The hounds were excited, barking and baying as trucks rolled into the clubhouse yard. The dog pen was almost full with walkers, beagles, black and tans, and a good assortment of other breeds.
Some of the dog drivers who live too far out had spent the night at the clubhouse and kenneled their dogs at the club. The generator was running out in the shed and the lights were on in the big clubhouse.
Trucks loaded with hunters, young and old, were pulling in and filling the yard with an air of excitement and eager anticipation. The weather had cleared and a silver moon illuminated the grounds and the nearby Edisto River. Daylight was coming with a pink glow in the east, and the air was cool and crisp.
Jim Hagan sat at a table just inside the front door signing in members and guests on his laptop. Mr. Jim is a fairly small guy with a big handlebar mustache. He shoots a 10-gauge magnum automatic - that I swear is taller than him. He is from Hendersonville, North Carolina, and had come down Friday evening and spent the night. He’s a character, and a heck of a good guy.
There was already a pretty good crowd gathered, and more headlights were still coming down the clubhouse road. Saturdays mean “dog drives” at Buckhead Hunt Club. Dog drives need plenty of room to operate, and Buckhead has plenty of room. The club has thousands of acres of timber company land, and privately owned land, along the Edisto River. Our neighbors at Ridge Club also do Saturday dog drives.
The dog drives at Buckhead are conducted in the old-fashioned traditional manner. After a safety briefing by the hunt master, “standers” draw a numbered tag from a small box. That is their stand number, and they load onto a pickup that will transport them out to the drive area and drop them off at their stand.
After all the standers are in place, the dog drivers leave the clubhouse and go to their assigned release locations. When everyone is in place, the hounds are released and the drivers push through the thickets. The hounds will “jump” the deer and run them out to the standers. Hounds that get out of the hunt area are quickly caught up and held until the next hunt.
Most of the drives only take an hour and a half to two hours. Then the standers are collected and driven back to the clubhouse. Any deer taken on the hunt are cleaned and hung in the skinning shed before another hunt is started. There are usually two hunts before lunch.
A typical lunch would be fried pork chops, rice, field peas, macaroni, slaw, bread and iced tea. The dinner alone is worth the trip down there. There is time to rest a little after eating, while we wait on the dog men to sort out the hounds and get organized for an afternoon drive.
Similar scenes are played out at hunt clubs all over the Lowcountry. The methods will vary some, but the basic traditional hunts have been around for more than 200 years. It gets harder and harder, but I hope we can keep it going for a long time, for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.
• Dan Geddings is a native of Clarendon County currently residing in Sumter. He is employed by Sumter County as an environmental technician and The Manning Times as an outdoors writer. He is founder and president of Rut and Strut Hunting Club in Clarendon County and a member of Buckhead Hunting Club in Colleton County.