South Carolina Deer Hunters Want Limits on Bucks
Results of a series of pubic meetings hosted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources last winter indicate significant support among deer hunters for a statewide limit on antlered bucks in South Carolina.
"The Department conducted the meetings after several years of prompting by hunters, many of whom indicate that it is time for South Carolina's deer management program to become more proactive," said Charles Ruth, Deer/Turkey Project leader for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Currently, about half of the state has no daily or seasonal limit on bucks and although there is a posted five-buck limit in certain game zones, these limits are additive among game zones and the limits have never been enforceable with something like tags.
"The primary issue that has concerned many hunters is the unregulated harvest of bucks," Ruth said.Whitetail deer "Many hunters believe this situation leads to overexploitation of bucks, particularly young bucks, resulting in a poor overall management approach. These hunters support reducing harvest pressure on antlered deer which should result in more total antlered deer, having the opportunity to see and harvest more mature bucks, and having a more balanced adult sex ratio. Limiting buck harvests may also shift harvest emphasis towards does in parts of the state where better population control is needed."
With a total attendance of nearly 2,000, the meetings were the most heavily attended public meetings ever held by DNR's Wildlife Section. This speaks highly of South Carolina’s deer hunters, according to Ruth, because it shows that they are genuinely interested in the state's white-tailed deer resource. A total of 12 meetings were held, with three being at locations in the piedmont and the remaining nine in the coastal plain.
Each meeting began with a presentation by DNR staff on the background and data related to the buck limit issue. Meeting attendees were informed that DNR was not proposing any change at the present, but rather, the agency was attempting to determine how much interest there was among hunters in a statewide limit on bucks. Following the staff presentation significant time was devoted to public comments and questions. Finally, a poll was taken to determine interest in a uniform limit on bucks and the concept of having a low cost set of tags to provide for enforcement of such a limit.
Statewide, about 74 percent of meeting attendees supported a statewide five-buck limit while about 95 percent supported the concept of having a low cost set of tags to provide tools for enforcement of limits. At the regional level, about 99 percent of piedmont meeting attendees supported both a statewide five-buck limit and the concept of having a low cost set of tags for enforcement. Also, 94 percent of piedmont meeting participants supported the notion of a three-buck limit in their area.
Results for the nine meetings held in the coastal plain indicate about 68 percent support for a five-buck limit and 94 percent support for the concept of having a low cost set of tags to provide tools for enforcement of limits.
"Results of the meetings are not terribly surprising because there has been so much discussion among hunters concerning this issue for at least five years," Ruth said. A random survey of deer hunters conducted in 2004 produced nearly identical results with just over 70 percent of hunters across the state indicating that the statewide limit on bucks should be five or less. Also, a recently completed survey of cooperators in DNR's Antlerless Deer Quota Program indicated over 69 percent support for a limit on the number of bucks a hunter can take each year. The Antlerless Deer Quota Program is a private lands antlerless deer harvest program encompassing nearly four million acres. Program cooperators are the owners, managers, or exclusive deer hunting lessees of the enrolled properties.
"These results are revealing," Ruth said, "because many people believe that coastal hunters do not support limits. However, more than 95 percent of the property in this program is located in coastal counties, and the majority of cooperators support the notion of a limit on bucks."
During the public meetings, general concerns from hunters who opposed the idea of a statewide buck limit included the following: (1) Private landowners should be able to harvest deer as they see fit; (2) No more regulations are needed; (3) The buck limit issue is an attempt to end dog hunting; (4) Limits will not work for dog hunters because deer are difficult to identify when running and the deer must be killed to keep dogs from getting on other properties; (5) There is no problem with the current system; (6) Do not believe DNR's data which shows hunters support a limit; and (7) If buck limit results in better quality bucks then do not support a limit because it will increase number of nonresidents, lease fees, etc.
In general, concerns from hunters who supported the idea of a statewide buck limit included the following: (1) It is difficult to have a good management program on properties or clubs because neighboring hunters kill every buck they can; (2) No one needs to kill more than a few bucks each year; (3) Exploiting young bucks leaves no bucks to mature; (4) Must have a good way to enforce limits; and (5) When could we expect to have limits in place?
A summary of the meetings was presented to the S.C. Natural Resources Board at its April meeting for information purposes only. It is unclear at this point whether DNR will recommend changes to the South Carolina General Assembly in the future concerning buck limits and tag programs. Any changes along these lines would ultimately require legislation.