We should expect the practice of baiting of deer to get more negative attention from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. I believe it’s only a matter of time before hunters will be set-up for another clash that will surely pit the hunting interests of the Upstate with those of the Lowcountry. The SCDNR will likely be lobbying the Legislature for more changes. Best be thinking on the subject.
Personally, I have no problem with the baiting of deer in our county. But there are enough signals from the SCDNR to tell us the agency doesn’t see any place for the practice in our future.
Baiting deer has been legal on all private lands in South Carolina since 2013. Most hunters bait with corn and corn piles attract deer, period. The SCDNR has written quite extensively on the subject, listing pros and cons. They conclude it’s mostly con.
If you want to understand how baiting laws, and to a large extent deer hunting regulations in South Carolina, have come to where they are, you have to look at the decline in deer populations that occurred more than 100 years ago.
By the late 1800s whitetail deer had been decimated to the point of non-existence in some parts of the state. The Upstate or Piedmont region had no deer to speak of during this period.
The Lowcountry, which begins about where Orangeburg is situated, held healthy pockets of deer. This was largely because the river flood plains were dense with vegetation and difficult to access. In that environment, deer were not easy to get at. Dog driving evolved as the most successful means of hunting whitetail as a result.
Many people don’t know this, but whitetail deer were actively repopulated in the Piedmont region beginning around 1951. The first deer season opened there under the SCDNR’s regulation in 1958. There were very few deer and dog hunting wasn’t allowed. This left still hunting in the Piedmont as pretty much the only way to hunt successfully. Baiting was also not permitted in that region, as it would have been a negative on the newly established deer numbers.
In the Lowcountry after 1900, the deer populations began to soar as more successful agricultural practices were implemented. Feed deer and they will come. With the larger deer numbers, the sport became more accessible and more popular. By the 1980s, many more hunters than ever were in the woods and were able to successfully harvest deer without the use of dogs. More deer, more hunters, more success on smaller tracts of land equaled no need for dogs. The change to still hunting as the hunt method of choice has led to the widespread practice of luring deer with bait.
Baiting deer in the Lowcountry wasn’t considered an issue until this shift to still hunting. Baiting was never prohibited in this region, so it made sense to add bait to increase the success of a still hunt.
It still makes sense. That’s why in 2013 the move was made to permit baiting in the Upstate. Hunters in the Piedmont region wanted the same opportunity to lure deer as was allowed in the Lowcountry.
This leads me to make a point. With the Upstate being different than the Lowcounty when it comes to deer populations, it seems reasonable that hunting laws and regulations might also be different. That makes sense to most people. Let the numbers and the health of the herds dictate how many are harvested, the methods and if baiting is allowed.
It has been the contention of many that the desire for Upstate hunters to be treated just like the Lowcountry is what largely motivated the recent changes in our deer-hunting rules and the passage of S.454. Well that and more money for the SCDNR. Many people made the argument that any changes in the rules should be made based on biology, not desire. That was my positon, but that’s another subject altogether.
Look, baiting for deer works. There are, however, contentious issues surrounding the practice and we should expect the SCDNR to intervene at some point.
Social competition among hunters can drive them to bait heavily, hoping to lure as many deer their way as possible. Think about this: How many deer hunters who have only small plots of land feed like crazy? Bunches. They have learned that they can draw deer away from larger tracts of land using bait. This can create issues among neighboring hunters and clubs.
Baiting changes deer feeding habits. As an example, deer tend to go nocturnal when they discover easy sources of food at bait sites. If you have hunted extensively over bait, I am certain that you have observed this yourself.
Data from one SCDNR study indicated that deer visited bait sites during the night at a 25:1 rate. On my own farm, I observe that once the deer find the bait, they don’t forage as often during the day. They come at night when perhaps it’s safer for them to travel.
Placing bait also affects other species. This is particularly true if the practice becomes more supplemental feeding by placing food year-round. Bait draws turkeys, which can change their feeding and nesting habits. Raccoon, rabbit and squirrels also come. And as you might expect, our favorite predator, Mr. Coyote wants a seat at the banquet.
The point I’m trying to make is that baiting is now an issue that wasn’t a big deal 30 years ago. You can bet that with the SCDNR moving in to assume more control over deer management, change is coming. Seems as if they aren’t controlling it, they’re not happy.
The SCDNR published a treatment on the subject of deer baiting titled “A Retrospective on Hunting Deer Over Bait in South Carolina -- Can Baiting Negatively Affect Hunter Success and Deer Harvest Rates?” Even the wording in the title of the piece tells you something about the agency’s position. They are suggesting that it’s hurting you, the hunter. Kind of telling, I think.
Again, I have no issues with the practice personally. I understand what it can and cannot do and have a little bit of an understanding of the big-picture effects. With that, I put out corn.
I encourage hunters to think on the subject and get ready to weigh in. I suspect the day is not far away when you will need to make your position known.
From the SCDNR: Act 2 of the 2013 South Carolina General Assembly removed the prohibition on baiting for deer on private lands in Game Zones 1 and 2. Therefore, baiting for deer is no longer prohibited on private land anywhere in South Carolina. Baiting or hunting over bait remains prohibited on WMAs statewide.
Glen Hutto lives in Orangeburg, is an avid outdoorsman, a certified firearms and SCDNR hunter safety education instructor.