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Faces: The Sporting Life

The great outdoors calls, and these three answer.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff

It’s been said that the Lowcountry is a sporting paradise. We’re not sure who said it, but we certainly wouldn’t deign to argue with them. After all, this is a place where year-round pleasant temperatures allow for the pursuit of outdoor passions no matter what the calendar shows. This is a place of wide-open spaces, where meandering tidal creeks weave through marshes. Where rolling fields of freshly manicured grass stretch to the treeline without interruption.

The further afield you go, the more you see the Lowcountry’s bucolic splendor open up before you. And with that rustic beauty comes the outdoor sports that define them. Horseback riding. Fishing. Hunting. If it fills your lungs with fresh air and your veins with the excitement of the pursuit, you’ll find no finer place to pursue those passions than right here in the Lowcountry. Here are three locals who are living that outdoor life and loving every minute of it.

Alison Melton

High on Her horse

For Alison Melton, riding a horse isn’t just a hobby. In fact, it’s bigger than a passion.

For Alison Melton, it’s a release. It’s a few hours she can reduce her hectic, Type-A world to the simple act of bonding with her horse Trendy. She can feel the rush of wind, hear the stomp of hooves on grass and experience total freedom.

Ultimately, horseback riding has come to mean many things to this busy Realtor, wife and mom. But sometimes it boils down to one simple yet inflexible rule of the sport: No phones allowed.

“I’ve taken calls in the barn, but I’m not allowed to ride with my phone,” she said, adding, “Although sometimes it’s been in my pocket and, yes, I did get calls.”

The constant phone calls are a given. During the course of our interview she swiped away at least three incoming calls, taking one that was urgent. At its conclusion, she found an inbox stuffed with leads. It’s a frenzied pace of life that might seem at odds with the generally relaxed Lowcountry lifestyle, but it’s still worlds away from the life Melton once lived.

“Working on Wall Street… I had clients in Brazil and if no one showed up for a meeting I set up for them, they’d be calling and emailing me at 5:30 or 6 in the morning,” she said. Missing even one of those calls meant disaster, so Melton adapted to a life chained to her phone. Those blistering Wall Street years were also the only years of her life where Melton couldn’t be found on a saddle most days.

Her first ride, a trail ride through Yellowstone during a family vacation at age 9, was her awakening. “I just fell in love. That hour changed my life,” she said. “The rest of that trip all I wanted to do was ride.”

From there, horses became her life. While other kids were running around getting into trouble, “I’d be at the barn on Friday nights with a group of friends. We’d ride; we’d clean tack; we’d muck stalls … that was our social life and I loved that feeling.”

It’s a social life she rediscovered after leaving Wall Street and discovering the joys of Lowcountry living. “Really it was here in the Lowcountry I was able to reignite this passion I had as a child,” she said. “The first thing I did when I moved here was I found horses. I called the barn at Rose Hill; I found a trainer; I walked up there ready to go. And through that, I met my best friends.”

Drawn by the allure of a simpler lifestyle for her and her family, Melton now finds her pace slowed from a gallop to a trot. She might be moving a little faster than the rest of us, but she’s still found she can be a Type A and pursue her passions.

“I still sit at the barn with a bunch of ladies and clean tack, hang out with horses and talk about everything under the sun,” she said. And while she does, the phone sits untouched in her pocket.

Fuzzy Davis

Hooked on fishing

If there is one name that has come to define the sport of fishing here in the Lowcountry, it is Captain Fuzzy Davis. For decades he has been one of the area’s most sought-after charter fishing captains, a vocal advocate for our local fisheries and holder of the South Carolina record for largest tarpon among his accolades.

Yes, Fuzzy Davis is a name everyone knows. Lesser known, perhaps, is Mark Davis, which is odd, since that’s his birth name.

“When Kim and I were married… the preacher got up to marry us and about five minutes before the service he says to me, ‘You know, I don’t know your real name,’” said Davis. “When I told him it was Mark, he just said, ‘Nope, we can’t use that.’ Everyone would have been asking, ‘Who’s Mark?’”

