Every hunt at the Middleton Hunting Club near Charleston, South Carolina, begins with one long blast blown through a cow horn. The sound, more of a low bugle, echoes through the live oaks, loblolly, and longleaf pines and across ancient rice fields. Then a trio or more of drivers on sure-footed horses—woods horses, they’re called—set off behind a pack of hounds that course through the undergrowth and among the stands of trees. The drivers encourage the dogs with whoops, hollers, and the sound of cracking whips, and the dogs talk back with an occasional bark and plenty of howling as they work the land for scent. The hunters, who have been dropped off at designated stands in the woods, listen, look, and wait. They hold shotguns and are dressed like gentlemen. This is how it has been done since the club was founded, in 1908.
The sound of the drivers and dogs is eerie, almost spooky in the early morning light. On the stand you can hear this time-honored procession of man, horse, and dog as it approaches. The drives can take place at some forty locations on 6,500 acres of Middleton and Millbrook plantations—the Catch Pen, Dug Ground, the Wedge, Rattlesnake, Spring Barrel. Nearly all of them have been hunted since the club’s inception.
The dogs and the cacophony of the drivers push the deer out ahead of them. On a good hunt, does and bucks—and the occasional wild hog—will move past the hunters. Sometimes the biggest bucks appear after the drivers have moved by a hunter, quietly slipping through the woods. Snap shots on running deer are discouraged, and there are fines for killing a doe that weighs less than seventy pounds.
When the drive is over, three long blasts are blown on the cow horn (often called a blowing or hunting horn), and every hunter with a horn relays the message throughout the woods.