South Carolina has a significant amount of public hunting opportunists on Wildlife Management Areas across the state, and some have ample habitat diversity to provide good hunting opportunities for several game species.
This “something for everyone” approach delivers opportunities for both big-game hunters and small-game hunters. While many WMAs don’t permit deer and small-game hunting simultaneously, once deer season ends, most small-game hunting seasons continues. On many WMAs, deer hunting may be allowed only on specific days.
In all cases when researching any WMA, check the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ regulation guide for specific hunt dates and detailed information.
Charles Ruth, SCDNR’s deer and turkey project supervisor, said some ares are more restrictive when deer season is open in terms of small-game hunting opportunities.
“Some of the best all-around WMAs for big- and small-game hunting opportunities do have small-game hunting restrictions during deer season, but those limitations are detailed in the rules and regulations,” Ruth said. “In the broad view, hunters have plenty of time to hunt multiple species in terms of small-game hunting.”
Let’s take a look some of the best overall WMAs in each of South Carolina’s four game zones that provide good hunting opportunities for a variety of species. Ruth and Michael Hooks, SCDNR’s small-game coordinator, shared their opinions on the best all-around public-hunting areas.
Game Zone 1
The largest WMA in the mountainous portion of South Carolina’s Upstate is the Sumter National Forest.
“Game Zone 1 is unique in that it’s quite small compared to other game zones, but that’s function of topography, essentially, steep, rugged, mountain-type terrain,” Ruth said. “The Sumter National Forest are scattered blocks of land, often bordering private lands, so knowing and respecting boundaries is crucial. But while the terrain is basically mountainous, some areas have been logged and are in various stages of re-growth, and others that have been burned providing good habitat diversity for multiple species.”
Ruth said this is a good example of hunters having an advantage by getting out and doing leg work to find areas having the right habitat for the species they prefer.
“These things change from year to year, with cut areas growing up — burn areas the same,” he said. “But this area overall is excellent for squirrels, with lots of mature hardwood areas, interspersed with potentially good areas for other small game. Overall, deer density is lower than most areas of the state, but still, good hunting exists, and bear hunting is also an option. Each year, different areas may have the diversity hunters want, so scouting in advance is crucial.”
Hooks said that the Long Creek Tract in Oconee County is very good for multiple species of small game.
“This specific area has good vegetative diversity and provides good opportunities for several species,” Hooks said. “Several different species thrive here and provide good hunting, and rabbit, quail and squirrel are all found in respectable numbers in terms of small-game hunting.”
A 20-acre dove field at Long Creek has hunting on specific days and can be accessed from nearby Westminster.
Game Zone 2
Ruth said Game Zone 2 is much larger and more diverse in topography than Game Zone 1 and has more named WMAs.
“By far, the majority of the WMA acreage is the Sumter National Forest lands in this game zone,” Ruth said. “Again, I’d suggest hunters check specific blocks of land near where they live and get into remote potions of these tracts. Excellent big- and small-game hunting is available, depending on the species sought and the habitat requirements. With timber practices and some prescribed burning, hunters can find suitable habitat. “
Fant’s Grove WMA around Lake Hartwell is favored by both Hooks and Ruth because of its size and diversity of hunting opportunities. Fant’s Grove covers 8,540 acres, principally in Anderson County, with smaller portions in Oconee and Pickens counties.
Ruth said that since 2000, Fant’s Grove has been under quality deer management. One youth-only draw deer hunt is held first Saturday in October. While too late this year for this hunt, hunters can plan for next year by calling 864-654-1671, ext. 16, to obtain application information. An open archery season for deer is in place, and species dates and limits and antler restrictions are in the Rules and Regulations.
Hooks said small-game hunting is allowed mainly from mid-December until March 1. Fant’s Grove contains several dove fields that are open on Saturday afternoons during dove season.
Draw waterfowl hunts for adult and youth hunters are held on the Clemson WMA, which is planted in annual grains and flooded seasonally to provide feeding areas for waterfowl. Selection for waterfowl hunting at Clemson Waterfowl Area is by computer drawing only, and it’s not too late; applications become available in mid-September.
Additional waterfowl hunting opportunities are available on Fant’s Grove WMA on Wednesday and Saturday mornings during the waterfowl seasons. Refer to the regulations guide for specific hunt dates and other restrictions. For questions about draw hunts or other Fant’s Grove information, call the Clemson SCDNR Office at 864-654-1671.
Hooks said the 806-acre Draper WMA in York County is an excellent choice for multiple small-game species.
