It’s time to take the gloves off, folks. In overwhelming numbers, deer hunters in South Carolina have been asking for several years for season limits for bucks and does, in the face of a statewide deer herd that is obviously in decline. It’s time for that to happen and time for politicians to get out of the way or get run over.
The S.C. Senate passed a bill earlier this year that would establish a statewide four-buck, four-doe season limit and set a $15 fee for those eight tags. You can quibble about numbers, but there’s no argument that as we need to do something to stop the decline — or at least give the S.C. Department of Natural Resources the power to address changes that obviously need to be made, whether or not all the legislators in Columbia can even begin to grasp what’s happening.
As this is being written, I’m getting a dribble of information across my laptop that the deer bill no longer looks like the sure thing it should be, that there’s been a hold-up in the S.C. House that may keep it from passing in this legislative session.
In a nutshell, here’s what’s happened to our deer population over the past dozen years. In 2002, South Carolina hunters killed 319,902 deer. In 2014 — you can read about it elsewhere in this magazine — they killed 202,952 deer. That’s a decrease of better than 35 percent, and the decline has been nothing if not consistent. Only three times over the past 13 years has the statewide harvest increased from one season to the next.
Folks, that’s not a trend, that’s a decline, and hopefully, it doesn’t turn into a crash.
Several reasons are typically given for what’s been going on. First, the nature of the landscape has changed. Fifteen years ago, South Carolina was one big cutover. In the 1980s, much of the state’s forests were timbered and replanted in pines. Those cutovers are deer nurseries and served as such for about 15 years. But around the turn of the century, those even-aged stands of pines became big and old enough to no longer be providing the kind of thick, rich habitat that supports big numbers of deer. The statewide herd has reflected that change in habitat. And it has only gotten worse.
Second, the herd was affected by the huge harvests of the late 1990s and early 2000s. You can’t kill 300,000 deer and have the does keep dropping enough fawns to keep up.
Third, Wiley Coyote has arrived, and he’s a lot bigger problem for whitetail deer than he was for the Roadrunner. Studies indicate in areas with a lot of coyotes, better than half of the fawns dropped by does wind up eaten in a coyote den somewhere. The deer herd simply can’t keep up with that kind of predation.
Whatever is going on, SCDNR needs to be able to deal with it, so please, politicians, let the biologists do the work you pay them to do and give them the tools they need to do it. Now, before it’s too late.