts with no harm to the animal.
One of the most successful coon hunters of any age in the country takes residence in the backwoods of Vallonia, and she’s a sophomore at Brownstown Central High School.
“I grew up doing it, and I did it with my grandpa (Ralph Daulton),” Reynolds said. “We really have always enjoyed doing it. I have so many friends from coon hunting. I love my dogs. They are a part of my life now. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s part of what and who I am.”
When she was very young, her grandfather gave her a pamphlet of the rules and had her memorize every detail.
Coon hunting has a lot of finite rules, and points are given and deducted with the tiniest of errors.
Since she was 9 years old, Reynolds has received national attention for her successes as a coon hunter.
She has been a state champion in Kentucky, Minnesota, Illinois and almost everywhere in between.
Two years ago, Reynolds won a two-night youth world hunt, a tremendous honor in the sport.
“As soon as I won my cast (group), I was smiling and telling everyone,” Reynolds said. “It was a pretty big accomplishment. That was the first time I had ever seen my father in a picture with an English dog.”
Her commitment and success have given her spots in nationwide hunting magazines.
Half her bedroom floor is filled with trophies, not including the plaques on the walls.
On top of all her hardware and hunting equipment prizes, Reynolds has won a $1,000 college scholarship for finishing in first in senior division 13 to 17 of the American Kennel Club.
Reynolds, a member of AKC and United Kennel Club, will also be taking another scholarship of the same amount in the coming weeks as she leads the table in points.
The BCHS student also shows dogs and has numerous honors for her breeding.
She spends countless hours helping train and take care of the dogs.
“The pups I have now train with the older dogs,” Reynolds said. “We also get cage coons and introduce them. I take my pup now and let him follow the older dogs. You introduce them to it and then train them.”
Upon entering high school, Reynolds said she gave up several sports to focus on coon hunting.
“I quit volleyball, basketball and softball because it interfered with my hunting,” she said. “I just love it. There is nothing else I would rather do. If I could quit school or do this the rest of my life almost every night, I would.”
She does, however, still play tennis for the Braves in the spring because it doesn’t interfere with her weekend hunts.
“A couple of my friends have gone with me, but the other people really don’t know what’s going on,” Reynolds said. “My teachers ask me about it and why my parents let me do it. I can get scholarships and money and learn a lot. It also has educational purposes.”
Reynolds has maintained straight As in her classes and is in advanced placement courses.
Recently, Reynolds has gotten involved in Professional Kennel Club competitions for money — the highest level of competition in the sport with hunters of every age.
At many of her competitions, Reynolds now competes with adults.
“I prefer to hunt with the adults,” she said. “They’re not expecting a 16-year-old girl to beat them. A lot of them will joke around saying, ‘You got beat by a girl.’ Many people will come and shake my hand for it. It’s awesome to be successful against people my age and older people.
“I’ve had a guy tell me once I act too much like an adult. There’s not a lot of girls my age that do this around here. I have a friend in Kentucky who’s like my best friend. My friends from hunting are some of the best friends I will ever have. At the world hunt, they come from all different states, but most of them are guys.”
Reynolds’ current objective is to win the world hunt, and she plans on taking on the challenge in the upcoming year.
She would be the first AKC girl to ever take the title and has a legitimate chance at claiming the top prize.
“I don’t do it to win,” Reynolds said. “I just go to have fun. When I do win, it’s just an added pleasure.
“I encourage all youth to hunt. It teaches you a lot of things. I have friends in Minnesota, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, South Carolina — everywhere. We all keep in touch. It teaches you a lot of responsibility.”