ALBANY, GA (WALB) - More than 15,000 visitors from across the United States and Canada will be in Albany this weekend for the 22nd Annual United Kennel Club Winter Classic.
This is the 17th year that the Exchange Club Fairgrounds has hosted the annual Coon Hunt.
Friday bench shows were the highlight of the event as some of the best coon hounds were walked around the ring and judged on breed standards.
The points from today's shows count toward the year end total of the coon hunting series.
There will be hunts Friday and Saturday night across South Georgia.
United Kennel Club Vice President of Media Tanya Raab said "We do use the term hunting loosely. Because essentially it is a test of the dog's instinct. Because we take no game and no firearms are used."
711 dogs are registered for this weekend's hunts.That's only 25 fewer than last year.
UKC officials say the struggling economy has not dimmed the spirit of the Coon Hunters.
The UKC Event is one of the biggest tourism events of the year in Albany. It's expected to pump at least $1.5-million into the local economy. And business owners say it couldn't come at a better time.
Jason Hunter and the rest of his Second Wind Kennel team from Branford, Florida are back in Albany for the Winter Classic.
Hunter said "This is the south Super Bowl of Coon Hunts. It's a lot of fun, and thousands and thousands of people come."
Hunter says coon hunting is a big money sport, and knows his family will make a good impact on Albany businesses.
Hunter said "You're talking at least four hundred dollars in just hotels and gas."
"Thank you for selecting the Jameson Inn of Albany. This is Beth, may I help you?"
Albany hotels agree the Coon Hunters are making a big money impact.
Jameson Inn General Manager Beth Beisel said "We're pretty much full tonight and through the weekend. So it's really great business and we're glad to have those guys."
The Chick-fil-A of Albany drive thru managers say with tough economic times some people are cutting back on eating out and traveling. So the entire community will benefit from these thousands of visitors.
Chick-fil-A of Albany Drive Thru marketing director Anna Wari said "With the price of gas, even now people are feeling the impact. Even though the prices are lower, so any time we can have an influx of people coming into town, that's great."
An economic influx expected to be more than one and a half million dollars from folks like the Hunters. They are excited because they have brought to town "Locked and Loaded", the 2008 UKC World Champion Show Dog, and has already won one grand championship in 2009.
Hunter said "He's our pride and joy. We love him to death."
And Albany businesses love him and the thousands of other guests spending their weekend and their money in South Georgia.
Many of the hotels make arrangements for the coon hunters to house the coon hunters and their dogs. A champion like Locked and Loaded could be worth more than $15,000, but he's not for sale.