A family legacy of duck hunting
By Ford Walpole
When Scott Farfone and his wife Dottie were still dating, the young woman invited her boyfriend to spend Thanksgiving at her family’s farm in McCall. But his immediate reply was: “Honey, I would love to, but that’s the opening week of duck season.”
“Well, that’s what we do — we go duck hunting!” Dottie assured him, referring to duck hunting traditions with her father Charles Love, who recently passed away.
Upon this news, Scott quickly thought to himself: “I’m going to have to marry this girl!”
Scott recalls duck hunting with his own father, when he was a young boy. “We were on the eastern shore of Maryland on the Chesapeake. It was freezing! The wind was whipping, but it was an epic duck hunt.”
Off and on for the past 20 years, Scott has been attending duck hunts at the South Carolina Waterfowl Association’s Wildlife Education Center near the community of Remini and Lake Marion. The association is one of the organizations the Farfones support through Dottie’s Pharmacy, their family business.
Scott appreciates the “SCWA’s work with youth camps — Camp Woodie and Camp Leopold — and their commitment to offer scholarships to underprivileged children. “It is really cool for a private hunting organization to be that committed,” he explains. “Some of these kids who attend their camps have hardly ever been outdoors. The Waterfowl Association offers a life-changing experience. It opens doors to a whole new world some of these children otherwise probably never would experience.”
Besides offering camp scholarships, the SCWA raises money to fund and ever-improve the camp experience. Right now, they’re finishing up a new dining hall. The property also includes a pond, recreational grounds and impressive camp facilities. “The place has grown exponentially, Scott continues. “They partner with landowners and help manage their land. Their forte is the camps.” The Farfones’ daughter Brooke has attended Camp Woodie for several years. The boys were all set to go to camp this past summer until Covid-19 interrupted the event.
As sporting enthusiasts, the Farfones endeavor to pass on the hunting tradition to their own children. “The old saying is so true, Scott relays: “If you take your kids hunting, you will never be hunting your kids.”
This year, the Farfones won a hunt on the SCWA property. Brooke has accompanied her parents on past hunts, but this was the first duck hunt for Rivers and Jackson, their eight-year-old twins. The boys did not learn of the opportunity until the night before because “they wouldn’t have slept for weeks” if they had known about it.
Their father laughs: “Oh, my gosh. The boys jumped up at 4:30 a.m. They couldn’t wait to put on that camo and wear it all day long!” This year, the boys did not wield guns, but they will next year. “This was their opportunity to observe, understand and learn what a duck hunt is all about; this was all about sharing shared experiences with family.”
The raised duck blinds are out in the impoundment and you ride in a jon boat to access the blind, which the family of five shared together. “My favorite part was pulling up in the boat and seeing the blind!” Rivers tells us.
Initially, Scott did not have high hopes for this year’s hunt. It was 48 degrees when they woke up and reached 60 by hunt’s end. “But when the sun broke that horizon, you started to feel the wind at your back and at that moment, I knew it was going to be a great hunt!” He optimistically realized.
Scott continues, relaying the events of the morning: “First, you get to hear the birds just before the sun breaks. As you watch the sunrise over the horizon, the gentle light starts to cover the area and the birds get active and begin to move around.
“It was special — looking at Jackson’s and Rivers’ eyes opened as wide as they can be. The boys were in awe watching all of this happen. It was great hearing them say: ‘Daddy, there’s one,’ right before they watched me drop the bird and saw the dog dive to retrieve the bird. It was 1,000 times better than any video game could ever be.”
Brooke loved watching Boomer “retrieve the ducks and seeing how proud he was.” Jackson enjoyed “being concealed in the blind and seeing Daddy shoot the first duck.”
Scott goes on: “The birds were going crazy; it was unbelievable! A pair of mallards were flying over. I picked out the drake. When I shot, the mallard folded and slammed right into the boat — which I have never seen before,” Scott says. The family limited out, harvesting mallards, spoonbills, ring-necks and wood ducks.
During lulls in the hunt, Scott knew the twins “were starting to get antsy.” He noticed their spent shells landed beside old ones on the floor of the blind and quickly devised an activity. Most of the shells were 12 gauge, but some were 20 gauge. Some were two and three-quarters inches long and others were three inches. “I got the boys to start color-coordinating the shells and organizing them according to size. They had a blast and it was a game related to the hunt.”
A Southern hunt never truly ends, as reflection and conversation ensure its endurance. “Of course, afterwards,” Scott explains, “the icing on the cake — no pun intended — was the after-hunt hearty breakfast. We had eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits and gravy in the dining hall. That’s when we were able to have a conversation with the kids about the whole experience: the morning, the birds, the dogs — everything.” Dottie remarked how much she loved sharing the hunting experience with her husband and their children.
Afterwards, the boys saw the camp and met Val Elliott, chief operations officer for the SCWA. Elliott asked the boys: “Aren’t y’all excited to come to camp here?”
The twins quickly responded with anticipation: “Yes! Tonight?!” They assured their parents: “Y’all can just leave us here!”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.