Savannah's Duck Dynasty
Southeast Georgia and the Lowcountry region of South Carolina have been blessed by Mother Nature in many ways. Adequate rainfall and a temperate climate make the region very popular year round for humans and animals alike. The availability of food and water during the late fall and winter months makes our area especially attractive to millions of migrating birds, especially waterfowl.
Throughout time, waterfowl species have migrated south during the fall, primarily for survival. The brutal winters in states far to the north mean frozen water and virtually no food—deadly conditions for the birds. Not long after the city of Savannah was founded by General James Oglethorpe, farmers that settled in the region began planting rice in the marshlands of the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers. Rice was already a staple crop in neighboring South Carolina, and since ducks and geese loved to feast on the carbohydrate rich grain, they flocked to the area in huge numbers.
As you might imagine, hunting waterfowl has became a very popular pursuit, as locals and wealthy businessmen from the Northeast came to the region for the fabulous late winter hunting. They bought large properties that became rice plantations all along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. It was surmised by some that the rice culture faded with the freeing of slaves after the Civil War, but the main reason is more likely international competition, as well as states like Louisiana, Arkansas and California becoming large rice-growing regions.
The rice culture of the region may have faded into the sunset, but the popularity of duck hunting didn’t die with it. The old ricefields that dotted both sides of the lower Savannah River still exist, as do many of the trunk gates that controlled the inflow and outflow of water.
Once those ricefields were removed from production, many individuals from well-known Savannah families bought the land and managed it primarily for duck hunting. And while we are a few generations removed from the first local waterfowl enthusiasts, many of the region’s present-day avid duck hunters are descendants of those early pioneers of the sport.
Prominent Savannah businessmen like Dale Critz, senior and junior, Colonial Oil executive Bob Demere, graphics guru Jim Davis and attorney Robbie Harrison have their own private waterfowl hunting locations in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Dr. Richard Schultz owns a plantation in the area as well, and actually grows his own strain of wild rice called Carolina Gold. Some of the rice is harvested and sold commercially, but Schultz will quickly tell you that his rice farming operation is more for the ducks than it is for people. There are many more examples that could be cited here, but suffice it to say that many Savannah business icons are just as comfortable in camouflage and waders as they are in a three-piece suit.
Written by Marty Fischer
Photography by Logan Crable