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New Deer Hunting Regulations Proposal


Again this legislative session within South Carolina, the Department of Natural Resources is seeking to adjust the harvest limits on deer within the state. Currently South Carolina is a divided state when it comes to setting and implementing deer hunting rules and regulations. The state is divided into the eleven counties that make up what is commonly known as the ‘low country’ and the rest of the state. Under the current structure, the legislators control setting season dates and harvest limits on the eleven counties that make up the low country and the Department of Natural Resources control setting season dates and harvest limits on the remainder of the state. This divide has caused a lot of issues in the past and there seems to be more issues coming.

It is your classic power struggle between two entities of government. Each with their own agenda trying to accomplish what they want and what they individually believe is best for the state in general and their constituents in particular.

The department of Natural Resources is tasked generally, with the well-being and care of our natural resources including game animals. To this end, the use of science, biology, natural resource studies and research is used to guide these decisions. And the DNR has input on the legislation by providing studies, findings and offering recommendations based on science and research. Still, we have a divided state. Currently the DNR is hosting a series of meetings across the state to get hunter feedback on a proposal the DNR wants to offer to the legislators that would drastically change the harvest limits on deer. To better understand what this means, we need to understand that under the current law, in the eleven low country counties, there is “no limit on antlered deer” during the specified season that runs from August 15-January 1. While the portions of the state controlled by the DNR has a five buck limit in most areas and some have a two buck limit. With specified either sex days with a limit of one per day.

The DNR has gone on record stating the significant decline in the deer herd population over the last fifteen years. Harvest rates have been dropping by double digit percentages for over a decade. Charles Ruth, deer project coordinator of the DNR has stated many times the current status of the deer herd cannot continue to handle the generous bag limits and there is growing concern among hunters that the ‘no limit’ section of the state is helping to cause the reduction in the deer herd. However, it is also well documented that traditions die hard in South Carolina and long hunting seasons and ‘no limit’ bag limits is one of the traditions that is difficult to change if at all.

The current proposal on the table from the DNR is a statewide four (4) buck limit and a four (4) doe limit statewide. This would be monitored with the issuing of tags that hunters would purchase for a fee of $15 for the set of 4 buck tags and 4 doe tags. Non-residents would pay more with as much as $30 for the first tag and $10 for each additional tag. These tag fees would be in addition to the fees for hunting license. The DNR is also conducting online survey’s to get the feeling from hunters on this proposal.

Now for the editorial portion of today’s post. I try often not to write my opinions on subjects. To stick with the facts and present them objectively. This issue I believe is one where my opinion might help some to understand the issue at hand.

From the onset, I have been an outspoken advocate for a buck limit in the low country. Basic reasoning dictates that no herd can sustain a ‘no limit’ policy indefinitely. (see Carolina Parakeet). I fully understand the tradition of the low country and the belief that if this changes ‘what’s next?’ mentality. However, the science is too strong and the evidence to overwhelming to allow the continued killing of too many deer from our state.

When I began hunting, there were very little deer. One was heralded as a hero if he killed a spike buck, and the killing of does was akin to slapping your mother. You just didn’t do it under any circumstance. Through time, the landscape changed, timber plantation were planted and provided perfect habitat for a species to thrive and explode. As this occurred, more and more deer were being killed, hunter success skyrocketed. As the herd grew good science and good education eventually taught us that it was not only ok to kill does, but encouraged to control the population that was now beyond carrying capacity. Here we are twenty years later from the peak in the mid 1990’s where we saw a population in excess of one million animals to a population that is down almost 30% from those numbers and our management of that population has not changed.

The habitat has changed, what was once prime pine plantations are now mature and offer little to no cover for successful fawning. Couple this with the recent influx of top predators on the fawns and long liberal hunting seasons and we are ripe for a disaster. I personally applaud the DNR for trying to do something proactive rather than waiting until we have little to no deer and then react to a crisis.

To be clear, I am for and fully support a limit on bucks and does for all game zones. It is my opinion that the continuation of a ‘no limit’ policy will threaten the integrity of hunting, and will decimate the population that cannot sustain the pressure those limits place on the deer herd. We all have heard stories of individuals who annually kill thirty, forty or even fifty or more bucks in a single season. While these individuals are in the minority. If these stories are even half true, a single individual killing even ten bucks or twenty is absurd. Too many people have grown up with the belief that they are a better hunter if they stack up a pickup with dead deer. And measure their manliness on how many deer they can kill in a day, week or season. These are the same hunters that give the rest of us bad names. Coming from someone who eats a lot of venison, and with a large family, I process and eat six or seven deer annually. This will just about feed my family for a year until the next hunting season. I cannot understand the mindset of those who ignore the science and ignore the research and just do not want a change.

Where I am opposed to the proposal is in the state wide limit section. South Carolina is a very diverse state and limits that may work in one portion cannot be sustained in another portion of the state. As someone who has hunted many states through the years, I cannot think of a single state that has a ‘statewide’ policy on any game animal. The states are too diverse and the populations too varied across those states to have statewide policies. I have seen some states who have different game laws for each county, and others who have literally hundreds of game zones with different game laws and bag limits in each zone and you better know which one you are in and what the laws are for that zone.

Bag limits for the mountains and bag limits for the low country should in my estimation be different. Having said that, I see this offer by the DNR as a compromise. Should the legislators support and pass the statewide deer bag limit as proposed by the DNR. I would say yes!

I would also like to see the SCDNR to implement what so many other states have implemented in order to raise necessary funds to hire more game wardens and to conduct more research. It begins with increase license fees which have not seen an increase in almost twenty years. Some of the revenue generating options should be, an increase in general license fees, issuance of special hunting tags, i.e. a $5.00 archery tag for the privilege of hunting during archery season. A $5.00 primitive weapon tag, for hunting with black powder during the primitive weapon season.

I hope hunters will turn our and support the proposed legislation and support hunting and the deer hunting in South Carolina. Let’s face it, we have seen the ‘good ole days’ of deer hunting, and if we want our children to have a taste of it, we need to act now and implement reasonable bag limits for deer across the state.