Ducks and family fun on youth days
By Ford Walpole
Angel and Gregg Brown — who have four daughters with ages ranging from four to 22 — both work at SCDNR (South Carolina Department of Natural Resources). Angel is the supervisor for Commercial Saltwater Fishing Licensing and Permitting; in addition, she serves as the legal liaison for Law Enforcement. Gregg is a first sergeant conservation officer, or “game warden” with 23 years of service in the Lowcountry.
For the Browns, rearing their children with an appreciation for our state’s natural resources has been both deliberate and unconscious. “For us, we are just an outdoors family: We spend a lot of time in Nature, whether that is boating, hunting or fishing. That’s what we grew up doing and what we wanted our children to experience. The outdoors is what DNR is all about, and we are, quite frankly, a DNR family. The department is actually where we met. DNR’s mission is also our mission as parents — it’s all the same thread,” Angel explains.
“I wanted to be a game warden because I liked both the variety of the work and being outdoors,” Gregg says of his vocation. While on a duck hunting trip in North Dakota after college, he received a call from his mother that DNR had begun their background canvassing of Gregg’s neighbors and former employers. “It was looking like I was going to get offered a job with SCDNR as a game warden, so I was nervous the whole rest of that hunting trip!” he says.
Gregg grew up hunting marsh hens and waterfowl in the Kiawah River, and ducks in the ACE Basin. “Many mornings, several of my friends and I would be late to school at James Island High School because we went duck and dove hunting. One time, we were hunting at Mullet Hall, and we ran into our assistant principal who was also our disciplinarian. He asked us why we weren’t in school, so we asked him the same question. He smiled and told us he expected to see us in the school cafeteria at lunch!”
In promoting the outdoor tradition, Gregg takes his girls hunting any chance he can. He is committed to instilling the holistic approach of the sporting life, which includes a conservationist spirit. “So many people think hunting is about harvesting, but it’s not. It is about being in the outdoors, watching the sun rise, and seeing all of the wildlife that is native to our area in its natural habitat,” he says.
Margaret Anne, who is now 13, has been deer hunting with her father since she was eight, and she began duck hunting at 10. This year, her sister, Stella, who is eight, joined in the fun with ducks. The girls’ grandfather Allen Curry and their Uncle Nicholas Curry are members of Two Ponds Duck Club in Rimini, near Summerton. The family hunted both federal youth days on the first two Saturdays in February, which follow the close of the regular season.
In preparation for duck hunting, Gregg takes the girls marsh hen hunting. “That is a great introductory sport,” he explains. “Marsh hens are not as hard to hit, you don’t have to get up early, and it’s usually a milder climate. There is a lot of visual interaction: seeing the birds, watching the birds get up, and the kids usually get the opportunity to bag birds.”
To allow a fair rotation for duck hunters, the Two Ponds Duck Club employs a lottery system for blinds located in impoundments of flooded corn. “The club is really good with youth days,” Gregg says. “Members will reach out to families and friends and be sure to get the youth involved.”
For the past two years, the first youth day also included hunting opportunities for veterans and active military personnel, so, as a Coast Guard Reservist, Gregg took along a shotgun — to cover the girls. The occasion was even more memorable as it was also the busy father’s 50th birthday. For the Browns, the first youth day was a great hunt, and the 24-degree weather that morning made for ideal duck hunting conditions.
The family and friends hunted from a full blind with four adults and four children. “That first Saturday, we had a lot more decoying birds locked up and coming straight at us. I am really surprised we had as much success as we did because we had so many people in the blind, and it is hard to keep that many people quiet!” Gregg says. Margaret Anne and her cousin Addie hunted with 20-gauge shotguns, and they bagged green-winged teal, wigeon, gadwall, and ring-necked ducks. In all, the young people in the blind harvested 15 birds.
“What I really liked about the duck hunt was I got to hang out with my friend Walker and my cousin Addie, and we built a fire the night before,” Margaret Anne reflects. “Before the hunt, I love to see how they put out the decoys. They put coots behind the blind and the main spread in front. I like to see how they position them in our line of shooting from the blind.”
