South Carolina DNR revises comprehensive deer management recommendations

At its Sept. 16, 2011 meeting, the S.C. Department of Natural
Resources (DNR) governing board made revisions to the comprehensive
deer management recommendations that were adopted last December.
These revisions were based on ongoing discussions with hunters and
legislators as DNR attempts to develop the best recommendations for
the future of the state’s deer management program.

The DNR Board voted unanimously to support a statewide limit of 5
bucks per hunter per year with no more than a total of 3 bucks per
hunter in Game Zones 1 and 2 combined. The board maintained its
position of supporting a mandatory deer tagging program whereby all
harvested deer (bucks and does) must be tagged with tags provided
by the department.

South Carolina deer hunters have been requesting changes for some
time. Since 2003, DNR has conducted public meetings and surveys to
determine hunters’ attitudes related to future deer management in
the state and the results indicate broad support for change.
Although DNR can make recommendations, any changes to the current
deer hunting laws require action by the South Carolina General
Assembly. The DNR Board proposal will be incorporated into the
DNR’s Legislative Proposal for the 2012-13 session.

The fee structure for the recommended program was also revised so
that resident hunters would receive all necessary deer tags for $20
and nonresidents would receive their tags for $30. This means that
each hunter would get 5 buck tags and 4 doe tags as part of the
deer hunting privilege. Resident hunters who currently get 4
optional doe tags would pay no more than they currently do under
these recommendations. It was also recommended that a “limited deer
tag” option be made available in which more casual hunters could
receive 1 buck tag and 1 doe tag for $10 for residents.
Nonresidents could receive the limited tag option for $15. Youth
hunters, resident gratis and lifetime licensees could receive the
full complement of buck and doe tags at no cost.

The number of doe tags available to each hunter would be determined
annually based on management needs in addition to the proposed
limit of 5 buck tags per hunter. The current recommendation is set
at 4 doe tags per hunter with tags being valid on any day starting
Sept. 15 in Game Zones 2-6 and Oct. 1 in Game Zone 1 (a lower
number of doe tags would be valid in Game Zone 1 due to the lower
deer population density). Under the new program, statewide “doe
days” would be eliminated because all hunters would have doe tags
as part of the deer hunting privilege.

The Antlerless Doe Quota Program (ADQP) currently available to
property owners and hunting clubs will continue and be expanded to
a Deer Quota Program (DQP) in which quotas for bucks and does would
be issued for tracts of property based on the deer management and
agricultural objectives of the owner or manager.

In May of 2010, DNR contracted with an internationally recognized
public opinion and attitude survey research firm specializing in
natural resource and outdoor recreation issues. A telephone survey
of randomly selected resident deer hunters was conducted, providing
a statistical reliability of +1.6 percent at the statewide level
and at least +3.94 percent at the Game Zone level. This was
followed in September by an internet based survey that was open to
the public and included direct notification to over 80,000
licensees. Prior to these recent surveys, DNR conducted 18 public
meetings and completed a survey of the owners or lessees of 3.8
million acres of land enrolled in the Antlerless Deer Quota
Program.

Results of the various surveys and public meetings have been
consistent since the process of determining public opinion began
several years ago. Overall, a minimum of 70 percent of hunters
support the concept of a reasonable limit on antlered bucks and the
implementation of a tagging program that would provide for
enforcement of such a limit. Additionally, a minimum of 70 percent
of hunters indicate that they would support paying a modest fee to
implement such a tagging program, as long as the fees are used to
administer the program and to conduct deer research and
management.

Read a complete summary of DNR’s efforts to document public opinion
on future deer management

White-tailed deer are the official state animal and the most
economically important game species in South Carolina. There is
currently no enforceable limit on the number of bucks a hunter can
take during the season. Although there is a 5-buck limit prescribed
by law in the two Upstate Game Zones, these limits have never been
enforceable. In the four coastal plain Game Zones state law
specifies there is “no limit” on antlered deer. This lack of a
reasonable bag limit on bucks in the Palmetto State is in stark
contrast to the approach in other states and to the approach with
other fish and game species in South Carolina which typically have
bag limits.

Most hunters perceive that the current system leads to
overexploitation of bucks, particularly young bucks, resulting in a
poor overall management approach. Annual deer harvest figures
support hunters’ allegations that some hunters take unfair
advantage of the lack of bag limits. Recent harvest data indicates
that only 4 percent of hunters take more than 5 bucks annually,
however, as a group these hunters take 20 percent of all the bucks
in the state each year. Similarly, only 11 percent of hunters take
more than 3 bucks each year, but they take 43 percent of all the
bucks annually.

Other data also supports hunters’ desires to see a more
conservative approach. Although there are still a few areas in the
state that have high deer populations, the overall statewide
population has moderated during the last 10 years resulting in an
estimated 25 percent reduction. This is likely due to changes in
habitat associated with forest composition and growth,
urban/suburban development, and many years of extremely liberal
deer harvests. Also, coyotes are a recent addition to the landscape
in South Carolina and appear to be having a negative impact on
deer. Deer in most areas are now well or slightly below the natural
carrying capacity thus allowing for local adjustments in deer
populations based upon the interest of the various
communities.

DNR staff recognizes the interest of hunters in some areas for an
increase in local deer populations. The requirement for the tagging
of all deer, bucks and does, will provide the tools for total deer
herd management. DNR will continue to address habitat change and
will continue to encourage landowners and hunters to harvest
coyotes.

Coyotes arrived in South Carolina through natural movements from
adjoining states, but were also illegally brought into the state
for hunting purposes. Current research being conducted at the
Savannah River Site by the U.S. Forest Service and DNR indicates
that coyotes are significantly impacting the survival of deer
fawns. The study, now in its fourth year, indicates that annual
fawn mortality through all causes is about 70 percent, which is
much higher than expected, and that coyotes are responsible for
approximately 80 percent of these mortalities. If these findings
even moderately represent a statewide situation, this “new
mortality factor” combined with extremely liberal deer harvests and
lower deer populations are a cause for concern. It should be noted
that based on the experience in other states, it is highly unlikely
that coyotes can be significantly reduced, and certainly not
eliminated. Therefore it is more important than ever the one factor
that can be controlled (the hunter harvest of deer) be more
carefully managed.

 

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