Craig Everetts talks turkey and the hunting heritage of the Lowcountry
Long before there was Sun City Hilton Head, there was the Bill John Hunting Club.
To see the rows and rows of retirement homes now, it’s hard to believe that at one time, the 10,000 acres off of U.S. 278 were the hunting mecca of the Lowcountry.
Craig Everetts remembers it well. It’s where the veteran guide fell in love with turkey hunting.
“My dad and my grandpa, they taught me to love the outdoors. I love shrimping and big-game fishing, but getting out on the Bill John land, that opened me up to a whole new passion,” he said. “Membership was $75 to be able to use the land, and I didn’t have much money, so I traded with the owners. I’d paint their sign each year, an outline of a deer head and the club name on plywood that hung on S.C. 170.”
Everetts, 53, has been a hunting guide for 31 years, taking both newbies and veterans into every nook and cranny of South Carolina’s woods to hunt turkey, deer, doves, ducks and wild boars.
The Ohio transplant discovered early on that there was more to Hilton Head and Bluffton than just rackets and golf clubs.
“I bartended my way through college at USC and I’d listen to folks ask all the time where the good hunting was. It really opened my eyes up to the opportunities here,” he said. “I already knew there was more to the area than golf and tennis, but I saw that I could make a living showing others just how amazing the hunting was here.”
Everetts has guided thousands of friends to the hunt of their lifetime and garnered a reputation and a following by combining a lot of laughter with a pinpoint precision in finding targets for his clients.
He’s hunted all across the country, landed world class big bucks in the Midwest, but to this day, his most exciting hunt was one of his first as an 18-year-old in his own backyard at Bill John. He’s made a name for himself as a turkey hunter and guide, but even the greats have to find their way.
“I’d never thought about hunting turkeys, but little by little, I learned about them and realized how much of a challenge and a thrill it was. They’re such amazing animals, so smart, such an amazing chase,” he said. “There was an overabundance of turkeys at Palmetto Bluff and thousands found their way on to the Bill John property. The first day I was out there, I called up five big gobblers. They surrounded me and I thought, ‘Wow, it’s just this easy.’
“But when I cocked my gun, I realized I’d forgot to put the dang shells in the gun. I had my cushion, my bug spray, my turkey calls, but no ammo,” he said. “As soon as I moved to go back to the truck, they all left. It took 35 more days out in those blinds. I remember I was choking on this diaphragm call, trying to figure out how to use it. And this turkey gobbled back. I went crazy, started running toward it. It was running just as fast toward me. I bent down in knee-high broom straw and waited. That three minutes felt like an hour.
“I jumped up and the turkey spooked, shot straight up in the air. I shot it and I was so excited, I didn’t wait him out. I grabbed it by the neck and started running with it to show my buddy Allen Foxworth. It scratched and clawed me the whole way. Man, I learned quick, but that thrill, it never left me.”
Thirty five years later, he’s still hunting with Foxworth. But there’s been thousands of other partners in between, from longtime friends to visiting celebrities, as Everetts has hunted every piece of land he could get his hands on.
“I hunted Shipyard and Palmetto Dunes, then Wexford, then Colleton River Plantation. We moved to Estill, then to Yemassee … anywhere where we could lease some land and guarantee our clients some strong action,” he said.
In his heyday, Everetts had 20,000 acres leased. From hog season in January and February through the glory of the September dove hunts and the oyster cookouts and barbeques that followed, right through the last of the deer in December, hunting filled his calendar.
He’d hunt and fish with family as well, both with his brother Jon and later with his daughter and love of his life, 26-year-old Hunter. His passion and his personality was infectious and Everetts became an entrepreneur in spreading the gospel.
He teamed up with Magnum Turkey Calls and began selling his own branded “Hammer” diaphragm call, a product he says has helped him to a 70- to 80-percent success rate finding turkeys when most hunters are lucky bagging a couple gobbler every five years.
And soon, he parlayed his knack for finding great hunting spots into a real estate career.
“I’d get calls from Realtor friends, as clients were looking for hunting land. When I figured out the commissions they’d get on these sales, I wanted in on that for sure,” he said.
His prowess has led him to local and national celebrity status as well. He became a cover model for Steve Carb’s “Hilton Head Male” calendar in 1985, a gig that led to “a lot of free drinks and attention from the ladies for decades,” he joked.
Locally, he and Jon hosted a TV show, “Lowcountry Outdoors,” on WHHI-TV from 2004-07.
“I saw these numbskulls who didn’t know anything about hunting or fishing getting their own shows on cable, so I said, ‘Why not us?’ Well, the first time we tried to shoot a show, I realized it wasn’t so easy,” he said. “(WHHI director) Tom Jenkins asked us to do seven minutes straight. I got through talking logistics and what line to use and where we’re fishing and it took all of a minute. We had a lot of time to fill, so Jon and I just started busting on each other, talking about when we beat each other up as kids or tied our sister to a pole. It became this funny on-air therapy session. People loved the stories and we loved telling ‘em.”
Then there’s his time on the “Lex & Terry” radio show. He became a regular in the mid-‘90s and still calls twice a week to bust on the hosts and serve as the resident outdoors expert and funnyman.
“I have so many stories and they love hearing them. Lex and I have become good friends,” he said. “I remember telling this story of a guy named Spanky. We called him that because he looked like the guy from ‘The Little Rascals.’ We used to take a barge back and forth across the Cooashatchie River, we’d pull it 20 feet across the river to get to the deer hunt. Well Spanky, he was a big ol’ guy and he fell belly flat in the water after one of these hunts. Everyone was laughing, but Spanky was screaming, thrashing, hollering so loud.
“He yelled, ‘I can’t swim!’ and was panicking. I finally stopped laughing and yelled back, ‘Just stand up, you idiot!’ The water was only 2 feet deep, it didn’t even go up to his crotch.”
Times have been lean since 2008, as the economic downturn took a big bite out of Everetts’ guiding business. These days, he spends more time leading fishing charters. But Everetts still guides during the spring turkey season, still looks forward to March like he was on his first hunt.
His passion these days is Big Oak Plantation. Everetts found the 28-acre Jasper County land for his surrogate father, mentor and best friend, legendary Lowcountry charter Capt. Stratty Pollitzer, who passed away suddenly in July.
“He asked me to caretake the land for him, and his son Christian and I, we’ve built up the place pretty good,” Everetts said. “We do it in honor of him. This place was meant to celebrate life and that’s what Stratty was all about.”
The land on Big Oak reminds Everetts of everything he loves about the outdoors. As he watched a beautiful “Stratty-made” October sunset, Everetts shared the most basic advice for the up-and-coming outdoorsman.
“Leave the phone behind. The animals, they hear everything. It’s the quickest way to kill your hunt,” he said. “And plus, the real world is always going to be there. Just enjoy nature for a bit. Don’t over-read, stop Googling and just get out and do it. It’s not about scented this or unscented that. Just gauge the wind and get downwind and be patient. My respect for the animals, for the challenge, and my patience, it’s been my greatest assets. And it’s led me to a wonderful run here in the Lowcountry.”