Hunters remember their ‘coon dogs in a unique Labor Day celebration in northwest Alabama

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FREEDOM HILLS, Ala. (WHNT) - It's one of the most unique Labor Day gatherings in the country, and it happens each year in rural Colbert County.

Near the Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area, a tradition started in 1937 as a way to pay homage to man's hunting companion.

With flowers tightly held, men come to the Key Underwood Coon Dog Cemetery each year on Labor Day to decorate the graves.

"This was kind of our meeting place. We'd meet here; some of us would go over here, some over yonder," explained hunter Billy Ray James.

This is why in 1937 Key Underwood picked this spot to bury his prized coon dog 'Troop.'

Since then, coon dogs from across the world have been laid to rest here.  Billy Ray James said he hunted with Underwood and Troop as a boy.

"I went with him a couple of times after Key bought him,” James recalled. “He was a good coon dog, but I've hunted with better ones."

Billy Ray said he comes each year to share stories with fellow hunters. He also has a dog buried here.

It's a hunting tradition with deep roots in these back woods and one James keeps enjoying at over 80 years old.

"I got a dog now feller offered me $20,000 for, I wouldn't sell him,” stated James. “He's staying up in the pen right now."

In order for a coon dog to be buried at the cemetery, a committee must have witness testimony which verifies the dog has treed a raccoon.