Four generations of furthering the outdoors
By Ford Walpole
As the wild places of the Lowcountry face increasing pressure, the tradition of passing on the outdoors way of life is an increasingly challenging feat. When Rah Rah Smith grew up on James Island during the 1940s and 1950s, life was simpler, and the island was more rural. A young cousin who couldn’t muster Smith’s real name Robert, assigned him with the upbeat nickname that reflects his personality.
“I grew up on James Island hunting rabbits and squirrels. My friend Howard Mixon and I hunted a lot in Dr. Daniel Ellis’s woods — from Ellis Creek down to Harbor View Road. We went to church with Dr. Ellis, so we knew the family well. Back then, everybody on James Island knew each other. If you got in trouble, your parents knew about it before you got home!” he says.
“We would call Mrs. Ellis and ask her permission to hunt the place, and she would always say: ‘Boys you are welcome to come, and you know the rules. There are no fires, and you know where to park, and be sure to behave!’ We hunted everything on James Island: quail, doves, ducks — just about anything that showed up. With all the open fields in those days, we hardly ever saw deer, though.”
In his adult years, Smith turned his sporting interests to still-hunting for deer. He explored friends’ lands that spanned Charleston County from the southern end to the northernmost point. Five years ago, Smith purchased his own hunting property in Cottageville. The 58-acre tract includes four deer stands, a two-acre pond, a cook shed, and a fifth-wheel camper.
Smith’s grandsons, Rah-Lee Hunt and Logan Davis grew up hunting with him. Hunt’s real name is also Robert, and his own nickname is a tribute to his grandfather. He reflects on Rah Rah’s influence: “PaPa always kept us in the outdoors and in the woods and kept us out of daycare. He gave Logan and me pocketknives when we were both way too young to have them! He kept them for us and let us take them when we were hunting or fishing with him. We used to carve knives out of sticks. At different times, Logan and I both cut ourselves with our knives so bad that we needed stitches. Logan’s mother still laughs that PaPa brought him home with a McDonald’s napkin wrapped around his cut finger.”
The boys spent their childhood crabbing and fishing off Rah Rah’s James Island dock on Lighthouse Creek. “He took us in the jon boat, but he always showed us how to do all the work so that we could learn. We called him the world’s best supervisor! We are blessed that we had that opportunity. We needed him, and he needed us, and he always had activities for us to do — the same sort of things that he grew up doing, too.
“PaPa carried on the tradition of hunting with us through high school and college and after. It’s just very special that when he retired, he decided to invest in the land in Cottageville for his family — grandchildren and great-grandchildren — to enjoy, and to continue the outdoors tradition — to start it all over. It was really a big deal for the whole family.” Besides hunting and fishing, the recreational land is home to an annual skeet shoot, for which Rah Rah prepares a feast.
This past winter, Smith organized a four-generation-deep hunt. Rah-Lee and his three-year-old son Lee traveled to Hunt’s father-in-law Eddie Porcher’s property in Olar. Lee got to experience a deer hunt, a big meal, and a night in the cabin with his father, grandfather, and both great-grandfathers: Rah Rah Smith and Joel Porcher.
Lee received a hunting outfit for the occasion, and he was so excited that he started dancing in his new duds in the parking lot. He accompanied his father in the stand and brought along an unloaded BB gun. The boy lasted a full 30 minutes on the hunt. “Taking young children hunting is kind of like taking them to church,” Rah-Lee laughs. “They don’t like it at first, and they have a hard time being quiet, but they get used to it!
“I want to get Lee outdoors and separate him from the day-to-day society so he can have a place to escape to and shut off the outside world. Logan and I want to keep the tradition of keeping our boys outdoors and playing in the dirt. We enjoy getting people together and showing them that outdoor experience. I also want to help Lee to develop a respect for the land and its wildlife,” Hunt says.
“I always told my mom that the best thing about growing up hunting wasn’t about shooting anything,” he explains. “My favorite part is listening to the old men. I loved being with Logan in the back seat and cracking up laughing listening to PaPa and Uncle Furman Baggott. I loved hearing about them growing up in the same place we grew up — but it is not really the same place where they grew up. They hunted where the James Island Lowe’s is now, and they used to park on the side of Highway 17 and walk out into the marsh and shoot ducks.
“A big part of carrying on the tradition is that a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to go out in the woods and work and hunt and carry on the outdoors tradition. I am 33 and Logan is 31, but our 81-year-old grandfather will outwork both of us!”
Rah-Lee recently took his son to Cottageville for a workday, to help with cutting trees, clearing roads, and cutting grass. Lee rode on the tractor and fished the pond. “He just wants to be right in the middle of everything!” his father says. Lee and Logan’s son Henry share the same age gap as their fathers, who hope the boys will likewise grow up in the outdoors as best friends.
This past weekend, Hunt held a father-son campout at the Cottageville property. Eight fathers and nine children, all ranging in ages between three and five, enjoyed spending time in nature. Activities included pond fishing, BB gun shooting with a Top Gun award, hiking through the woods, s’mores around the fire, and plenty of good food. Rah-Lee ordered trophies with fish engraved on them, awards ostensibly for the children but actually for the fathers — just for surviving the weekend.
“The campout really began as a tradition with my grandfather,” Hunt explains. “When we were young, PaPa took us camping at a friend’s property that bordered the Francis Marion National Forest. It was called Rah Rah’s Squirrel Tournament, even though we never actually hunted any squirrels. He and Uncle Furman put it on, and he even had monogrammed camouflage hats made. I am getting chills just thinking about it!
“It grew to between 50 to 80 people; everybody wanted to be a part of it. We shot BB guns when we were little, graduated to paintball and later shotguns and .22 rifles. People brought Go-Karts and four-wheelers. We cooked out and had a big bonfire. With this recent campout in Cottageville, we are trying to recycle what we grew up doing,” Hunt recalls.
“Our granddad took us everywhere hunting when we were growing up,” Rah-Lee goes on. “So, my cousin Logan and I wanted to plan a family trip to return the favor to PaPa. In September, we’re taking him on a dove hunting trip to Argentina that I bid on at the East Cooper Ducks Unlimited Oyster Roast,” Hunt explains.
“I am old-school; I just want to be with all of my family,” Rah Rah Smith says as he reflects on his dedication to passing on the outdoor tradition. “Family always comes first, and I enjoy being with those kids — they take over your whole world. You just want to be with them and just enjoy them. Sometimes, after a couple of hours, you might want to move on, but you still love it!”
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.