This story was produced for the Orangeburg Times and Democrat, which has paid for sole publication rights. The Times and Democrat is a member of a legislative reporting partnership between the Carolina Reporter and the South Carolina Press Association.
By Kathryn Duggan
South Carolina hunters are facing a statewide restriction on how many deer they can take in a season.
Legislation that would limit a hunter’s annual deer harvest and change the fee structure passed the Senate Wednesday and was introduced in the House Thursday.
The bill would create consistent regulations across the state’s six hunting regions. Currently the two Upstate regions have a five-buck limit and the four coastal regions have no buck limit.
There are presently no buck limits in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg counties.
The bill would not affect the opening dates of hunting season.
Under the proposed legislation, the first limit on antlered deer in South Carolina would be enforced by restricting hunters to four bucks a year. The limit on antlerless deer also would be four per season.
The bill would bring South Carolina into alignment with neighboring states’ regulations.
“Our hunters have been questioning the appropriateness of South Carolina being all by itself not having a limit on antlered deer,” said Charles Ruth, the S.C. Department of Natural Resource’s Deer and Wild Turkey Project supervisor.
Ruth said the change is needed in part because of a 30 percent reduction in deer harvesting since 2002, which he said represents a decrease in the overall statewide deer population.
Hunters have supported change because they recognize that without restrictions on antlered deer, too many bucks are killed, specifically young bucks, Ruth said. A reduced harvest will allow young bucks to mature, giving them opportunity to mate and create a larger population.
Calhoun County Democratic Rep. Russell Ott has reservations about the bill.
“This is a monumental shift from what everyone has grown accustomed to. It’s a major, major change,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there who are adamantly opposed to going to this new system limiting the amount of bucks that have been killed.”
Ott said his concern is the cost burden on South Carolina hunters.
“I am not necessarily completely opposed to putting a limit system in
place for the entire state. What I am adamantly opposed to is making
our hunters pay more for that system,” Ott said.
Under the new system, a package of four buck tags and four doe tags would cost $15 for S.C. residents and $30 for out-of-state hunters. A tag is required for each animal killed. The tag fee is in addition to the cost of a hunting license.
The additional tag fee will pay for the new system, Ruth said, and is tailored to match the current cost of tags.
Hunters now pay $5 for each doe tag. Ruth said that more than 50 percent of hunters are paying extra in the doe tag fee and 25 percent of hunters are paying to hunt on private properties.
“The person that it will really impact will be the casual hunter who doesn’t really hunt much. Maybe it’s the guy who gets invited one Saturday of the season,” Ruth said.
Another House member also has concerns about the legislation.
“I have spoken with people about this proposed bill and there have been a number of concerns raised — one of the biggest being that you are looking at an eight-deer-per-year limit,” Bamberg County Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg said. “A lot of people have an issue with that.”
As to cost, Bamberg said the price of licenses for out-of-state hunters should increase rather than charging resident hunters more.
Ott also would like to see out-of-state hunters pay more.
“My focus is on the residents of South Carolina and making sure that we don’t do anything to dampen their spirits or their enjoyment when it comes to hunting deer in South Carolina,” Ott said.
The bill also affects hunting on private properties.
Under the current system, private properties operate under a doe quota, which limits the number of female deer that can be harvested on the property as a whole. The bill would apply that same approach to harvesting bucks.
The Antlerless Deer Quota Program would be renamed as the Deer Quota Program.
“Part of this whole new system is hunter driven; part of it is management driven,” Ruth said. “The important part for us as an agency is the ability to better manipulate the harvest of antlerless deer, doe deer, through a tagging system under which all deer are tagged as we look in the future of our deer population.”
Photo courtesy of Larry Meade