Deer hunting harvest regulations as we have known them for a long time in South Carolina are likely about to change. For several years, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) has been conducting public meetings, biological studies and crunching numbers to determine what they feel is best for the overall deer herd in South Carolina.
Based on all this, some specific information is now posted on their website of which hunters need to be aware. Most of the legwork for new regulations has been done. There appears to have been good “buy-in” on these regulations by the majority of deer hunters via the public meetings and public input stages. It’s very possible that the following will be implemented soon. Much of this information is directly from their website data, but will be of keen interest to all of us who deer hunt. My personal viewpoint is I want to have a stable, healthy deer herd, one that can be maintained at a good level for hunting where we can harvest a reasonable number of deer and enjoy the sport.
With that introduction, here’s some information you need to know.
The SCDNR Board recommends a statewide limit of five bucks per hunter per year with no more than a total of three bucks per hunter in Game Zones 1 and 2 combined. The board supports a mandatory deer-tagging program whereby all harvested deer (bucks and does) must be tagged with tags provided by the department.
The fee structure for the recommended program, resident hunters would receive all necessary deer tags for $20 and nonresidents would receive their tags for $30. This means that each hunter would get five buck tags and four doe tags as part of the deer hunting privilege. Resident hunters who currently get four optional doe tags would pay no more than they currently do under these recommendations. It is also recommended that a “limited deer tag” option be made available in which more casual hunters could receive one buck tag and one doe tag for $10 for residents.
Nonresidents could receive the limited tag option for $15. Youth hunters could receive the full complement of buck and doe tags at no cost. Hunters who hunt exclusively on properties in the Deer Quota Program would not be required to purchase the regular tag package because tags for the property would be in place. All other hunters would have to purchase their tags annually. Revenue generated from the program would be earmarked for the administration of the program and for deer research, management and law enforcement.
The number of doe tags available to each hunter would be determined annually based on management needs in addition to the proposed limit of five buck tags per hunter. The current recommendation is set at four doe tags per hunter with tags being valid on any day starting Sept. 15, in Game Zones 2-6 and Oct. 1 in Game Zone 1 (a lower number of doe tags would be valid in Game Zone 1 due to the lower deer population density). Under the new program, statewide “doe days” would be eliminated because all hunters would have doe tags as part of the deer hunting privilege.
The Antlerless Doe Quota Program (ADQP) currently available to property owners and hunting clubs will continue and be expanded to a Deer Quota Program (DQP) in which quotas for bucks and does would be issued for tracts of property based on the size of the property and the deer management and agricultural objectives of the owner or manager. It is recommended that the application fee for the program be increased from $50 to $200.
White-tailed deer are the official state animal and the most economically important game species in South Carolina. There is currently no enforceable limit on the number of bucks a hunter can take during the season. Although there is a five-buck limit prescribed by law in the two Upstate Game Zones, these limits have never been enforceable. In the four coastal plain Game Zones, state law specifies there is “no limit” on antlered deer. This lack of a reasonable bag limit on bucks in the Palmetto State is in stark contrast to the approach in other states and to the approach with other fish and game species in South Carolina, which typically have bag limits.
Most hunters perceive that the current system leads to over exploitation of bucks, particularly young bucks, resulting in a poor overall management approach. Annual deer harvest figures support hunters’ allegations that some hunters take unfair advantage of the lack of bag limits. Recent harvest data indicates that only four percent of hunters take more than five bucks annually, however, as a group these hunters take 20 percent of all the bucks in the state each year. Similarly, only 11 percent of hunters take more than three bucks each year, but they take 43 percent of all the bucks annually.
Other data also supports hunters’ desires to see a more conservative approach. Although there are still a few areas in the state that have high deer populations, the overall statewide population has moderated during the last 10 years resulting in an estimated 25 percent reduction. This is likely due to changes in habitat associated with forest composition and growth, urban/suburban development and many years of extremely liberal deer harvests. Also, coyotes are a recent addition to the landscape in South Carolina and appear to be having a negative impact on deer. Deer in most areas are now well or slightly below the natural carrying capacity thus allowing for local adjustments in deer populations based upon the interest of the various communities.
The SCDNR staff recognizes the interest of hunters in some areas for an increase in local deer populations. The requirement for the tagging of all deer, bucks and does, will provide the tools for total deer herd management.