I was traveling down to Edisto Beach for the Governor’s Cup a couple of weeks ago. I usually go the back way, especially when I am pulling my boat. I don’t like to heat up the tires at interstate highway speeds and I also kind of like the back country scenery.
As I turned off of Highway 21 onto Highway 61 in Colleton County, my mind started to wander. My old hunting buddies Mike Taylor and his father Bo used to drive me down this highway when I was in junior high school to deer hunt in Ruffin. We were definitely in the minority being still hunters in the 1970s. With the exception of 500 acres of family land, all of the land on the Little Salkehatchie was leased by dog hunting clubs in those days.
Bo and Mike had CB radios, so we could keep up with what was going on around us. We didn’t consider the dog hunts as a nuisance at all. It was entertaining on those hot August days when nothing was moving on its own. It was downright thrilling during the cold winter months when a herd of deer would hurtle down the swamp toward our stands with a pack of dogs in hot pursuit.
As I traveled Highway 21, I passed the old haunts of the North Edisto Hunt Cub, The Rowesville Club, Turkey Pen, and The Ridge. Had I gotten as close as Smoaks, the Old Smoak Club and Paul Warren’s Club would have been to my right as I passed Williams. The only people we ever had trouble with were the out-of-state hunters that rented Marshall Sanders' land next door. Everyone else got along.
It was exciting driving in the twilight hours and seeing the men in campers at The Rowesville Club cooking over their open fires. It fueled the anticipation of the hunt. It added to the romance of the outdoors to listen to the grown men at the country stores talk about the monster buck that alluded them that day or perhaps left their lands and was taken on the next club.
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There was a little house off Highway 21 that had goats in the yard. If the goats were up and moving, we knew the hunting would be good. If they were laying down, we knew the deer would be doing the same.
We would stay all day regardless of the weather. After coming back from the store, we would eat Vienna sausage and crackers on the hood of our cars and catch a noon nap under the oaks before heading back out.
Many times we would walk the swamp scouting out deer paths and scrapes during the heat of the day. Sometime the odd dog that had separated from the pack would come through and we would put him in Bo’s truck and go look for the owners.
A funny thing happened in the '80s. The land lease prices skyrocketed with the realization that hunting rights were a money-making business. The old men of the midcentury died out and their lands were split up and sold. Without cheap land, the dog clubs became smaller and smaller and the parcels of land got smaller and smaller. The dog clubs often found themselves confronted with people (like me) that had sunk their life savings on a couple of hundred acres and want to hunt it alone. The excuse was always, “Dogs can’t read no trespass signs."
There are few large legitimate dog clubs left now. Most are a couple of guys in pickups driving small parcels of land. They invariably trespass and simply have to leave their dogs until the radio tracking collars notify the owners when the dogs have gotten to a public thoroughfare where they can be retrieved.
Often dog clubs now include turkey hunters and still hunters that care nothing about dog hunting deer. It is a way for the clubs to survive. I miss the men who were gentlemen and hunted in a gentlemanly manner. I miss hearing the huge packs of hounds running huge blocks of woods and tie-tie that swallow up men and harbor huge bucks.
I hate to say it, but I do miss those days. I don’t miss the confrontations that came later in life, but I do miss the romance of the old days. I guess you can’t have it both ways.