The moniker of Fuzzy was given to him by “an old salty guy” named Captain George Cook who used to dock his boat in Harbour Town when Davis was working the docks there in the early 1970s. The name, according to Davis, stemmed from the ’70s afro he wore at the time. It stuck, and he’s been Fuzzy ever since. He’s hardly alone in living under a nickname, though. To hear him tell it, practically everyone in the tight-knit fishing community of Hilton Head Island in the 1970s went by a nickname.

Flash. Jags. Cue Ball. Wimpy. Woody. Cowboy. Squeaky. Tiny. Bronco. Rat. Rubber Band Man. Wheat. Psycho. Hootie Hoo. Whatever your mama named you, it was swiftly forgotten as soon as you joined the band of fishermen who called the island home in its early days.

“The thing that was unique back then was everybody was a character,” he said. “They all had these interesting personalities and backgrounds and interests, and everybody knew each other. So when there was a get-together, it was pretty fun.”

In between all the fun, they would fish. And among them, Fuzzy was one of the first to abandon the offshore waters for the prime fishing to be found among our inland waters.

“There were a couple of people kind of doing it, but not many doing it full time,” he said. “I think it was because the offshore fishing was more attractive for tourists. Once the tourists or the native people went into the creeks, it was an instant love.”

That instant love built the foundation of a legendary career as a fisherman, one who regularly imparts his wisdom to old salts and first-timers alike.

“Be a student of what you’re doing. You need to notice moon phases, tides, the different types of bait, fish moving in and out, and you have to keep moving. People get hung up on one spot, but you need to keep moving and try new spots. I’ve got the 20-minute rule. If you stop on a spot and in 20 minutes nothing’s happening, move.”

Jim Keith

Hog wild about hunting

For funeral director Jim Keith, hunting isn’t about shooting. It’s isn’t about man asserting his technological superiority over woodland creatures. It isn’t about connecting with that primal ancestry that ties all of humanity together.

It’s about the silence that comes when you plant yourself far away from the noise and chaos of civilization. It’s about the tranquility that comes with a slight marsh breeze on your face. It’s about scanning the sky for eagles and osprey even as you scan the field for fresh tracks.

It’s also about the barbecue.

“I think wild hog is sweeter. It’s not nearly as fatty, since the pigs are constantly moving, even if you harvest a 150- or 180-pound sow,” he said. He then shared a few secrets for creating pulled pork, slow-roasted tenderloin and bacon from wild game that would turn a vegan carnivorous in a heartbeat.

Wild pig isn’t the only thing on the menu, but it is the specialty of the house at Keith’s place, thanks to his deep-seated love of hog hunting. What started out as regular hunting trips with his grandfather to stalk deer, grouse, pheasant and rabbits has become a life-long love of hunting, forged in the field and perfected as advancing age began to take its toll on his golf handicap.

“I used to be a decent golfer. As you get older and have health issues, your golf game gets worse,” he said. “But I am always getting better at hunting. I learn
something new every time I go out.”

He replaced the fairways with Lowcountry swampland, where he’ll venture out a few times a year in search of wild hogs. Sometimes, it’s the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Other times, it’s private land in Covington. Occasionally, he helps out farmers who have seen their crops decimated by the pigs’ methodical rooting. They can annihilate a field. Wherever it is, his technique remains the same.

“I like a fair chase. I don’t use dogs, which is so unfair to both the pig and the dog. I don’t hunt fenced properties,” he said. There’s an honor in it, but also an acknowledgement that the pursuit is sometimes just as important as the kill. “Sometimes you go out and you don’t see a pig. You see signs, but no pigs… You don’t see anyone else, though, which is nice.”

That said, he has begun a new tradition, inviting his adult children out into the field with him. “I took my kids out for the first time last year. They’ve always been around guns and are very careful,” he said. “We go out there, hunt, then roast marshmallows, drink beer and tell lies. It’s something I think we’re going to do every year.”