So here we are, a week after Halloween. Halloween marks the prime time to deer hunt in South Carolina. This prime time will last until the next full moon and then the deer will go into full rut and breeding season begins.
Breeding season is not all it’s cracked up to be as the animals basically forgo feeding and the bucks just lay up with the does in what we term as the “lockdown” phase. The animals really don’t move around a whole lot until rut is over and the post rut begins.
At this point, the bucks have to move around to find the few receptive does that are left and then they start feeding in earnest to fatten up for the winter and restore their energy reserves.
So basically if you choose not to hunt in the heat of August and September, you pray for cool weather in late October and November to get the animals moving and the insects retreating. That gives you about a month of good hunting before lockdown and then maybe another month after post rut.
Would you be willing to forego hunting from Aug 15 until Sept 15 if you could hunt in the cold weather of January? Almost everyone I have talked to would be. I used to lay awake at night on Aug. 14 just waiting for my friends to pick me up predawn to drive me to Ruffin to sit in stifling heat and dampness to hunt deer. I don’t do that anymore. Even the dog clubs seem to have curbed their early season hunts until cool weather moves in.
HERE’s THE DEAL. I have spent some time collecting anecdotal information on those doing the hunting and whether it is even worth the time for deer processors to be open the first month of the season. Many processors are going out of business. As a result, the prices for processing have almost doubled over the last five years and fewer people are taking deer in. It just isn’t worth losing money to staff their operations waiting for the harvest to get in to full swing.
More importantly, what are the effects on the deer that are already stressed by the high temperatures and vermin associated with a South Carolina summer?
Yearling bucks are clustered together at the first of the season. Often these groups of bucks are hit really hard by bean field and dog hunters early on as it is not legal to shoot does until Sept. 15. By allowing these bucks another month to separate, it makes them less vulnerable to hunting pressure.
It is stressful to both does with fawns and dogs to drive in 90 to 100-degree heat. The stress will often separate the fawns from their does and result in stress death. The past reluctance of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to extend the season revolves around the taking of bucks that have already dropped their antlers in January. It would be a simple matter to make it legal to only take antlered deer after Jan. 1.
Some other reservations that have been voiced are that many hunters like the chance to take deer with velveted antlers in the early season. I find that this is often voiced by nonresidents who do not have that opportunity in their home states.
If one take a really nice deer, say record-book class, one has to remove the velvet to score the antlers. Most people taking bucks with small velveted racks look at them for an afternoon and then throw them in the garage and out of sight until they are discarded when the velvet shrivels and becomes insect-infested.
A later start would not negate the chance to have youth days. If desired, youth days or even an open season could be left in place for the weekend of Aug. 15, but as one knowledgeable person told me, “Why let your enemy (big bucks) know you are coming by pushing them a month early?”
LET ME MAKE ONE THING PERFECTLY CLEAR! I am advocating a SHIFT in the season back a month, NOT simply lopping off the first month. I have been a little hesitant in pushing this agenda because only the Lord knows what monstrosity would become law if the legislature was able to mutate this thing the way they did the most recent bag limit bill (S.454).
As I write this, we are voting on more important issues. After this election, I will contact my representative to see if he will introduce this to the house Agriculture Committee for consideration. I had contemplated circulating a petition but I have been told by people at the Statehouse and at DNR that petitions are not really given much weight.
Hopefully this could be discussed in committee without taking it beyond the point of no return. It would be far better not to do anything at all vs. shortening the season or putting more restrictions on hunters. That may be hoping for too much.
Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.