ALBERTSON -- Nearly 550 people ate barbecue and fish stew, while 240 deer dogs trained to hunt at the annual Washington's Day Fox and Dog Trials Saturday morning.

Ruritan Willie Rouse, 79, cooked up his famous rockfish stew at the Albertson Community Building for the event's nearly 70 year tradition in the rural Duplin County community to hold a field trial for dogs and for people to enjoy a meal from 5 a.m. until noon in celebration of the George Washington's Birthday holiday.

The event brought in $15,000.

Rouse said the event is sponsored by the Albertson Ruritan Club, and the proceeds from the plates are shared by the club, Albertson Volunteer Fire Department and Albertson Parks and Recreation.

Rather than hunting foxes, which the community allowed 32 years ago, the dogs have been released since by their owners for a field trial to test the dogs' ability to hunt. And ever since 1964, Rouse has dipped large spoonfuls of his stew into bowls.

"I put 30 some pounds of rock fillets in here, and we got 'taters and 240 eggs in it," he said, who noticed people were finished with their first bowl.

"These guys keep coming back for seconds."

Rouse continued dipping as 50 other volunteers placed barbecue chicken or pork, hush puppies and cake onto plates for people to buy for $7.

He said people registered their dogs for $20 each before the trial started at 7 a.m. Rouse said three judges watch the numbered dogs four miles from the community building on Piney Grove Road.

Chase Rouse, no relation to Willie Rouse, cast out his five dogs for his first deer trial at the event. The 19-year-old from Rocky Point said he used six beagles and a rifle to kill his first deer at the age of 12, but now he hunts with walkers.

"Keeps me out of trouble, and it gets me out here to watch the dogs run," he said. "It keeps me busy."

Uno -- with 666 marked on his sides -- and four other walkers set out to run, while Chase tracked them with a frequency monitor. He would pick up the location from the dogs' radio frequency collar.

Johnny Shepard and his son Colby Shepard, 21, of Jacksonville, said they have been participating in the field trial together ever since Colby was born. Shepard said he started running dogs when he was 12.

He used an antenna to pick up his three dogs' signal from their collars. Shepard said the event is fun, but he said it is all about the fundraisers.

"It's more of a fundraiser for the fire department," he said. "That's the only reason I do these trials. It's different ways for us to raise money and help out the community."