Seven Upstate hunters have been arrested on a variety of charges involving illegal bear hunting in Greenville, Pickens and Oconee counties after a four-year undercover operation conducted by S.C. Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officers.
The seven were parts of several different bear hunting groups, according to an SCDNR spokesman. The undercover officers began hanging out with the groups in their camps during bear season and gathered information over the past four years, according to Capt. Robert McCullough.
The SCDNR and the S.C. Attorney General's Office presented the information to a grand jury, which returned indictments against the seven for a variety of changes from illegal bear hunting to Wildlife Management Area abuse to conspiracy to violate game laws. Wildlife officers served the warrants on the men at their homes and places of business, McCullough said.
Arrested were: Charles Claude Blowers, 63, of Sunset, on a charge of baiting; David Winston Brown, 41, of Liberty, killing an undersized bear; Ty Cooper Mills, 23, of Marietta, killing a sow with cubs; Thomas Elliot Mann, 35, of Travelers Rest, conspiracy; Jason Russell Sullivan, 27, of Six Mile, conspiracy and license violation; Wesley Caylor Hedden, 34, of Pickens, distribution of marijuana; and Sherwood L. Patterson, 64. of Seneca, conspiracy and trespass.
They face fines ranging from $500 to $2,500 and possible jail time ranging from 30 days to two years, McCullough said.
“Although illegal bear hunting is a problem in the fact that they were doing it,” McCullough said, “we don't know that it is widespread. But we always want to keep an eye on it.”
South Carolina has two populations of black bears, with one group in the mountains of Greenville, Oconee and Pickens counties and the other group along the coast in Georgetown, Horry, and Williamsburg counties. However, bears are seen in just about every county at one time or another as young bears often migrate from their traditional habitats.
Male black bears are generally larger than females. An average adult male black bear can weigh 150 to 350 pounds, while females average 100 to 250 pounds. However, when food is plentiful, older bears have been documented at weights above 400 to 500 pounds. The largest black bear recorded in South Carolina was 594 pounds.
A one-week still hunt season is held in the mountains in October, with a one-bear limit. No sows with cubs and no bears weighing less than 100 pounds may be taken. A one-week party dog hunt for bears is set later in October with a limit of five bears per party and the same restrictions on sows and small bears.
In 2012 there were 83 bears taken by hunters in the mountains, including 42 males and 41 females. In 2011 the harvest included 46 males and 33 females for a total of 80 bears.
Hunting bears along the coastal is done by computer drawing, with 10 permits available for Williamsburg County and 30 tags each for Georgetown and Horry counties. In 2011 there were 27 total permits issued for the coastal counties, with one female bear harvested.