Mimi Smoak: A Lowcountry Renaissance girl
By Ford Walpole
When Mimi Smoak was in elementary school, she insisted on wearing smocked dresses and bows in her hair. Despite such an appearance, she has always lived a life immune to stereotypes. “Mimi is definitely out of the box, for sure! Just when you think you’ve got her pegged, she’ll throw you a curveball; she’s done that to me her whole life!” her mother Kelly laughs.
Boys in her fourth-grade class shared stories of their first deer, so when Mimi accomplished the rite of passage that same fall, she was eager to relay her hunting tale to her class. Her principal was also a sportsman, but he had only ever seen this student when she was all decked out with a hair bow and wearing a dress. Thus, he was in disbelief to discover that this little blonde-haired girl had joined the ranks of South Carolina big-game hunters.
In fact, Mimi began deer hunting with Sam, her father, when she was only four years old. Sam recalls: “She went hunting with me for a few years before she started carrying a gun. Mimi had a camouflage bookbag, and in it, she carried crayons, colored pens, pencils and sketch pads. She was always coloring and drawing pictures. My mother was an artist, and she always encouraged Mimi to draw and paint.”
Between Sam’s detailed sporting journal and a vivid memory of a special milestone, he relays the story of Mimi’s first kill at Hicks Bottom, the family place on Yonges Island. “It was October 16, 2016. We were sitting together at the First Hill stand. The sun was going down, so it was getting dark, but you could still see. She had to go to the bathroom really badly, but I kept asking her if she could wait just a little bit longer. Finally, she said she couldn’t wait, so she put on her backpack and was getting ready to get out of the stand.
“Then, I saw the silhouette of a buck as it was coming up the hill out of the bottom. I grabbed Mimi by the backpack and put her in my lap because she couldn’t see over the railing. The buck was only about 20 yards away. She was moving the rifle around, and I could tell she couldn’t get the deer in the scope. So, I grabbed the butt of the stock to try and get it lined up for her. I could hear her take a deep breath; at that point, I knew she had the deer in her sights,” Sam continues.
“She squeezed off a shot, and the buck dropped. She shot it right behind the ear with the .22 Magnum. She had practiced shooting that gun — which does not kick at all, and she was very proficient with it. She jumped up and down and started hugging me. She was so excited! And I was, too! I wiped a little blood on her cheek, and Mr. Cordray got her again when we arrived at Cordray’s Processing. That first deer was a big, nice six-point buck; it weighed about 160 pounds,” Sam says.
To date, Mimi has harvested five deer. When she was in the sixth grade, she began hunting by herself. In those early days, her father followed her up to her stand and instructed her to wait until he came and got her and led her down the ladder.
Mimi experienced a recent successful hunt on the Sunday afternoon following Hurricane Ian. “We knew it would be a good day, since the storm had the deer moving,” she says. “We got in the stand early — at 4 p.m.” Alone, with her .243 rifle, she was hunting in the Tower Stand, a safe and sturdy, but intimidatingly high deer stand. “Around 6:15 p.m., the buck came out from behind me.” she says. “Usually, they come out from another direction. said to myself: ‘What am I going to do?’ I don’t have anywhere to rest the rifle!’
“Then, I didn’t see the buck anymore,” Mimi continues. “But I looked down, and it was right behind me, right beside the stand. Since I didn’t have a board to rest the rifle on, I shot it freehand. I was shaking a lot, but I hit the deer right below the shoulder. I saw it fall right beside the bushes, and it ran a few feet into the woods. When Dad got there, he made me drag the buck by myself, but I didn’t mind; I kind of wanted to, anyway!” Mimi laughs. “Towards the end, he helped me get it in the truck. My dad said the buck had probably lost some weight because of the rut, but it still had the biggest rack of any deer I have killed, so we had Cordray’s make a European mount,” she says.
Sam reflects on his daughter’s passion for outdoor sports: “Being the youngest, Mimi always wanted to keep up with her brothers, Preston and Cannon, and she was going to do whatever they did. She is just so competitive! After her brothers shot their first deer, she was determined to get one herself. And, she loves to go fishing — loves it!”
“I love to hunt, but then, I can still do girly stuff!” Mimi says. “Stuff doesn’t gross me out, though. I remember getting the guts put on my face in the fourth grade, and I thought that was so cool!” she declares. “When I went hunting with my dad, I always brought my brown bow with me since it matched my camouflage outfit. Before we took pictures, I made sure I brushed my hair and put in my bow. My mother loves an old picture of me playing the piano in a t-shirt that says: ‘Arise, kill, and eat!’ from Acts 10:13.”
Mimi is passionate about hunting, but she likewise commands a mature grasp of both the conservation and spiritual components of the sporting life. “I’m pretty well rounded. I’m not going to brag about my hunting accomplishments — or that I even go hunting. People know my character and know that I love to hunt, but I’m not disrespectfully obsessed with deer, and I am not going to kill a young one.
“I really enjoy just sitting in the quiet of it all, and appreciating God’s creation, and watching and listening to the wildlife. Earlier this season, I saw a double rainbow from my deer stand. My dad’s stand is far off in the corner of the same field, so we both got to see it at the same time. It’s even cool when you see deer you know you are not going to shoot, and you just get to watch them.”
Kelly describes her unique daughter. “She really is an old soul. She is very grounded — in her faith and in tradition, and she is competitive and eager to try and learn anything. She will be the first to try her hand at whatever —whether it’s an instrument, a sport, a fish or an animal. She is just so rooted. She really truly understood the respect for the animal and for the wildlife management aspect of hunting.
“At a young age, Mimi was encouraged by Sam and her brothers to be a part of the outdoor experience. Early on, she saw hunting and fishing differently — not just as a sport but as a means of providing for the family. We just raised the kids that when something is brought in from a hunt or a fishing trip, it is part of the family provisions. Before we eat, we say the blessing and give thanks for what is brought to the table — and for the hands that brought it to the table,” Kelly says.
“That’s just the way Mimi was brought up — being around hunting and fishing,” Sam adds. “That’s why God put certain animals here — for us to hunt and eat them. This family has just been doing it forever. I raised her and her brothers the same way my dad raised me and my grandfather raised him. And, I think it is an approach that is working out pretty well!”
Mimi’s outdoor pursuits are hardly limited to deer hunting. She grew up riding around on the golf cart at her grandfather’s farm — feeding the chickens, sheep, goats, donkeys, horse and cows. She loves throwing the cast net off his dock and fishing in the creek. She has hunted doves and turkeys, and she recently accompanied friends on a successful bear hunt in the mountains. In a few weeks, the family will hunt quail and ducks during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Mimi rattles off her hunting bucket list: “One day, I want the opportunity to hunt elk, moose, caribou and maybe even a grizzly bear. I also would like the chance to get a hog and a turkey; I have been turkey hunting, but we haven’t gotten one close enough for me to shoot.”
Kelly comments on her daughter’s adventurous ambitions: “Mimi certainly hasn’t given up her femininity for her love of the sport. Her healthy dose of competition with her brothers and love of the outdoors will always be a strong thread in the fabric of her life, alongside her love of sugar, spice and all things nice!”
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.
Photo 1: Young Mimi posing with a deer after brushing her hair and putting in a bow.
Photo 2: Young Mimi and her father Sam on a cold morning hunt.
Photo 3: Mimi and Sam at Cordray's in 2016 with her first deer.
Photos 4&4B: September. Two views of a double rainbow from Mimi’s and Sam’s deer stands.
Photo 6: Mimi (sporting Oystaflage Camo) and Sam at Cordray’s on October 2, 2022 with her buck.