The Draper Tract is about 10 miles south of York on SR 322, west of SR 165 (Brattonsville Road), bordering Love Creek to the south. Access to the property is limited, with a parking area provided.
About 80 acres of planted loblolly, natural loblolly, shortleaf and Virginia pine are present. Hardwood stands on this tract comprise nearly half the property and are found in both upland and bottomland sites. They harbor a significant number of desirable mast-producing species.
About 386 acres is open land or is non-forested and consists primarily of abandoned fields, powerline right-of-ways and ponds. Many of the fields are relatively large, some 50 acres or more. The open areas are managed by periodic mowing, disking and burning to maintain an early successional habitat.
Hooks said Draper WMA is managed specifically for small game, however, good deer and wild turkey populations are present. Special seasons and/or bag limits apply for quail, rabbit and turkey, and two dove fields are on the property, one youth-adult field and one adult field.
Game Zone 3
Ruth and Hooks were both quick to mention the WMA in the Webb Center Complex as providing the best public-hunting opportunities in the Lowcountry.
“We’re talking about the three separate WMAs of Hamilton Ridge, Palachuacola and Webb as a package,” Ruth said. “They are contiguous properties and comprise a large tract of prime public hunting for wide diversity of species.”
Ruth said the three WMAs together have more than 25,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods, creek drains, oxbow lakes and various types of wetlands, as well as numerous pine stands. Wildlife openings and food plots are scattered throughout, creating tremendous diversity for wildlife.
“These areas have special deer hunts, and for most of the deer hunting, hunters must apply through our draw-hunt system,” he said. “These draw hunts are highly popular and productive. Archery hunting is available at certain times, but restrictions are in place, so hunters should check the current (regulations)for specific information.”
Hooks said a lot of prescribed fire has been used at this WMA creating additional opportunities for small game species.
“When the deer hunting ends, Webb is provides a great opportunity for various small game species, as well as turkey hunting during the spring,” he said. “Quail, woodcock and rabbits all provide excellent hunting.”
The Francis Marion National Forest is a major WMA, consisting of more than 258,000 acres segmented into five WMAs — Santee, Hellhole, Northampton, Wamba and Waterhorn — to manage the highly diverse habitats.
“Different areas may have special uses,” Ruth said, pointing to Waterhorn, which has special seasons for archery and muzzleloader deer hunting. “For the most part, hunting regulations at the Francis Marion are fairly consistent with statewide seasons, but always check first.”
Hooks said small-game hunting thrives because of habitat diversity and the prescribed burning practices.
“Quail hunting is generally very good with some areas also providing good rabbit hunting if you scout up the right habitat,” he said. “In 2016, the Francis Marion WMA — on a statewide basis — had the best woodcock hunting of any WMA, including some traditionally good areas in the Piedmont.”
For questions about the Francis Marion National Forest, call the Dennis Wildlife center in Bonneau at 843-825-3387.
Game Zone 4
Hooks said several WMAs provide good hunting opportunities in Game Zone 4, with the Marsh WMA in Marion County being a very good choice for multiple species, big game and small.
“Marsh has several habitat types, including floodplain habitats from the Great Pee Dee River such as bottomland hardwoods, isolated freshwater wetlands and extensive pine and mixed pine-hardwood forests,” he said.
The main entrance to Marsh WMA is about 7 miles north of Gresham.
Woodbury WMA, also in Marion County is another consensus choice with 25,668 about 2.8 miles southeast of Daviston.
Ruth said habitat types vary and include bottomland hardwoods, Carolina bays and other isolated wetlands as well as longleaf and loblolly pines.
“Very good populations of both big game and a diversity of small-game species are found at Woodbury,” Ruth said. “Antler restrictions apply on deer hunting.”
A final area in Game Zone 4 is the Sandhills State Forest WMA, consisting of over 46,000 acres in Chesterfield County near Patrick.
Ruth said the terrain is primarily sandhills, as the name suggests, but the large area can be scouted for specific species and quality habitat for deer and various small game species exists.
“As is the case in any large area, some hot spots exist, but hunters need to find the right habitat for the species they target,” he said. “These hot spots will change over time as the habitat changes with management, such as burning, timbering and re-growth of timbered areas. Sandhills has some good opportunities and is large enough to accommodate multiple species for quality hunting.”
Ruth said on a statewide basis, South Carolina’s WMAs offer remarkable hunting opportunities, but they have specific rules and regulations, including no Sunday hunting. Many WMA’s have some specific rules or regulations that must be known before going. The rules are not complicated, but different WMA’s often have different management strategies based on the habitat and species most abundant in that WMA.