Southeastern Wildlife Exposition comes to Butterfield: Embracing a proper Lowcountry adventure outdoors
By Ford Walpole
This past fall I had the pleasure of helping guide a weekend of hunting at Butterfield, a veritable outdoors oasis in Allendale along the Savannah River. I jump at any chance to visit this wonderful property, a place where work seems more like play, and for an outdoor writer like me, the opportunity to hang out with a kindred spirit like John Powell, president of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE), was an added bonus. Powell brought along his friend Sam Powell (no relation). Dr. John Walters, who serves on the SEWE board of directors and his daughter Parker, who works at SEWE, made the trip in their Cessna 172 and landed nearby at the Allendale County Airport.
Powell’s introduction to Butterfield was “happenstance, really,” he explains. “A friend had purchased the hunt at Butterfield, and he was unable to go. We discussed it over a beer and knowing my wife’s connection to this place, I knew before he told me the price that I was going to have to get it.”
John’s wife, Davy, “spent her first few years at Butterfield, when my father-in-law, Gess Way, worked as manager for the Perdue family. He had not returned to the property until we visited a few weeks before my official weekend. I think for someone that worked so closely with the land, it was likely oddly familiar,” he says.
Davy reflects on the experience, which included getting a special photograph of her daughter Caroline at the very farmhouse gate where her own picture was taken years ago: “It was an extraordinary experience to step foot onto Butterfield 33 years later alongside my husband and one-year-old daughter,” she says.
“The weekend was incredible for many reasons: The beautiful landscape, the friendly staff and the fantastic hunting,” Davy reflects. “But above all, I will cherish the full-circle moment of being back on the property I lived on for the first year and a half of my life. I could not help but imagine how those woods and my earliest memories there shaped my lifelong love for the outdoors, and how I hope that appreciation will be passed down to our daughter.”
Considering his position with SEWE, it is fitting that John is a lifelong outdoorsman and he also felt right at home during his stay at Butterfield. Powell was raised “hunting and fishing in Eastern North Carolina,” he said. “When I was a young boy, my grandfather had Brittany spaniels, but since he only hunted wild birds, I never walked the fields with him. He did, however, start our family tradition of hunting at North State Game Club in Council, North Carolina, where I am a third-generation member and have hunted for over 35 years. It is where I learned about deer hunting and the traditions that have lasted there since men gathered on the same spot since the late 1800s. I also grew up fishing off the shore of Morehead City with my father and brothers and still enjoy any opportunity. I love being outdoors and do both any chance I get.”
Clearly, the lifestyle of the outdoors complements Powell’s duties with SEWE. “It gives me a unique perspective on the wide range of attendees we have at SEWE. While what knowledge I have of wildlife art and event planning have evolved over my time at SEWE, my perspective on the outdoors and conservation started when I was a young boy — I just did not know it at the time. And while it too has evolved while I’ve been at SEWE, I have always loved wildlife and the outdoors.”
Powell reflects on the therapeutic aspect of outdoor endeavors, “the ability to disconnect and truly focus on the conversation, on the experience, and to be with the people you care about away from the things that keep us apart.” And a weekend at Butterfield proves the ideal setting for such retreat and renewal.
Once you have visited this impressive farm — with its structures, grounds, and beautiful natural habitat — a return trip to Butterfield feels like a spiritual homecoming, a recurring theme at this unique property. In recent years, Dr. Charles Campbell, the great-grandson of the original owner bought back the place and began the Butterfield upfit. The main house has been restored to its original pristine condition after its initial construction in 1929. The outdoors-conscious cooking shed features heart-pine walls and counters, tractor-seat stools, a brick floor and restaurant-grade appliances. A syrup kettle fire pit invites guests to warm themselves, relax and enjoy camaraderie.
“The main house was beautiful and very picturesque,” Parker says of Butterfield. “However, the cook shed was where I spent most of my free time; it’s the perfect hangout spot. We ate all our meals here — Delia, the chef, is amazing! We stayed up a little too late around the fire. It’s easily the place where the best stories are swapped after a fun hunt and a few beers. My dad and I were lucky enough to go with a great group of people who made our time there even more enjoyable.”
