Memory of successful hunt lasts a lifetime

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comAugust 27, 2012 

Thanks to Ralph Davis of Beaufort for sharing his essay on deer hunting in the Lowcountry.

Ralph, 83, is a native of Wadmalaw Island south of Charleston. He moved to Beaufort in 1957. He was principal of Beaufort Junior High School and a Laurel Bay school for military children. Many years ago, Ralph wrote an outdoors column for a now defunct Beaufort newspaper.

He's been hunting the barrier islands with Pierre McGowan of St. Helena Island and others since 1965.

This essay is about hunting on Kiawah Island, site of the recent $8 million PGA Championship major golf tournament. Ralph hunted there from 1936 to 1940. This event took place in 1940.

"The Buck Stops Here"

By Ralph Davis

My Uncle Eugene loved to go deer hunting. Well, not exactly. To be more honest, he liked going for the comradeship and liquor drinking. He never shot a deer in his life. Well, except once, and herein lies the story.

The hunt was on Kiawah Island, but we always pronounced it "Kee-War." At that time only one family lived there. Charlie Scott was lord and master of this beautiful, remote barrier island. He owned three marsh tacky horses, 20 or so dogs and had almost as many children.

Once a year my grandfather would accept an invitation to hunt on that huge island paradise. It was the hunt of the year for the Davis clan. Sons, grandsons, relatives and friends would all go over by boat and spend several days.

I do not remember deer being as plentiful as they are now. In spite of Charlie Scott's knowledge of the island, experienced dogs and drivers and a large number of standers, the hunters seldom were able to outwit more than two or three bucks. Everybody knew better than to shoot a doe. If you did, accidentally or otherwise, you would never be invited again. My grandfather was that way.

Back to Uncle Eugene. He always went along as the designated cook. He and a friend, Mott Beckett, would keep the campfire burning, barbecue venison and a coon or two and gather a few bushels of oysters. A huge iron pot of rice was always available for man and dogs and, of course, gallons of hot, strong coffee simmered continuously on the edge of the hot coals. It was strong and hot enough to take the hair right off a careless dog's back.

It was still dark on that October morning when men and boys crawled out from under a few thin blankets to thaw out on black coffee and wolf down eggs, grits and slabs of salt pork.

Soon everyone was off on the hunt -- everyone, that is, except Uncle Eugene and Mott. After straightening up the camp, they sat on a driftwood log by the fire and did the things they liked best, planning jokes to play on the others and passing bottles back and forth.

By mid-morning, they knew it was time to scrounge up the evening meal. There wasn't any venison in the camp, and they needed something to go with that rice. They decided to pay Charlie Scott's house a visit. A deal was made with Charlie's wife: two fat hens for $2.

It wasn't long after returning to camp that they had those two old hens plucked and in the pot. An onion or two and salt pork finished out the ingredients for a fine chicken stew.

After passing the bottle a few more times, they began to watch for the arrival of the cold and hungry hunters.

Uncle Eugene thought he caught a glimpse of movement a long way down the beach. As the distant speck grew in size, he and Mott suddenly realized they were watching a huge, eight-point buck making his escape by running up the beach just below the sand dunes.

Uncle Eugene grabbed for his old Iver Johnson double-barreled shotgun. For the first time in years -- and the first time ever for a deer -- it would be fired. He prayed that the Damascus soft-steel barrels would hold together.

The buck continued to close the distance. The east wind kept him from scenting Uncle Eugene, the whiskey or the stewing chicken. When the range closed to about 30 steps, the hammer on the left barrel dropped. When the smoke cleared, there lying on the beach only a few yards from the camp was the biggest, finest and only deer my Uncle Eugene ever killed.

The event naturally called for a celebration, and the bottle was again passed a number of times between the two old friends.

When the unsuccessful hunting party returned, things had quieted down. Uncle Eugene, Mott, an old, exhausted hound and a huge buck all were stretched out on the sand around the fire. Grandpa swore it took a lot of prodding with a stick to determine which were alive and which were dead.

I heard both my uncle and my grandpa tell this story many times. I am sure it was Uncle Eugene's most exciting Lowcountry adventure. He proudly hung the antlers and the gun over the fireplace, where they remained until his death many years later.

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