That afternoon, the judge who is to accompany Billy and his hounds out that night comes to their tent to introduce himself—at sundown, the judge, Billy, Grandpa, Papa, and the dogs load up into the buggy and they drive downriver, away from the picked-over territory near camp. As soon as the buggy pulls over, Dan and Ann leap from the back, howl, and start running through the woods in search of a trail. Billy admires his dogs’ beauty and hard work. Soon, Ann and Dan bawl to announce that they’ve caught a scent. Grandpa lets out an excited, strangled whoop and joins Billy as he runs after the dogs.
Dan and Ann are clearly excited to be out on the trail once again—but they’re not the only ones who feel a special excitement about the hunting competition. Grandpa, too, is ecstatic to finally realize his dream of seeing a big raccoon hunt. He is just as moved as Billy was on his own first night hunting in the Ozarks with his dogs by his side.
After a long chase, Billy at last hears Ann and Dan howl that the raccoon has been treed. Papa pulls out a gun—one that Billy has never been allowed to use. As the group approaches the tree, Papa fires the gun to scare the raccoon down. Dan and Ann kill the raccoon, and Billy helps Grandpa and Papa skin it. The group moves on as Dan and Ann pick up yet another trail, then tree and kill yet another raccoon. The group takes a break and they build a fire after Grandpa stumbles into the icy creek—but at nearly three in the morning, Dan and Ann catch a third scent.
The hunt is long, intense, and tiring—but Dan and Ann, seemingly realizing how much is at stake, don’t give up or wear out even as the night’s twists, turns, and surprises test Billy, Papa, and Grandpa.
Billy, Papa, Grandpa, and the judge take off after the dogs. Soon, they come upon Dan and Ann in a field—they have lost the raccoon’s trail. Billy knows that if they don’t find the raccoon by daylight, they’ll be knocked out of the competition. As if understanding the urgency of the situation, Dan and Ann continue to work the trail tirelessly. Just before daylight, Billy hears Little Ann bawl—she has treed the raccoon. Billy waits to hear Old Dan’s voice join hers—he knows that if the raccoon jumps, Dan won’t let it get away. Billy, Grandpa, Papa, and the judge run toward the sound of the dogs’ voices. The dogs kill the raccoon, and together, Billy, Grandpa, and Papa skin it. The judge remarks that in 40 years of work, he’s never seen anything like Little Ann’s remarkable work outwitting such a wily raccoon.
The judge is deeply impressed by the way Dan and Ann work together. Between Old Dan’s headstrong bullishness and Little Ann’s wily trickery, the dogs have been able to accomplish a remarkable night of hunting. The judge has no doubt seen his fair share of hunts—but something about the devotion and focus that Ann and Dan share is special.
After a day of rest and another night of eliminations, the head judge calls Billy and the other winning teams to his tent. He informs them that the eliminations are over—only three sets of hounds remain, and the winner of tonight’s hunt will win the golden cup. Over the rest of the afternoon, Billy notices tension running through the camp as the eliminated hunters place bets on who will take home the cup. Someone begins collecting money for a jackpot to give to the winner—when the man comes to collect from Billy and his team, Grandpa urges the man to just leave the pot with them.
Though Billy is nervous about the final stages of the competition, Grandpa is completely confident that their group will take home the cup. He has seen what Dan and Ann can do and he believes that tonight they’ll prove themselves once and for all as the best hounds in the Ozarks.
That night, Grandpa drives his buggy out to the swamp, where Billy believes there will be the best hunting. As Billy prepares to set Ann and Dan loose, he kneels down close to them and tells them that tonight is the last night. He begs them to do their best, then turns them loose. Before they take off, they stare hard at Billy as if to promise they’ll do all they can. Ann and Dan tree their first raccoon in no time, but the raccoon leaps from the branches and into the river. Ann and Dan follow him in, chase him out, and catch him before he can climb another tree.
This passage makes it clear that not only do Ann and Dan have an innate biological talent for hunting and desire for success—they also feel motivated by Billy’s love, trust, and faith in them. These are truly special dogs with a special relationship to the master who has cared for them and nurtured them all their lives. Billy’s devotion to his dogs has been repaid tenfold—and it is now he who is in their debt.
As Grandpa, Billy, and Papa skin the raccoon, the judge points out a remarkable sight: Ann is licking at the cuts Dan sustained during a scrap with the raccoon in the river. Billy tells the judge that Dan does the same for Ann when she is hurt.
The competition judge is visibly moved by Dan and Ann’s love, respect, and care for one another. He is ostensibly a seasoned judge who has seen a lot of dogs in action—but this passage makes it clear that he’s never seen a relationship like the one Ann and Dan have.