South for the Season

This hunting outfitter boasts one of the longest rifle seasons in the U.S., as well as one of the only opportunities to take bucks in velvet with a gun.

Two hunters pose with their in-the-velvet bucks. Taking a free-range buck still in velvet with a gun is virtually impossible with most states' hunting seasons, but not South Carolina's.

 

Today marks a special day for many deer hunters. Today is the kickoff for much of South Carolina’s whitetail season, with hunters in Game Zones 3 and 4 (the Lowcountry and part of the Midlands) able to use their treestands from now until the new year. Game Zone 3 allows both guns and archery equipment to be used on private lands until January 1, while Zone 4’s gun season doesn’t begin until September 1.

Today also marks the start of the 18th consecutive year in commercial operation for Collins’ Low Country Hunt Club. Located about an hour south of Columbia in Ehrhardt, it falls within Game Zone 3, allowing hunters to take deer with a rifle right from the start of hunting season. As such, it has become a favorite of hunters from around the state and afar. Pennsylvania hunters routinely visit the club to extend their comparatively short rifle season, and the club has even hosted hunters from as far away as France and Hawaii.

Tom Collins owns and operates the club, which started as a private hunt club more than two decades ago. Paradise Valley Hunt Club was founded by Tom’s late father, Bang Collins, then later became the commercial CLCHC. It previously operated out of the old hunt club facility closer to Ehrhardt proper, but Tom now hosts clients at a new 12-bed, three-bath facility just outside of town.

 

Inside the luxury lodge at Collins’ Low Country Hunt Club. Bedrooms are along the outer wall, with the entertainment area in the middle.

 

CLCHC is best known for its free-range deer hunting. Hunters are allowed to take two bucks per day—seven days a week—throughout the season, with does becoming legal September 15. The club has access to thousands of acres of prime Lowcountry hardwoods and planted pines, as well as the edges of numerous farm fields. (Soybeans and corn are the primary crops in the area.) More than 150 stands, many handicap accessible, are positioned around the property, with shot opportunities of up to 200 yards available. Most shots are kept to 100 yards or so, though, making them perfect for young or first-time hunters to get a deer.

CLCHC strictly manages its deer population for trophy-quality bucks via three trophy areas. One is an open area allowing first-timers to take a smaller buck. Another mandates a minimum outside spread of 15 inches, while the third has been managed for 13 seasons for bucks with a 16-inch outside spread or a minimum Boone and Crockett score of 110. As a result, many of the club’s bucks meet the state’s record-book minimum of 125 B&C.

 

This 126-inch Boone and Crockett scorer came off the Collins property. It bests South Carolina’s record-book minimum of 125 and is a good representative of what hunters can expect from the club.

 

CLCHC is noteworthy for more than just the length of its rifle season and the score of its bucks, though. Its hunters are some of the few anywhere in the country that can take a free-range buck in velvet with a gun. (Only pin-raised deer are typically taken with guns while still in velvet.)

Deer hunting accounts for 5,700 acres of Collins’ land management, with some 40 different parcels spread out across its property. If an area is hunted hard for a few days, hunters are placed elsewhere to allow the deer to rest. While natural forage provides the bulk of a deer’s diet, the club also supplements it with mineral licks year-round and corn during the offseason, ensuring the big bucks they manage stay on-property even when deer season is over for the year.

CLCHC also offers hog and turkey hunts. Hogs can be pursued year-round on more than 3,500 acres, with some of the club’s most productive months being May, June, and July—perfect for when everything else is out of season. Groups with as many as ten hunters can visit, including groups of that size that wish to bowhunt.

 

A Virginia hunter took this 240-pound hog with a single shot while hunting with CLCHC.

 

Those with rifles can opt for the club’s special treat: hog hunting at night via the club’s night-vision equipment. CLCHC partners with Nite Site to pair clients’ rifles with these easy-to-mount slip-on screens, allowing hunters to try out the devices before purchasing one of his or her own. If you’ve ever wanted to try hog hunting at night, there’s no better way than this.

Almost 8,000 acres of river bottoms, pine ridges, and food plots are dedicated to the club’s turkey hunting. Guides, some of them custom call makers themselves, assist clients in calling in a big tom. Try for a big gobbler in the morning, then hunt for a hog that afternoon. Turkey hunters can take one hog during their three-day hunt at no extra charge.

 

Two hunters double down on toms during the 2017 turkey season.

 

Whatever species you’re pursuing, CLCHC affords hunters a family atmosphere at its deluxe hunting lodge. Rooms line the outer walls, with metal bunk beds sleeping as many as four per room. In the main room is a wide-screen television and viewing area, pool and foosball tables, and a dining area. Collins has worked with a local chef, Geneva, for ten years to provide the best in Southern cooking, complete with fried chicken “better than Colonel Sanders makes,” Tom says.

 

Bunk beds allow for large groups to visit CLCHC and hunt in style.

 

Hunters can expect a leisurely morning hunt beginning before daybreak. Clients are treated to a breakfast of juice, coffee, milk, and doughnuts or granola before being put on-stand 20 minutes before first light. Hunters stay out until roughly 9:30 or 10 a.m., then they come back to the lodge and rest and relax before heading back out in the afternoon for two or three more hours of hunting. They can also fish during the midday lull.

 

Some 150 deer and hog stands stand around the CLCHC’s property. Many are handicap accessible.

 

Much of CLCHC’s deer season is, understandably, booked solid, but the lodge still has a few hunts available during the first three weeks of December. It is offering a special discount rate for those dates: only $1,195 for a three-day, four-night hunt. Mention Sporting Classics when you call.

For more information or to contact Collins’ Low Country Hunt Club, visit sportingclassicsadventures.com/collins-lowcountry-hunts.