The girls also enjoy watching the dogs work. Their Uncle Nicholas has trained two Labrador retrievers. On the first hunt, he brought his yellow Lab Bullet, who stayed busy and had fun working the birds. Jake, a black lab, came for the second youth hunt. Because that equally fun experience was not as successful for ducks, “Jake just sat there being sad because he didn’t get to retrieve,” Stella says.
“I was prepared for the cold weather,” says Margaret Anne, who several years ago experienced the duck hunting rite of passage concerning leaky waders. “Towards the end of the hunt, my fingertips did get cold and start to hurt, but I was good! My dad brought Zippo hand warmers, but he left the lighter at the cabin. He also brought electric socks, but only he got to use those!”
“Stella didn’t take a gun; she was just there to observe and enjoy everything,” Gregg explains. She wore a pink hoodie underneath her hunting jacket and pink sweatpants beneath her hand-me-down waders.
“That pink outfit was comfy!” Stella says with a smile. Unfortunately, though, she only wore cotton socks, so her feet did not fare so well. “My feet were freezing, and they about fell off! At least, it felt like they were going to!” I couldn’t stand it; I was about to cry,” she says.
“It was so cold on that first hunt that blood dripped out of the green wing teal’s bill and froze,” Gregg adds. “Stella did hang in there, though; she toughed it out until 9 o’clock. The rest of us stayed out until 10:30.”
Once Stella was done, Gregg walked her back to the truck, and cranked it up so she would have heat. After she warmed up, the industrious girl quickly thought of ways to keep herself occupied. “I counted Dad’s change: He had $5.89. I ate some of his snacks and a Pop- Tart. Then, I got in the back of the truck and stood on the toolbox, so I could see everybody in the blind,” she says.
The comprehensive hunting experience often includes great food, and such was the case at Two Ponds. The night before the hunt, everybody feasted on fried fish: flounder and black drum that Nicholas had caught. Allen cooked coarse-ground grits, an authentic improvement to the essential companion to Southern fried fish. Later the next morning, ravenous young hunters were welcomed back to camp with burritos of scrambled eggs and bacon. Stella stoked the banked ashes in the fire pit, thereby completing her warming-up process. In recalling the breakfast, Margaret Anne says: “It was so good, man!”
“It was delicious!” Stella adds.
Stella has been deer and duck hunting, and Margaret Anne has hunted doves, quail, deer, and turkey. Last year, Margaret Anne harvested her first buck. Her Uncle Nicholas took her turkey hunting, a sport she is gearing up to enjoy this year: “I want to get my turkey this year!” she proclaims with confident anticipation.
“I also want to go alligator hunting, and I think it would be really cool to shoot a bobcat!” she continues. The young hunter’s sights are not limited to South Carolina game, though. “One day, I really, really want to go elk hunting,” she says.
The Brown girls vehemently object to the lingering perception that hunting and fishing are activities more appreciated by boys. “I think it’s kind of ridiculous that people would think girls don’t like to hunt!” Margaret Anne declares. “Girls actually love hunting a lot! It makes you feel more empowered and confident. After you go hunting, you realize you can do anything!”
“That’s right!” Stella agrees. “Going hunting makes you feel like you can just reach out and touch the moon!”
Though he is not in the field as often as in prior seasons, Gregg’s role as a game warden has never caused him to grow weary of outdoor pursuits; the job has always fueled his passion. “I loved working duck hunting; it was what I enjoyed the most. I just loved being out there. It never bothered me one bit to work duck hunting and turn around and go hunting the next day. Most of my co-workers knew how much I liked it, so they just let me run with it at times!” he says.
Gregg is also preparing for an upcoming dove hunting trip to Cordoba, Argentina. This lifelong dream trip will be even more rewarding since it was postponed by the pandemic. “It’s something I have always wanted to do, and I figured I had better go now before I get too old to enjoy it,” he laughs.
For many years, Gregg worked all but one weekend a month, so scheduling outdoor family activities proved challenging. “We call our life beautiful chaos,” Angel says. “There is never a dull moment!”
“It is fun getting to spend good quality time with your kids,” Gregg says of the family’s outdoor adventures. “I really enjoy watching the girls get excited about hunting. It kind of brings me back to my own childhood memories of when my father took me hunting. It’s just really nice to see their enthusiasm. To mentor my daughters and to continue on the outdoor tradition of hunting and conservation is just what it is all about!”
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 email@example.com.