Santee Cooper Youth Deer Hunts Planned

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A series of 16 youth drawing deer hunts conducted jointly in 2002 by Santee Cooper and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources were so successful that plans are already being made to hold the hunts again this year.

The 16 youth deer hunts were held on the Santee Cooper owned Moultrie Hunt Unit in Berkeley County. This venture was a cooperative effort between the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Santee Cooper, according to Sam Chappelear, DNR assistant regional wildlife biologist stationed at the Dennis Wildlife Center in Bonneau. The hunting opportunities have expanded each year since the inception of the youth hunts. The project started in 1998 with just three hunts and 23 participants. This past season 200 youth applied, and 128 of those selected by computer drawing participated in the hunts.

Santee Cooper owns the property, cleared wildlife openings with their equipment and personnel, and provided funds to buy the seed and fertilizer planted by DNR personnel. Santee Cooper also provided personnel and assisted with each of the 16 hunts.

Youths from all over the state participated in the hunts. Word of mouth seems to be the best advertisement. Chappelear said, "We want young hunters to go back and tell their friends at school about the exciting outdoor experience they encountered." Also, the T-shirt with a wildlife scene on the back, which was supplied by Santee Cooper, was also good advertisement for the program. Youth hunters reported seeing 122 deer from their stands over the course of the season. Forty-five percent of the harvest was a first deer for that particular youth. A 10-year-old girl went on her first deer hunt ever last year and harvested a nice 10-point buck, which made the all boys jealous.

"The adults' objective in this activity was to enjoy the afternoon with the youth," Chappelear said. "Work, hectic schedules, school and similar stressful topics were not to be discussed during the hunt. The afternoon was to be spent talking one on one and bonding with the youth and enjoying the wildlife, the beauty, and peacefulness of the outdoors. Harvesting a deer was the secondary objective of the day." The number of female hunters again increased this year. More mothers were also present to accompany their youth on the afternoon hunt along with the usual dad, grandfather, and neighbor guardian.

These drawing deer hunts were held on the North Dike and Cross Generating Station portions of the Moultrie Hunt Unit during the months of October through December. Cross Generating Station is closed to hunting except for these special youth hunts. Hunts were afternoons only, with each youth between the ages of 10 and 17 being accompanied by an adult. Adults were not allowed to hunt. Two-person stands were erected over wildlife openings planted in corn, wheat, soybeans and peas.

Upon arrival, youth and adults were given a safety and firearms talk. Youths were also encouraged to hunt on the 800-acre Bluefield Wildlife Management Area (WMA), which is also part of the Moultrie Hunt Unit. In order to hunt on the adult-youth Bluefield WMA, the youth must be 17 years and younger and must be accompanied by an adult 21 years or older. The youth must carry a firearm and hunt. The adult is also allowed to carry a firearm and hunt. Santee Cooper and DNR have also created and planted wildlife openings on this area. See the 2003-2004 rules and regulations booklet for specific season dates and limits.

These youth deer hunts will be held again during the 2003 deer season. Recent budget cuts within the Department of Natural Resources have resulted in a reduction of staff that may impact the total number of days available for youth hunts this year. However, areas for expansion are being investigated due to the large response received last year. Applications are now available, deadline 5 p.m., Sept. 17. To receive an application, call the Dennis Wildlife Center in Bonneau at (843) 761-8820 or (843) 825-3388. Each past participant is encouraged to get a friend to apply so the event can be shared by those who may not have experienced it. Other youth-related activities can also be found in the 2003-2004 rules and regulations booklet.