The Polaris Ranger bounces over rolling terrain under an azure-blue South Carolina sky. Thumping past thick stands of loblolly pine, cedars, and oak, the mud-spattered ATV winds through plots of wheat, chicory, oats, and turnips planted for the property’s full-time residents, who keep it all shorn.
“If the deer weren’t here, this would be this tall,” says Ross Kester, his hand at mid-shin. “There’s an incredible blend of nutrition here, and it’s the deer that keep it looking like a putting green.”
It’s those deer and his family’s 300 Union County acres that Kester offers to the Quality Deer Management Association Foothills Branch and the state’s Department of Natural Resources for an annual youth hunt. The daylong program teaches safety, ethics, and the thrill of hunting.
Kester, 39, along with daughters Darby, 6, and Anna, 8, who are dressed like their dad in full camo, show visitors around his family’s sprawling property, where he has played host to the Upstate chapter’s hunt for the past six years. This year was snowed out, but on today’s afternoon, a brilliant sun blasting through leafless trees reveals usually hidden stands. “The coolest thing I saw was last year when Eddie Monts was out and we had a full-size deer decoy—an archery target—and he was doing a demonstration on shot placement—where the ethical kill shot is—and the kids were just totally enthralled,” Kester says.
Monts, 32, a DNR sergeant, is youth coordinator for the state’s Take One Make One program for would-be hunters ages 10 to 17. At the annual event, he’s among two dozen parents, guardians, guides, and QDMA volunteers, including Kester and friends, who gather from lunchtime—which includes venison, dove purlieu, or hamburgers and hot dogs—until dark on the second Saturday of each January.
Hunting Grounds: Located on 300 sprawling acres in Union County, just east of Greenville, the Kester family land plays host to an annual youth hunt each January.
Some 400 children are enrolled in the statewide program. To qualify for the hunt—outings for turkey and duck are also offered elsewhere—each child must pass a test. A lottery selects just five. Cost? “Just the time and gas to get there,” Monts says of the Kester property he calls a sportsman’s paradise.
QDMA, an Athens, Georgia–based nonprofit with some 60,000 members in all 50 states and several abroad, started in 1988 to help manage the nation’s deer population. In South Carolina, that’s about 730,000 deer, with 200,000 harvested each season, which opens in September. “If there’s five hunters, three or four see a deer and one or two shoot a deer,” Kester says. “We had only one year that we didn’t have a kill.”
“You’re in a good area for our program,” says national QDMA Hunting Heritage Program manager Hank Forester. “We have a lot of really dedicated volunteers there.” On this balmy twilight, Kester, a partner at the commercial real estate firm Pintail Capital in downtown Greenville, shows the lay of the land. As he stows his Browning A-Bolt .270 rifle, with its black Leupold scope, he’s all appreciation.
“It’s an interactive form of charity that we can participate in as a family, that my children can be around some of these kids that’re less fortunate and talk to them, interact with them. Parents have a chance to send their kids out with responsible guides and unwind. Rather than just writing a check to somebody, you can actually have them here and see the enjoyment on their faces.
To learn more about QDMA and its youth hunt: qdma.com/youth/national-youth-hunt/