Major Changes For South Carolina Hunting

South Carolina had been the last holdout against a statewide season bag limit on whitetail bucks. But after years of discussion, the Department of Natural Resources has adopted not only a statewide buck limit but also antler restrictions and a rule that hunters must tag all kills in the field.

South Carolina can grow fine bucks, as evidenced by these trophies from Terry Smiley's Lowcountry hunting club. But many hunters want more of them. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

The Palmetto State has a storied whitetail tradition — especially in the so-called Lowcountry, where each year hunters can start rifle hunting Aug. 15. But many hunters and landowners have expressed interest in growing more mature bucks. A legislative bill signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley has the wheels turning in that direction.

"There's been a good bit of history on these changes," SCDNR Big Game Program Coordinator Charles Ruth said in a Facebook Live event to explain them to the public. "We started this process at the encouragement of our hunters. And really, our deer hunters here in South Carolina have evolved. We had some pretty strange laws, which a lot of people are familiar with. Very long seasons, historically very liberal bag limits . . . in fact, we'd had two-thirds of the state that's never had any kind of bag limit on a daily or seasonal basis on antlered bucks. And I think that as time went along, a lot of our folks kind of got disgruntled with what was a pervasive 'if it's brown it's down' mentality from a deer harvesting standpoint," the biologist said.

Along with human hunters, South Carolina has seen a major increase in coyotes. The state is at the forefront of research on these predators, and SCDNR data indicate they're causing high fawn mortality that's significantly impacted the number of deer available.

Put it all together, and many hunters, deer biologists and legislators agree it's time to reduce the buck harvest and keep closer tabs on what's being shot over the course of the season.

South Carolina is split into several deer management zones, and regulations vary across the state. Due to the sweeping nature of these changes, hunters are strongly advised to read the regulations before heading afield. (Deer tags were being mailed to license holders as this issue went to press.) For more, visit here.

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