Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on WORD 106.3 FM. Contact Gentry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Past Due For Deer Limits
by Tracy West,posted Aug 25 2014 10:39AM
With exactly one month left before opening day of the 2014 whitetail deer season, it would seem that answers to basic questions such as “What is the limit on deer?” would be easy to answer.
Frequently, we get calls on Upstate Outdoors, the outdoors radio program that I host on Saturdays from noon till 2 on WORD 106.3 FM, with exactly that question. Truth is, I have trouble providing an answer. First I need to know if you are hunting on public or private land, what type of weapon you are hunting with, what day of the week you are hunting on, and which Game Zone you are hunting in.
Sadly, the question is easy to answer if you are hunting most places below Columbia because there is no limit on deer. It’s printed in the rule book – no limit. That information comes amid announcements over the last few years that the numbers of deer in the state are in decline. This flies in the face of true sportsmen who understands that our natural resources, whether they be fish, game, flora, or fauna, are not limitless.
Before you pick up the phone and call the DNR, let’s point out that even in the Game Zones and Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) that have limits published in the rule book, there is no method in place to account for how many deer a hunter has taken from any location or by any method. As such, deer hunters are asked to limit themselves, based on an honor system backed up by little if any accountability. The end result is a deer limit that is not enforceable even where one is posted.
You’re also wasting your time by complaining to the DNR, because their hands are tied. For several years now, Charles Ruth, who heads the Deer Project for SCDNR has presented a comprehensive plan for deer management that includes a tag system for any and all deer taken by deer hunters across the state. The plan has been presented several times to the state legislature who sets the game laws in South Carolina, not the DNR. The plan, which is well thought out and has the backing of over 85% of the deer hunters in the state, would end the wasteful situation we are in today with this most valuable natural resource. Unfortunately, the proposal has fallen on deaf ears in the General Assembly.
“If we could get a buck and doe limit and institute a tagging program where all deer are tagged and logged in, perhaps using a telephone check in system that is employed in other states, we could regulate and manage our deer herd a whole lot better than we are doing now,” said Ruth. “Pursuing such regulations remains a priority with the Deer Program and DNR will be seeking support from the State Legislature in the upcoming session.”
As a first step toward that end, DNR has stopped waiting on the state legislature and has instituted some deer limit changes on the only lands they do have control over – the state’s WMAs. Recent changes in deer hunting regulations will modify antlerless deer harvest limits on public land and the number of either-sex days on both public and private lands. Ruth indicated these limits were designed to impact the way DNR will manage the state’s deer herd. Included in these changes is a move to improve consistency across the state’s Wildlife Management Area program as well as provide a uniform bag limit for deer on WMAs.
Public land deer hunters will be limited to a season wide harvest limit as well as changes in the number of antlerless deer that can be harvested in a single day.
“It’s what we’re referring to as the 5-2-2-1 rule,” said Ruth. “That comprises a statewide WMA limit of 5 deer, no more than 2 can be bucks, no more than 2 deer per day can be harvested, and only one of those can be an antlerless deer.”
The changes will more dramatically be felt by archery hunters who will have to abide by gun hunting regulations during open gun seasons. This includes a requirement to use doe tags beginning October 11 when gun season opens in Game Zones 1 and 2 and after September 15 through the remainder of the state when does become legal for harvest.
Game Zones 1 and 2, the Mountain and Piedmont Units, are the only areas in the state with segregated seasons that provide for archery and primitive weapons-only seasons.
In seasons prior, archery hunters were allowed to harvest antlerless deer without the requirements to adhere to either-sex days or using doe tags. This season archery hunters across the state, hunting either public or private lands, will have to adhere to antlerless deer regulations including the reduction to one doe per day.
“This effectively closes a law enforcement loop hole whereas an officer had to judge whether a doe was killed by gun or bow,” said Ruth. “Now all hunters, regardless of weapon, will have the same requirements during open gun seasons.”
Ruth said the changes are a first step in adjusting to declining deer populations in South Carolina. Wildlife surveys have shown maturing pine forests and an increase in predators such as coyotes as having a negative impact on deer numbers over the last several years.