A seemingly contradictory ruling by the state attorney general on Upstate baiting for deer has legislators scrambling to address the issue in time to change the law before hunting season this fall.

According to the attorney general, under current state law it is illegal to bait for deer – but not illegal to hunt deer over bait – in Game Zones 1 and 2.

The flurry of activity in both houses began at the urging of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation and the S.C. Camo Coalition, which saw the existing law on deer baiting unenforceable under the ruling by Attorney General Alan Wilson.

At issue is the wording of the law adopted by the legislature when it took regulatory authority for hunting on private lands in the Upstate region away from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources in 2008 and wrote new laws to govern hunting there.

The law as written in 2008 simply stated: "In Game Zones 1 and 2, it is unlawful to pursue deer with dogs, and it is unlawful to bait for deer."

According to Wilson's opinion, since the law does not address hunting deer over bait in the Upstate region, you can't put out bait for deer, but if bait is present it is not illegal to hunt deer over that bait.

"What would happen is that wildlife law enforcement (agents) would not be able to make cases for hunting over bait in the Upstate," said Cary Chamblee, a lobbyist for the wildlife federation.

Three Upstate senators - William H. O'Dell (R-Abbeville), Greg Gregory (R-Lancaster) and Floyd Nicholson (D-Lancaster) - introduced legislation earlier this month to rectify the legal issue.

Chamblee is seeking a sponsor in the House for a bill with the same wording as the Senate bill, which simply adds seven words to the existing law: "or hunt deer by aid of bait."

The Senate sent the bill to its Fish, Game and Forestry Committee, and once a sponsor in the House introduces a similar bill, it would go to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

"The next step is to seek a subcommittee hearing in both houses, and then seek support for the bill in both committees," Chamblee said.

Chamblee said it could take two weeks to a month to get the bills on the agendas of both the House and Senate, and time is running short in this legislative session.

The problem facing the legislators – and SCDNR enforcement – is that 2012 is the second year in a two-year session that ends the first of June.

"In order for a bill to remain active, it has to cross over from one house to the other by the first of May, which is right at seven weeks," Chamblee said. "One side has to pass the bill and send it to the other, so we have an uphill battle. It is late in the session to start a bill, but we felt an obligation to try to return traditional hunting to the Piedmont this year."

Baiting for deer was never an issue in South Carolina until still-hunting for deer in coastal counties began to replace dog hunting – a tradition since colonial times – as large tracts of land began to be broken up in the last half of the 20th century and bought by hunters who preferred to hunt from stands.

Since baiting had never been an issue, no laws prohibited it in the Lowcountry.

When deer hunting was introduced in the Upstate region in the late 1950s, the Wildlife Department, which has since been reorganized into SCDNR, prohibited dog-hunting for deer and baiting for deer by regulatory authority granted by the legislature. Those regulations stood until 2008, when the legislature voted itself authority for hunting on private lands in the Upstate.