As September dawns, the days seem noticeably shorter. Recent ones have offered a hint of autumn.
Young hunters have been in the field since the Lowcountry deer season opened Aug. 15, but many veterans are waiting for days with even cooler temperatures.
No matter when a hunter starts, he or she this year faces a new legal landscape. No longer is the state relying on hunters’ devotion to conservation and ethics to limit the number of deer being taken in Lowcountry counties.
For the first time, and after years of debate, the Legislature mandated a limit on bucks in all counties. All harvested deer must be tagged.
With the purchase of a hunting license and big-game permit, resident hunters are issued three buck tags and eight doe, or antlerless tags. The doe tags can only be used on certain dates.
Hunters can also purchase two additional buck tags that carry antler restrictions. Bucks taken with these tags must have at least four points on one antler, or a minimum of a 12-inch inside antler spread. Four additional antlerless tags can also be purchased.
“The tags are the actual tool to enforce bag limits,” S.C. Department of Natural Resources Big Game Program Coordinator Charles Ruth has said. “The agency wants all deer tagged, which will give us a better ability to manage the deer harvest as we go into the future.”
“The buck restriction is designed to take the pressure off of the year-and-a-half-old bucks,” Ruth said. “If the hunter wants that extra opportunity, he has to get those tags. But he can’t just keep harvesting little bucks.”
Ruth and DNR contend the limit on bucks is necessary to foster a healthy herd at a time when predation from coyotes and loss of habitat are impacting deer
Critics argue the law is not the answer and will primarily limit sportsmen and raise new money for SCDNR. They cite as an example no change in the laws pertaining to deer-depredation permits, which are still issued for farmers and landowners who report damage from high deer densities. These permits can be used at night and out of season.
For now, dates and lengths for deer-hunting seasons have not been changed. Some believe that is next.
T&D Outdoors columnist Dr. John Rheney has been among critics of the new law.
He has written: “I don’t think this is the bill the DNR would have written if given a blank page, but this may be the best the agency could have hoped for after being mangled by the political machine. There was so much more from a biological standpoint that could have been accomplished. There is little biology and a whole busload of egos in the new law. Looking forward, I hope and pray it helps the deer and doesn’t become another reason why the public continues to move away from hunting.”
Clarendon County resident Dan Geddings also writes periodically for The T&D outdoors page. He has been a supporter of the new law.
Geddings wrote for The T&D’s annual hunting preview section: “The Deer Tag Program in South Carolina has been a long time coming. (The new law) was the culmination of years of effort on the part of the DNR, deer hunters and the Legislature. It’s not a perfect law but probably the best we could get under the circumstances. The lack of a reasonable limit and enforcement effort on buck deer in the past have been a function of history, tradition and politics -- not science.”
An important point: Those genuinely willing to debate the merits and demerits of the new law have the same goal. They are interested in safeguarding the resource and protecting the future of hunting. Contrary to what many think, hunters are the state’s leading conservationists. They will cast aside the debate and make the new law work.
But as with most laws, there will be the majority that obeys and the few believing regulations do not apply to them. Those willing to harvest more deer than the limit are going to do so, even at the risk of losing hunting privileges and worse.
Too bad there’s not a more effective way to put a limit on them.