I’ve had quite a few folks ask me to explain the new deer regulations. Many still remain confused by how the new deer laws will work for the 2017-18 season.
The laws are sort of a hodge-podge of ideas put together by various factions. They are what those in politics refer to as “compromise,” where you get a bill that gets so mired in contributions from multiple concerns that the final version doesn’t address the original premise.
Before we get into the specifics of the law, let’s look at the 2016 year summary by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. In a nutshell, the deer harvest was down about 11 percent. The major reasons given were habitat change, coyote predation and Hurricane Matthew. Couple those with a like reduction in harvest during the 1,000-year flood of 2015 and indications are the 2017 season harvest will show an increase as many deer that would have normally been taken were not.
Which brings us to the regulations passed in S. 454, otherwise known as the “deer bill.”
When residents purchase or hold a current hunting license/big game permit, they will receive a base set of deer tags at no cost.
Resident youth hunters and lifetime and senior/gratis/disability licensees must request the free base set of tags annually. The tags consist of:
• 3 unrestricted antlered buck tags.
• 8 date-specific antlerless deer tags. Each antlerless tag is only valid on one specific day and cannot be used on any other day. Similar to the "doe days" in the past.
• Residents including youth hunters and lifetime and senior/gratis/disability licensees may purchase 2 additional antler-restriction buck tags for $5 each. The restriction is the buck must have 4 points on one antler or a minimum 12-inch inside spread. There is no particular order in which the antlered buck tags must be used.
• As in the past, all residents may purchase up to 4 individual antlerless tags for $5 each. Tags are valid on any day beginning Sept. 15 in Game Zones 2, 3, 4 and Oct. 1 in Game Zone 1 until the end of the deer-hunting season.
Non-resident adults receive no free tags with the purchase of their hunting license/big game permit and must also purchase deer tags in order to deer hunt. Non-resident deer tags are as follows:
• May purchase up to 4 antlered buck tags.
• 2 unrestricted antlered deer tags.
• 2 antler-restriction buck tags: 4 points on one antler or a minimum 12-inch inside spread. Cost: $50 for first antlered buck tag- $20 for each additional ($110 for all 4).
• After the purchase of an unrestricted buck tag, there is no particular order in which the buck tags must be purchased or used.
• May purchase up to 4 Individual Antlerless Tags as in the past. Tags are valid on any day beginning Sept. 15 in Game Zones 2, 3, 4 and Oct. 1 in Game Zone 1 until the end of the deer-hunting season. Cost for non-resident antlerless tags is now $10 each.
• Non-resident youth: receive base set of tags for free by request like resident youth. May purchase one antler restriction buck tag ($50) and up to 4 Individual Antlerless Tags ($10 each).
The quota tag system (which is often used by hunting plantations, commercial hunting concerns, and large private landholders similar to S.454 sponsor Sen. Chip Campsen from Charleston) remains the same. The fee for the multiple management tags for which any landowner qualifies is still $50, although past suggestions have been to change this fee to $200.
The Deer Depredation permits are still to be issued for farmers and landowners who report damage from high deer densities. As is the past, these permits can be used at night and out of season.
To summarize, resident hunters have the “opportunity” to take 17 deer with 8 tags being date specific and with the purchase of an additional 4 doe and two buck tags. Nonresidents have the “opportunity” to take 8 deer by purchasing 4 buck and 4 doe tags. Quota and depredation lands may take as many as deemed necessary by the DNR.
The participants in quota management and depredation permits may kill dozens of deer, which seems a little odd with neighboring, private land hunters being limited by the declining deer populations. S.454 also indicates DNR still doesn’t realize (with its one-size-fits-all approach) that deer densities vary throughout the state, with the Lowcountry agricultural counties having far greater densities than the Upstate.
I watched this bill go through both the Senate and the House and back to the Senate. If you are still confused, I can’t blame you. I have a degree in zoology with a minor in wildlife biology. I was there and I still don’t understand the biology behind this bill. Unfortunately, I saw the politics, the pitting of Upstate envy vs. Lowcountry traditions, the large or corporate landowner vs. the small farm hunter, the desire of the DNR to bring all seasons across the state under its control and make them uniform, and the input of the influential who don’t have a clue and those deeming themselves self-taught experts (like myself).
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.
Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.