During South Carolina's first-ever double-crested cormorant season, hunters killed more than 11,000 of the nuisance birds in the Santee Cooper lakes, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
The season, which SCDNR got after the population of the federally protected, fish-eating birds on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie skyrocketed from 6,000 in 2008 to 25,000 in 2012, lasted from Feb. 2-March 1. According to surveys from Clemson Extension, each bird at an estimated eight fish per day.
SCDNR issued 1,225 special permits tied to training sessions hunters were required to attend. The agency estimated that 40 percent of the hunters who had permits hunted, with almost 500 returning information forms that detailed the numbers of hours spent afield and the number of birds killed.
While the average number of cormorants killed per person was 23.5, one hunter reported killing 278. Jim Strong of Strong Arms in Sumter killed more than 80; he said it took between three or four shots to kill one bird.
"Those birds are tougher than we all thought. It usually takes two to three to knock them out of the air, then another shot to put them away," he said.
Derrell Shipes, chief of statewide wildlife projects for SCDNR, said a season next year is likely, thanks to a stipulation in the law that obliges the agency to allow another season. But Shipes expects it will be set up differently than this year's season.
"The agency has to look at what about the first season worked well, and what didn't," he said, with biologists looking at "how significant is that number of birds killed, and what will be its impact."
Shipes said SCDNR has been contacted by wildlife agencies in Oregon and Texas, two states with large populations of cormorants, who wanted details of South Carolina's first season. Those states are looking at holding similar seasons.