South Carolinians should soon get more ammunition to conduct the war on wild hogs, coyotes and armadillos. The Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee passed the House bill out with several proposed amendments last week and the full Senate is expected to take it up this week.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Phillip Lowe, R-Florence, sets a special season to take the three species at night with special equipment in addition to current opportunities. From the last day of February through July 1, citizens will be able to use an expanded array of weapons and equipment in addition to current law, which allows the animals to be killed at night year-round with restrictions on weapons and equipment.


Amendments added by the Senate committee would require landowners to inform the S.C. Department of Natural Resources of plans to hunt at night before their first night hunt of each season. Another would increase the fine for importing wild hogs or coyotes to $1,000 per animal and forfeiture of equipment used to transport the animals.


Specifically, the bill would allow the use of any legal firearm or archery equipment and the use of bait, electronic calls, artificial light, infrared, thermal or laser sighting devices, night-vision devices or any device aiding the identification or targeting of species. It would require centerfire rifles to be fired from an elevated position at least 10 feet from the ground when hunting at night.


If the bill is approved by the Senate next week, which is expected, the House would have to concur quickly in time to meet the deadline before the legislature adjourns for the year.


Lowe said the extreme measures are needed to slow the spread of wild hogs, coyotes and armadillos. Hogs and coyotes threaten crops, livestock and wildlife, and armadillos dig up lawns and gardens in an incessant quest for food.


Domestic hogs have run wild in South Carolina since the first settlers brought them from Europe, but populations have exploded in recent years and feral hogs have begun moving into the Upstate from their normal river drainages and swamps in the Lowcountry, often transported by hunters unaware of the damage they can cause.


Coyotes, introduced both by normal migration and brought in to be run by hounds in fox pens and then escaped, have been expanding for the past several decades. Armadillos have been steadily migrating up from Florida but so far are limited primarily to the coastal counties.


The SCDNR reported that responses to the agency's annual deer hunter survey indicates hunters are killing about 35,000 hogs and 30,000 coyotes a year.


At least one senator, Creighton Coleman, D-Fairfield, suggested extending the night-hunting season. "Why can't we shoot them all the time?" he said. "They are a pest."