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Changes in deer hunting regulations

image: deer
When deer hunting season opens in the majority of the state on Aug. 15, South Carolina will become the final state in the nation to institute a statewide limit on the harvest of bucks File photo The Sun News
Outdoors
What you need to know about S.C.’s new deer tagging system, limit on harvest of bucks

By Gregg Holshouser

For The Sun News

August 04, 2017 2:45 PM

Changes in South Carolina’s antiquated white-tailed deer hunting laws will go into effect in mid-August following years of public input and 14 months after legislation was passed by the state General Assembly.

When deer hunting season opens in the majority of the state — including game zones 3 and 4 for which Horry and Georgetown counties are a part of — on Aug. 15, South Carolina will become the final state in the nation to institute a statewide limit on the harvest of bucks.

S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) is in the process of instituting a first-time tagging system which will require all deer harvested – bucks and does – to be tagged at the point of kill, joining most other states with similar systems.

The legislation was signed into law by then-Gov. Nikki Haley on June 8, 2016.

The new laws are the result of well over a decade of input the agency received from hunters interested in improving the quality and quantity of bucks available in the Palmetto State.

Hunter input along with an estimated 35 percent decline in the state’s deer population since the turn of the century forced members of the state’s legislative body into action.

Resident hunters in game zones 3 and 4 that have purchased a hunting license and a big game permit automatically receive a base set of tags — three tags for antlered bucks and eight date-specific antlerless deer tags.

“It’s been in the works since 2003,” said SCDNR big game program coordinator Charles Ruth. “Clearly it was something hunters initiated and it gained momentum over time. Our deer population changed noticeably during the same period of time to get where we are. (The population decline) added fuel to what changes we were already talking about.

“It wouldn’t ever have gotten to the level where the legislature was interested in it if the hunters at the local level had not continued to bring it up. Then the legislature said they really wanted to see some changes. That’s when it all started to come together.”

The agency has been busy mailing deer tags to hunters in recent weeks, a new venture for Ruth and his cohorts — and the hunters.

“Since the legislation passed, the big thing has been orchestrating this tag program, getting the tags to the hunters that are supposed to have them,” said Ruth.

As for hunters that have questions on exactly how to use the tags, Ruth has a simple message — read them.

“The biggest message we can give to hunters is simply read your tags,” said Ruth. “It all will make more sense if you just read your tag. Most of the calls I’m getting from my constituents is ‘Hey, I got my deer tags and this makes perfect sense to me.’ Each tag has verbiage on it. The entire back side has info on it. The light bulb will go off and they’ll say, ‘I’ve got this.’”

Resident hunters in game zones 3 and 4 that have purchased a hunting license and a big game permit automatically receive a base set of tags — three tags for antlered bucks and eight date-specific antlerless deer tags.

“Those eight doe tags simply replace what used to be doe days,” said Ruth. “It’s the same eight days we’ve had the last four to five years … typically Saturdays, except the last one which is Jan. 1 (2018).”

The buck restriction is designed to take the pressure off the year-and-a-half old bucks. If the hunter wants that extra opportunity he has to get those tags, but he can’t just keep harvesting little bucks.

SCDNR big game program coordinator Charles Ruth

Resident hunters in game zones 3 and 4 can also purchase two antler restriction buck tags for $5 apiece, each of which are valid only on bucks with a minimum of four points on one antler or a 12-inch inside antler spread. As in the past, resident hunters can also purchase up to four individual antlerless deer tags for $5 each.

“The buck restriction is designed to take the pressure off the year-and-a-half old bucks,” said Ruth. “If the hunter wants that extra opportunity he has to get those tags, but he can’t just keep harvesting little bucks.”

SCDNR will in the future have the ability to alter the number of antlerless deer tags available to hunters, but a change in the number of buck tags available would require legislative approval.

“The tags are the actual tool to enforce that buck limit, and part of the process is the agency wants all deer tagged which will give us a better ability to manage the antlerless harvest as we go into the future,” said Ruth. “SCDNR will be able to manipulate the number of tags, especially the optional tags for does. It has been such that people could get up to four (additional doe tags) for a long time. If the agency sees the need for it to be less than four, or more than four for that matter, they could make that adjustment.”

With the start of deer hunting season fast approaching, Ruth says hunters who are due tags will soon receive them.

“As of today, the agency is basically caught up with the initial bulk distribution,” said Ruth. “The people who have an active big game permit, if they don’t have their tags, they’re in the mail. One of the most frequently asked questions is if you have an active hunting license and big game permit you automatically get your base set of tags.”

Senior hunters, lifetime license holders and youth hunters are entitled to the base set of tags, but have to request them by calling 803-734-3833.

The Deer Quota Program, formerly the Antlerless Deer Quota Program, is available for landowners with large properties and has been in place for over 50 years. SCDNR determines the property’s quota and issues tags based on the size and location of the property, along with the goals of the participant. A harvest report is required.

For more information on the South Carolina’s deer season visit http://dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/deer/index.html. For more information on the new tagging program visit http://dnr.sc.gov/deertags/tags.html.