Finding quality places to deer hunt is a primary quest for any South Carolina deer hunter. If that place has a good population of deer and a limited number of hunters, that’s even better. If it’s actually specifically managed for deer by professional biologists, it can be a very special place.
Fortunately for South Carolina deer hunters, there are places like that and they are open to hunters. While there’s no shortage of great places here in Clarendon County, much of the land is private and you have to own the land, know the landowner and have permission to hunt, lease the land or be in a club. There are some Wildlife Management Area (WMA) opportunities in our local area. Even if you have access to our great local hunting, a change of pace can be nice. We are right in the midst of the time when hunters can apply for the quota and draw hunts for some outstanding hunting on WMAs on lands managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
There’s a lot of public land in South Carolina and deer hunters statewide make good use of that opportunity according to Charles Ruth, Deer Project Supervisor for the SCDNR.
“Deer hunting on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) remains popular in South Carolina with approximately 53,000 licensees having a WMA Permit,” Ruth said. “During the 2011 season, we estimate that 4,640 bucks and 3,793 does were harvested for a total deer harvest on WMAs of 8,433. This figure represents an increase of approximately 7.4 percent from 2010, which is very good.”
“Also indicated in our harvest figures are specific WMAs where hunters have to apply for quota hunts,” Ruth said. “While very popular with some hunters, these quota hunts often offer outstanding hunting on areas intensively managed by the SCDNR. The Webb Center is certainly one of the top areas but there are several of these opportunities hunters can consider.”
Ruth said the application process for quota/draw hunts begins in June and applications are accepted until about the third week in August. So there’s still time to apply for this season’s quota hunts but hunters need to apply soon.
Not all WMAs are draw hunts; many are open to the public with pre-established seasons. The Public Draw Hunt WMAs are different and these specific WMAs have an application process that is the key to being drawn. Timing is everything and right now is the time to complete and submit applications for these public draw hunts for this hunting season.
According to Ruth, the public draw hunts offer deer hunters a controlled environment for hunting.
“All the public draw WMAs are well-managed hunts and the opportunity to take deer is good,” Ruth said. “As is the case anywhere, weather and other external factors will play a role in hunting success. Some of the areas are well suited to numbers of deer and others seem to have more potential for large bucks. One, the Webb Center hunt, is an overnight hunt and the success rate at the Webb WMA is very good. This is the most popular hunt we have, but there are other opportunities that many hunters may not know about. In addition, there is one public draw hunt for dog drives at the Manchester State Forest WMA in Sumter County.”
Patty Castain works with Ruth in many capacities at SCDNR, one being public draw hunts coordinator. Castain listed several hunts for which outdoorsmen have the opportunity to apply. She added that several of the draw hunt areas are located in the lowcountry portion of the state, but there are some in other areas. Most hunters can find an opportunity within reasonable driving distance.
The public draw hunts are divided into separate drawings for specific hunts. The Webb Center hunt is a stand-alone draw as is the Manchester Club Dog Drive hunt. The Fants Grove WMA is a stand-alone application. The WMAs grouped together as a Lowcountry application include the Donnelly, Botany Bay, Bear Island, Palachucola, Hamilton Ridge, Santee Cooper and Bonneau Ferry WMAs.
Castain said there are a few keys to being consistently drawn for these hunts.
“We already get enough applications that not everyone can be drawn every year for the hunts,” she said. “The Webb Center hunt is a good example because that usually takes a couple of years of applying to get drawn. We have almost as many hunters applying for the Webb Center Hunt as we do for the multi-site hunts combined. The key to being drawn is the preference procedures that are in place. To allocate equitably hunt slots for the more popular hunts, applicants are issued a preference point for each consecutive year not drawn. Applications with the most preference points are drawn from first, the next high number second, etc. until all slots are filled.
“This procedure guarantees each applicant a slot eventually, if the applicant applies every year,” Castain said. “It’s crucial that hunters continue to apply every year if not drawn because the preference points revert to zero if the applicant skips the application process one year. Keep applying and everyone will eventually get in. The preference points also revert to zero when a hunter is drawn for a specific hunt.”
“As all the hunts become more popular, it’s important to be consistent in the application process to be competitive,” she said.
You can go to the DNR website at www.dnr.sc.gov and find complete information on the application process.