A South Carolina Fall Tradition-Deer Hunting With Dogs
Here we are, another deer season creeping up on us in the lowcountry of South Carolina. Even though the summer sun is still hot enough to try to run you back to the refuge of the air conditioner by mid-morning, those of us that love hunting with deer dogs are eagerly waiting for that first weekend in August when we'll once again gather to hear the chorus of hound music-and hopefully put a nice buck on our tailgate.
This mounting excitement, a feeling I've been privileged enough to feel every July for the greater portion of my adult life, had me thinking about "wasted shells" last weekend as I was going about my normal routine in my kennels. I have sure enough slung some buckshot throughout my years of dog hunting that didn't connect with its intended target. I killed my first deer on a dog drive, and Lord willing that's how I'll kill my last one-but I'd be lying if I didn't say that there have been (and there will continue to be) a number of misses in between.
What Do We Love About Deer Hunting With Dogs?
There's no need in me fretting over those "wasted shells." More than representing a deer that got past me to run another day, those shells stand for years of camaraderie. Behind those empty shells are nights laughing with friends that became family, and shared meals on Thanksgiving before we headed out to turn the dogs loose. They bring to mind rolling my eyes when a couple kids would want to ride along, but becoming a second mama (or fun older sister) to them when they became teenagers. We slung some of those wasted shells together.
Some of those shells represent the first deer a favorite dog jumped alone...and unfortunately, some of them represent the last time I ever heard some of my best giving mouth during the chase. Years later I can still close my eyes and remember what they sounded like running-the bawl mouth Walker gyp that would hit a cold trail, then the tenor mouth July's chiming in to indicate that something was on the hoof and it was time to get the gun up.
Deer Hunting With Dogs-What It's REALLY About.
Those empty shells represent the loving arms of friends wrapped around my shoulders after pulling back up at the clubhouse with a fallen dog on the tailgate. On a happier note, they also represent a cluster of encouraging faces sporting our club shirts and cheering me on when I'd show hounds at Grand American each year. Behind all those wasted shells was a group of men who took me in and taught me so much about dog hunting-they believed in me, pushed me out of my comfort zone, and respected my own knowledge but were always there to lend a helping hand when needed. They made a girl who had never experienced any sort of hound hunting until I walked into the woods on my first dog drive a "dog man."
That group of men never told me I was incapable of doing anything I set my mind to. I distinctly remember the first time I was faced with being the sole person in charge of our pack. I was sent down the road with a box full of dogs that in all actuality I knew like the back of my hand, a bag full of telemetry collars and tracking box, and a couple Garmin Astro collars I insisted on using on the dogs I was particularly fond of. A sheet of pink notepad paper listed all the dogs with their corresponding tracking numbers. As a matter of fact, although those dogs are no longer with me, that piece of paper still resides in my truck-a reminder of that first time I summoned all of my courage and put trust in myself, my dogs, and my friends to get us all safely home after the last drive.
Deer Hunting With Dogs-More Than A Sport. It's Family.
I don’t recall any shells being wasted that day. What I do recall is gaining a few grey hairs when two of my best dogs got out of pocket straight out of the first drive, and my friends’ laughter over the fact that the dogs chose that particular day to power drive a deer clear across Highway 78 right off the rip. I managed to get the whole pack rounded up, and we ended up having a fantastic day of hunting. What I realized as the sun set that day was that I was the only person who doubted I could handle it all on my own. From that day forward I’ve never worried about striking out alone with a box full of my dogs. My friends taught me almost everything I needed to know, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.
Life is a series of winding dirt roads, and one of those roads eventually took me away from that little Branchville, South Carolina dog club that, whether they know it or not, changed my life in insurmountable ways. I think of my dear friends and the fun we had there often. You might be a dog hunter when one of the worst parts of a changed relationship is having to start over with a new hunting "family!"
I'll keep slinging buckshot at deer with a pack of dogs behind them as long as I'm able. But I'll never fret over the wasted shells, and I hope you won't either. We can always buy more buckshot, but the laughs, the fellowship, the dogs, the memories...all of those things are priceless. You see, those shells weren’t really wasted at all.
This one goes out to all of my dear friends at Rose Hill Hunt Club in Branchville, South Carolina. Rose Hill will always be my "home club."
You can find this piece in Southern Hound Hunting Magazine. Be sure to subscribe so you can enjoy articles and photos encompassing all avenues of dog hunting in every single issue. Click their logo below to visit them on the web and subscribe!
You can find my words and my work as a South Carolina hunting dog photographer in most issues.