One of my best friends, if not my very best friend, was my old hunting buddy in South Carolina, Sherrill Clement Smith. Smitty, as he was called, or ‘SC,’ as he was known to his close friends, which were me and a South Carolina Highway Patrolman name of Pat Patterson, was acknowledged to be the best white-tail hunter in a state where a lot of pretty skilled guys hunted white-tail deer. And in a state where the legal deer season ran from August 15 until December 31st, that was a lot of guys.
But make no mistake about it, Sherrill was the best. And he was the best for three reasons: First and foremost, he started going out in March or April ever year to scout for deer. Some years we ended up hunting in dense, hilly woodlands around Rion, the county seat of Fairfield County. Other years we were down in the low country alongside some bean fields near the Santee. Sherrill never had trouble finding some Black sharecropper who would let us hunt his property in return for getting half the meat. In a state where many Blacks and even some Whites still didn’t have enough money to eat store-bought meat, having Sherrill Smith as your provider was not a deal you were likely to turn down.
The second reason that Sherrill was the best white-tail hunter in Carolina was that once the season opened, he was out there every day. He didn’t just go out one or two weekends with some friends, set around for a while drinking some beers. Sherrill was a switchman for the Southern, as the Southern Railroad was called, and it was simply understood at the yard that between mid-August and end of December, once the whistle blew at 3 PM, you didn’t ask Sherrill to stick around.
Third and last, if Sherrill could see the animal through his 3X9 Weaver scope set on top of his Winchester Model 70 in 30-06, didn’t matter whether the creature was 100 yards or 500 yards away, that buck was going down. So Sherrill didn’t have to take just any old deer, he could wait and wait and wait on the biggest old white-tail to come around. One year he only took four, but I guarantee you that every animal would have easily made the Boone & Crockett list.
One of the reasons Sherrill was such an accurate shot was because he made his own ammunition from scratch. This activity occupied him for much of the Winter months before April rolled around, which is when he started tracking deer. I never shot Sherrill’s ammo because my gun, a Remington Model 700, was chambered for .270 Winchester, and don’t think we didn’t have endless arguments over which was a better caliber for taking deer – the flat-shooting 270 or the more powerful 30-06. What else should we have argued about? The federal debt?
Like myself, Sherrill was also a lifetime member of the NRA. And like me, he had joined the NRA when he was a kid, probably enrolled by his daddy, old ‘Red’ Smith. Sherrill’s father had been a policeman and carried a gun. Not that he particularly liked guns, but a gun was always around. On the other hand, my father never wanted a gun in his house after he saw what guns could do when he went ashore after the amphibious landing at Kwajalein Atoll. Who knows why kids grow up liking guns?
Part of my frustration with my gun-control friends is that every time they tell me about the importance of safe-storage, or comprehensive background checks, or any of the other schemes to reduce the violence, sometimes I recall going out to the woods with my friend Sherrill Smith and high-sounding moralisms about ‘responsible’ gun ownership and ‘reasonable’ gun laws mean nothing. Other times, those words don’t bother me at all.
I want to wish everyone a Happy and Safe July 4th.