Grandpa drives the buggy all day until sundown, then pulls over at a creek to rest for the night. He insists Billy make soft beds on the ground for the dogs and feed them some delicious corned-beef hash rather than their usual feed. Grandpa is astonished to see that Old Dan refuses to eat before Little Ann has had her share—he declares that he’s never seen dogs behave almost “as one” before. Grandpa says that he can’t put his finger on what’s special about these hounds—but he knows it’s something.
That night, as Billy lays down to go to sleep, he hears the sound of a hoot owl calling followed by the sound of a second owl—a screech owl—answering. Billy knows that hearing two owls is bad luck. Billy wakes Grandpa and he tells him what he’s heard. Grandpa tells Billy not to believe in superstition. He urges him to rest up for the big day tomorrow—if a man believed all the “jinx stuff” that is lore in the Ozarks, he tells Billy, “he’d go crazy.”
Billy’s faith in unseen powers goes both ways—it is a bolstering force which allows him to feel loved and supported, but it is also a factor which makes him vulnerable to fearing things he can’t fully understand or control.
Late the next afternoon, the buggy arrives at the camp where the hunt is to be held. Billy is in awe—he has never seen so many people in one place. Grandpa and Papa, too, are overwhelmed by the number of tents spread out over an acre-and-a-half of land. After unpacking the buggy, Billy wastes no time in exploring camp. As he makes his rounds, he overhears people pointing him out as “the boy who owns the two little red hounds.” Billy is full of pride—but as he catches sight of all the different kinds of hounds gathered at the campsite, he grows nervous. As soon as he returns to his own tent, however, and catches sight of Ann and Dan again, he feels doubt release its hold on his heart. He believes they are sure to win.
Being in a new environment like this one fills Billy with excitement, but also with trepidation. He is worried that he won’t be able to live up to the expectations others have for him—or the expectations he has for himself. When Billy sees his dogs, though, they remind him of their steadfast devotion—his confidence in their ability to take on anything together as one is renewed and restored.
The next day, Billy enters Little Ann in a contest to determine the best-looking hound at the hunt. Billy oils her coat with butter and brushes her out using Grandpa’s ivory comb. At the contest, Billy brings Little Ann before the judges and he watches in awe as more and more dogs are eliminated while Ann remains in competition. Ultimately, Ann takes the top prize, and Billy is near shock as the other hunters congratulate him and the judges award him with a small silver cup. Billy begins to cry as he carries Little Ann back to their tent.
Little Ann and Old Dan are devoted hunters who work hard each night to bring Billy the skins of several raccoons. In this passage, however, Ann proves her devotion to Billy in a different way—and Billy is able to see his special dog through the eyes of others for the first time. He recognizes just what a remarkable and beautiful dog she really is, and his emotions for her spill over more strongly than ever.
Later that evening, the head judge gathers all the hunters around to give them instructions as to how the hunt will be carried out. Each night, five sets of hounds will go out to hunt. A judge will accompany each team and count their kills. The hounds that tree the most raccoons will go to a championship runoff. The judge tells the men to line up and to each draw a card which will tell them what night their team is to hunt. Billy waits in line with the other men; while he waits, the others treat and talk to him “like a man.” Billy draws a card indicating that his team will go out on the fourth night of the hunt. That evening, Billy sits with Papa, Grandpa, and some other hunters around a campfire, singing songs and laughing.
Everything about this trip so far has made Billy feel more grown-up than he ever has before—the treatment he’s received from Papa and Grandpa so far feels like a reward for all his hard work with Dan and Ann. To be treated like an equal by the other hunters, however, moves Billy on a deeper level—it means that he truly is worthy of these men’s company and esteem.
As the days go by, more and more groups are eliminated. Billy, Papa, and Grandpa patiently wait their turn. On the day of their hunt, however, Grandpa takes to “hopping around like a grasshopper.” He, Billy, and Papa are all full of energy. As Billy passes through camp that afternoon, a hunter stops him to ask if it’s true that his hounds once treed six raccoons in one night. Billy laughs, knowing that his Grandpa has been telling tall tales about Dan and Ann.
Billy is amused and excited by his grandfather’s enthusiasm for him and his dogs—but at the same time, he remembers that the last time Grandpa tried to talk up Dan and Ann too loudly, it got all three of them in deep trouble.