The bill, which deletes wording in state law that prohibited baiting for deer in the Upstate, passed the House on Feb. 21. Introduced by Sen. Greg Gregory (R-Lancaster), it had breezed through the Senate in January.
The issue of whether baiting is legal in Game Zones 1 and 2, which cover most of the Upstate, arose after the legislature took over regulation of hunting rules from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources in 2008. Most of the SCDNR's hunting rules were picked up verbatim, but a phrase was dropped that had prohibited baiting for deer. With the omission, the law no longer made it illegal to hunt deer over bait, while still prohibiting putting out bait for deer.
After a magistrate's ruling on the issue, which was subsequently upheld by the state attorney general, it became impossible to prosecute Upstate hunters for hunting over bait. After averaging about 350 tickets a year for the offense, wildlife officers wrote no Upstate baiting tickets last year.
While wildlife biologists, conservationists and many hunters decried the legislation, it did serve to clarify the law. Opponents of baiting do not foresee any legislation passing this session that would return the ban on baiting, unless, according to Benton Wislinski, lobbyist for the S.C. Wildlife Federation and the S.C. Camo Coalition, "There is a greater movement to inform the general public of the negative impacts of baiting."
Wislinski said the Federation is opposed to baiting from both and ethical and game management perspectives and believes the legislature should give serious study to the wisdom of baiting in the long-term.
"Repeated studies by game biologists at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources show that baiting can be destructive to herd health, and that fair chase without baiting increases overall hunter success," he said.
"That said, aside from a major public-awareness campaign, a mere outbreak of disease or some other adverse scenario that leads to the decline/inferior health of the deer population would be the other scenario I see where a serious conversation about banning would be back on the table."