Nearby outbuildings include the farmhouse, the birdhouse, the bunkhouse, an office, barn, tractor sheds, dog kennels and a quail pen. Improvements to structures and the land are constantly occurring on this bustling yet tranquil farm.
Here at Butterfield, the experience is full of fine dining, touring the expansive dirt roads by mule-drawn wagon and jeeps, hiking or biking trails and roads, fishing, rifle-sighting and target shooting at the range, enjoying the sporting clays course and of course, hunting. The diverse topography of Butterfield’s 1,800 acres is one of rolling hills beneath a canopy of pines above the quail woods, hay fields, wildlife food plots, cypress swamps, ponds and a secluded river cabin along the banks of the Savannah River. “We were given the grand tour, and the entire property is like something out of an old movie. From the gigantic cypress trees to the dock at the river cabin overlooking the Savannah River to the quiet woods sitting in the deer stand, Butterfield is perfect!” Parker adds.
A Butterfield quail hunt introduces guests to the historic sporting experience of riding in a mule-drawn wagon. John appreciates the cultural and historic traditions of such Southern outdoor pursuits. “We are fortunate when we get a glimpse of how others have hunted for generations,” he says. His friend Sam seconded this sentiment, stating: “It is like going back in time, and for me, to be able to hunt with good friends in this beautiful setting is the reason we take to the woods.”
“I have quail hunted with my dad frequently, but our hunt at Butterfield has to be the most memorable due to the easy-going environment and friendly faces,” Parker says. “I love quail hunting and sitting on the front of the buggy watching the dogs work was a one-of-a-kind experience. The feeling of being truly immersed in the hunt, riding in the front was truly unique. Riding is much better than walking, anyway! I know I asked Porter a million questions about the dogs, the quail and the property — he had an answer for everything.”
A sojourn at Butterfield is like spending a weekend with old friends. Manager Keith Smith epitomizes both the Southern gentleman and the Renaissance man — besides his role at the farm, he serves as probate judge and also owns a funeral home as well as a grave-digging business. A true raconteur, Keith captivates visitors with his tales about the colorful history and culture of this place and its environs.
The Butterfield experience truly is a family affair; Smith’s sons Duncan and Porter inherited their father’s gift for spinning yarns, and both contribute substantially to the well-oiled machine that is Butterfield. As an NRA-certified shooting instructor, Duncan educates Butterfield’s guests on hunter safety, oversees activities and offers strategies and techniques at the sporting clays course and the rifle range. Lessons such as these are just one of the many reasons Parker looks forward to a return visit: “Duncan taught me a few things that I have used against my cousins in a few shooting competitions and I hope to go back so he can give me some more professional tips on the skeet range,” she says.
Porter is the dog whisperer; he oversees the quail hunts and works the aristocratic canines that point and flush the birds. He is also a passionate lifelong and coon hunter — he and his valuable hounds have received prestigious accolades in this endeavor. “I can honestly say the coon hunt has become one of my favorite hunts of all time,” Parker Walters says. “The staff at Butterfield made it all the better! Hearing Flint once he tracked a raccoon was slightly eerie sounding, but then the hunt began, and we were off! Tramping through the woods and finally spotting the raccoon was the best part,” she says, adding: “I think my dad was scared of the redneck he created after seeing the smile on my face when I nailed it on my first shot!”
“At Butterfield, the emphasis is on tradition, fellowship, being together outdoors and there is a bend in the schedule so that the pace is set by the visitor and no one else,” John Powell says. “It is a special place, where Keith and all involved treat you like family. It is not just a hunting excursion, but an experience that is meant to be shared as a group at a place with a special history.”
Be sure to stop by the Butterfield booth at SEWE. To arrange a visit to Butterfield for your family or group, call Keith Smith at (803) 300-7634 and check out https://www.butterfield1929.com/.
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