Cast & Blast

Hilton Head Christmas memories: Of ducks, horses, rattlesnakes and a child’s wonder

Collins Doughtie’s ultimate Christmas includes stone crab claws, sheepshead, oysters and, of course, his wonder dog Butterbean
Collins Doughtie’s ultimate Christmas includes stone crab claws, sheepshead, oysters and, of course, his wonder dog Butterbean Submitted photo

Does time fly or what? It seems like it was yesterday that I was talking about catching shad in the Ogeechee River, wahoo in the Gulf Stream and my obsession with flounder. Is it just me or is time really speeding up as the years go by?

I have so many Christmas memories and the most memorable have to do with the outdoors. From the time I was six years old until I was out of high school, every Christmas was spent with my family in Key Largo, Fla., fishing with Capt. Al Mendie aboard his boat the Blue Fin.

I can remember my first sailfish dancing across the waves when I was a kid, and every year after that, some other outdoor adventure became the memory that stood out for that particular Christmas.

To say I have had a good life is an understatement. My life to this point has been, well … great! Not many people I know have had the chance to grow up in a place as beautiful as I have. So what if there weren’t many kids to play with back then. Nature was my best friend and the few kids who were around shared the same passion for the outdoors.

Take the Depkin family for example — Isabel, Chris, Hal and Dickey. The owners of a stable right near where Harbour Town was built, we all would ride marsh tacky horses, a breed found only on the Sea Islands, all over Hilton Head. We could ride bareback through the woods, on the beach and never ever see a soul. Often we would ride these boney-back steeds into the waves and do battle as we did our best to knock each other off. We would have deer hunts in the middle of Sea Pines, coon hunts where Hilton Head Plantation is situated and of course, there was the old Pope Hunting Club which sat right where the Shelter Cove Mall now stands. It was pretty darn magical.

Highway 278 was two-lane and all along its length massive, live oaks lined its edges. The bridge to Hilton Head was a swing bridge and it was customary to honk at the bridge tender as you drove underneath his perch on top of the bridge.

The Hack family owned Honey Horn Plantation, now the site of the Coastal Discovery Museum, and that large field you pass was filled with cattle and horses. I can still remember the smell of hay as I would walk into their barn to see the box full of rattle snakes that Fred, Jr. and Byron Hack had caught. The closer you got to the box, the louder they rattled. And sweet Mrs. Hack always had a treat waiting for me.

As you all know by now, I have always been a fisherman but it wasn’t until I was a teen that I got into bird hunting. My first duck hunt was at Foot Point Plantation, which was owned by the Cram Family. Now Colleton River Plantation, it was some of the most beautiful land you could imagine. Dirt roads meandered through cornfields that transitioned into some of the most beautiful hardwood forests that I have ever seen. On the backside of the property, toward Port Royal Sound, were duck ponds that were duck central. Its funny that I can remember the first duck I downed was a black duck. In my minds eye, I can still see it coming over the tops of trees, wings set as I fired my dads 20-gauge double barrel shotgun. I think it was mostly luck that I got him but what made it so memorable was the fact that I didn’t have waders but I was determined to get that duck, which was, floating smack dab in the middle of the pond. It was freezing cold but even so, I trudged out into the pond and got the duck. I was hooked on wing shooting from that moment on.

Burnt Church Road was nothing more than a pothole-ridden dirt road that was used as a short cut to Bluffton High School. Our bus drivers were usually students and as students will often do, they would go a tad faster than was allowed —especially when they would disconnect the speed governor. I can remember hitting my head on the ceiling of the bus as we hit potholes not to mention driving through yards chasing chickens. It may have been reckless but it was fun!

So much has changed but that’s O.K. because I have more than enough memories to make up for the more conservative and frantic ways today.

Maybe this Christmas will bring one more memory to add to my collection of Lowcountry classics. I guess you’ll know whether Santa granted me this wish next week.

Until then, Merry Christmas!