By Ford Walpole

The Cajun comedian Justin Wilson tells a story of a passionate duck hunter from Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. The sportsman approached the sheriff and asked if the lawman could give the residents one more month to hunt ducks. “What you gonna name it?” came the sheriff’s reply, “Look. You hunt ‘em 12 months in the year now; if you get a new month, you gotta get a new name for it!”

The tale speaks to another time: when game was plentiful and hunters few and the need for a conservation ethic was not as evident in a sparsely populated South. Such was certainly the case in sleepy old Charleston, a town where laws historically were somewhat akin to suggestions and indeed, seemed to welcome challenging opportunities for mischief.

I recently traveled to Wadmalaw Island to visit John Hope in the cottage where he dwells on Rosebank Plantation. John, a consummate raconteur, spun yarns of outdoor exploits during the mid-to-late 1950s, most of which were illegal but all of which were in good fun.         

In those days, the lake on present-day Lockwood Drive served as the yacht basin for the Charleston Yacht Club. It was fed by a channel to the Ashley across that current street. In the basin, a couple of John’s friends — who will remain nameless — kept round-bottomed wooden boats powered by outboards. The area across from the Coast Guard base (later filled in as a field where I practiced football for Bishop England High School) was a salt marsh lake known as Jasper Acres.

“One of those boys had a Weimaraner named Tiny, probably the first one in Charleston; Tiny was a great duck dog. We’d leave the yacht basin, head in the Ashley and slide in the marsh at the edge of Jasper Acres and shoot ducks in the pond. It had plenty of black ducks, mallards and mergansers.”

Hope recalls the strategy of the downtown sportsmen. “We always stayed on the marsh side towards the harbor because we never knew who might come after us. The people in the houses knew who we were, though I’m not sure if that was a plus or a minus. The police didn’t have any boats back then and the game wardens were working the country areas. The policeman would wait for us at the yacht basin, so we’d run on up the Ashley to the old railroad trestle and shoot river ducks.

John, who hasn’t taken a drink in decades, describes the time-forgotten scene: “We drank liquor and waited him out; we always drank liquor but probably had a little bit more when we had to wait out the police. None of the boats had registration numbers back then, but everybody knew who we were and who owned the boats. If we had gotten caught, we might have had to go before Student Willcox, the traffic court judge. Student was a law partner with my Uncle Scruggs Hope and Ben Scott Whaley.” On occasion, Judge Willcox was compelled to counsel John and his friends so as to encourage future good behavior. (The advice never stuck.)

I know some other anonymous islanders who harvested ducks and Canada geese over Colonial Lake, but John and his friends were leery of that setting and its poor opportunity for a quick retreat. “We didn’t have much sense, but we had a little bit better sense than to give Colonial Lake a shot.”

            An early 1960s headline in The News and Courier read “The Mystery of the Hampton Park Ducks.” Every fall, the park’s ducks disappeared only to return later that winter. Of course, wise historian Mr. Hope sheds light on the mystery. “Those mallard ducks were pretty tame, so just before duck season, one of us waded in the water and herded the ducks towards the bridge. We’d have somebody else on top of the bridge with a cast net.” The Hampton Park ducks spent duck season feasting on cracked corn on a plantation north of Charleston. For the duration of the season, the waterfowl served as successful live decoys before their eventual enigmatic reentry to the city park.

John’s father, Dr. Robert Meek (Bob) Hope, owned Secessionville on James Island, Red House on Wadmalaw and a beach house on Sullivan’s Island, all of which provided young John opportunities for outdoor recreation and creative mischief. Shortly before John entered the United States Army, he reckoned his upcoming service to the federal government should more than compensate for his violating a hunting law.

“I went to a hay and grain store where Daddy had an account and I charged 500 pounds of parrot seed; it was the most expensive seed they had! I went out to Red House and ‘a Wadmalaw farmer’ drove the tractor while I broadcast the seed. Three days later, we had so many doves, you didn’t even need a shotgun to shoot them; you could have taken a broom handle and hit as many birds as you wanted!”

John and his posse often met up in the afternoons following their sporting activities. “We celebrated our good and bad hunts at the old Charleston Yacht Club. These celebrations always involved beer can races on the dirt road in front of the Yacht Club.” Sportsmen placed beer cans on the road and advanced them forward with shotgun blasts. “If your beer can crossed the finish line, you had to buy everybody a round, so nobody wanted to win.”

The gentlemen instead cast birdshot in the air and pellets landed on the tin roof of the old yacht basin office. “A fella we called ‘Kansas’ came out of the office raising hell at us. He called the police, who gathered at the head of Calhoun Street, threw on the red lights and hollered at us. But they didn’t dare come down that road with eight or ten of us armed with shotguns. We never got in any trouble and nobody ever got hurt!” John chuckles.

Jasper Acres was filled in before the days of wetlands and marshland conservation prevented such practices. So considering this reality, another incident in Rockville, while hardly legally sound, might be considered creative and beneficial. You see, “Breakfast Creek ran right next to the Hall,” or the Sea Island Yacht Club. “It would be dark and people were having fun and too many people kept running their cars off the bank and into the edge of the creek.”

One Saturday night after the regatta or rather early one Sunday morning, “Oliver Epps, Ollie Seabrook, Ephie Whaley and I were sitting on the porch of the Hall. At the time, Oliver was mining fill dirt, so he happened to have dynamite in his truck. We went out into the marsh and planted dynamite where we thought Breakfast Creek ought to run.” Sure enough, Breakfast Creek changed course and after this gesture of public service, folks haven’t had as much difficulty navigating the channel via automobile.

The engineering feat was not unnoticed, though. In those days, the Hall was painted none too frequently and was more likely to receive an occasional whitewash. The clapboard siding and roof became accented with pluff mud and throughout the village of Rockville, “people thought the world was ending!”

In some ways, the world was ending. Many of John’s comrades have since been sown into our Lowcountry soil. The new world is tamer and more regulated, but the old world of John Hope’s youth beckons the wilder outdoor spirit that burns deep within us all. (A spirit that, in today’s world, had better adhere to the SCDNR Rules & Regulations!)

 

Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

           

           

 

Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:

Burbage's

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Harris Teeter, Houston-Northcutt Blvd. (Rack)

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