Hunters mixed over limits on deer
Friday, December 31, 2010
By Bo Petersen
The funny thing is, it's been a good year for deer. A bad season for acorns brought them farther out of cover and made them easier to spot. Hunters in the Lowcountry spotted plenty.
So a recent state proposal to limit the number of bucks and does that can be killed to four each per year has left a lot of hunters here a little frustrated.
Most say limits are needed because of predation by the newly arrived coyote if nothing else. But some say the new law would be too restrictive to manage thriving populations on the large tracts of hunting land in the Lowcountry.
"A lot of people think it will magically produce trophy deer, and it won't. You need the right habitat, feed, (hunting) pressure and genetics," said Bobby Creech, of Mount Pleasant, who owns or leases hundreds of acres of hunting land in Colleton County.
"I had a customer tell me yesterday, 'If it's not broken, don't fix it.' And it's not broken in the lower state," said Michael Cordray, of Cordray's Venison Processing in Ravenel.
The law would put the first real controls on a $200 million per year industry in the state that's centered in rural areas where industries can be scarce. In the Lowcountry, the law would be the first limit put on bucks, stepping in the way of a generations-old tradition of taking as many as you need or want.
In the Upstate, there's now a five-buck limit, but regulators say it's routinely ignored. Across the state, does are somewhat managed, but can be freely taken on "either-sex" hunting weekend days or by buying doe tags.
State regulators don't argue there's plenty of deer. The estimated population for the state overall dropped from 1 million to 750,000 in the past 10 years, but 1 million was too many, said Charles Ruth, S.C. Department of Natural Resources deer and wild turkey project supervisor. Regulators restored the population to that level in order to find a sustainable level as the herd was culled.
The concern now is for sustaining the population in the face of the loss of young-growth, commercial timberlands that make the best habitat, as well as predation by the wily coyote. A recent study on the Savannah River Plant sire near Aiken found that, where does once averaged 1 1/2 fawns per year, coyote predation now means it takes an average of three does per year to keep one fawn alive until the fall.
The proposal is in response to seven years of surveying hunters, the vast majority of whom wanted to see limits in South Carolina like the restrictions in other states where larger trophy deer are taken, Ruth said.
The problem is that too many bucks are being killed too young, he said. Hunters who try to manage their deer so that more bucks survive longer, find that hunters on adjoining land end up taking the roaming deer.
And a small percentage of hunters are taking too many deer. Fewer than 4 percent of hunters report taking more than five bucks per year. Hunters routinely tell regulators that a hunter "down the road" takes 15 to 20 deer per year, Ruth said.
One recent posting on charlestonhunting.com mentioned a hunter who took 52 deer last year. Most recent posts at least partly agreed with the limits.
Others say at least some of the hunters who take more deer, do it to provide more venison. Dean Elsey, of Bonneau Beach, hunts for the Lowcountry chapter of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, giving his extra venison to help agencies such as Lowcountry Food Bank. The law "would certainly put a hurt on what my organization tries to do," he said.
Creech said he loses deer to hunters on adjoining land, but doesn't have a problem with it. "Deer aren't stationary; I don't own the deer," he said. He agrees some limits are needed, but said the limits should be tailored to meet the different management needs in different parts of the state.
Ruth said doe harvests already can be increased to meet management needs, under a deer quota program.
The DNR proposal is part of a package of recommendations submitted to the S.C. Legislature for consideration in the 2011 session starting in January.
In 2009, 4,574 deer were harvested in Georgetown County. Of that number, 2,068 were bucks and 2,506 were does.
Almost 400,000 acres were open to hunting in 2009 in the county. That's 624 square miles. That works out to 87.4 acres per deer harvested, or 7.3 deer per square mile.
That's a 12.1 percent drop from figures for 2008.
Final numbers for 2010 are not yet compiled.
For more on deer hunting, visit the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Web site:
Staff writer Tommy Howard contributed to this story.