While many of the larger units are limited to draw gun hunts, archery hunting is often allowed when the gun hunts are not being held. Access to some areas may be limited, requiring a hunter to be willing to hike in for some distance or to take a boat to reach his hunt area.
While the requirement to check deer in was lifted statewide several years ago, it remains in effect in parts of the Lowcountry. Hunters on WMA lands in Berkeley, Dorchester, and Charleston counties, including the Francis Marion National Forest, must check their deer in at the nearest deer check station.
Here is a sampling of some of the out-of-the way places to hunt on public lands, along with a couple of new, larger WMAs that have just opened to deer hunting in the past year or two.
Glassy Mountain WMA
This 200-acre tract, limited to archery hunting only and part of the Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve on the south side of the South Pacolet River in upper Greenville County, is the kind of place you go to get away from the crowds, according to biologist Richard Morton of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
"On the backside of the property is a housing development, and there is no public access, so if you are willing to hike for a mile-and-a-half to 2 miles through the heritage part to get to the archery area, there are some deer in there. There is not a high population of deer, but there are probably some really nice deer ... because they are able to get a little more age on them. Not too many hunters are willing to hike in there," he said.
The season is Oct. 1-16 and Oct. 31-Jan. 1, with a bag limit of two deer, either sex. The rest of Chestnut Ridge HP is under regular Game Zone 1 regulations.
This 4,000-acre area in Oconee and Pickens counties, surrounding the upper reaches of Lake Hartwell, is owned by Clemson University, which has initiated selective harvest of some of the mature standing timber.
That will open up the forest and provide some clearings, Morton said, noting that there are already a number of food plots on the area, about 20 acres in all.
The area has a good population of deer, and about 60 to 80 a year are taken by hunters.
Hunting is archery only. The season is Oct. 1-Dec. 22, with a bag limit of two deer per day and four per season. Only two bucks may be taken.
Fant's Grove WMA
The 7,800-acre Fant's Grove WMA, also a Clemson University property bordering the main part of Lake Hartwell, has been under quality management for the past seven years and is producing excellent bucks.
"We've taken two state- record bucks off Fant's Grove during the rifle season," Morton said.
Fant's Grove is open for archery hunting only, except during special gun draw hunts.
The area has a lot higher diversity of habitat than Keowee, Morton said, and DNR also maintains a number of food plots, including a 45-acre dove field. The habitat includes mixed hardwoods and pines.
A number of roads run through the property, but they are barricaded, so hunters must walk in to find a good place to hunt or access the property by boat.
The draw hunts usually produce 25 to 30 deer, with upwards of 80 total taken during the season, Morton said.
The archery season is Oct. 15-Dec. 7, with a 2-deer daily limit and a 4-deer season limit - including one buck, which must have at least four points on one side or a 12-inch spread.
This 195-acre tract acquired from the family of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond is primarily managed as a dove field, but it has good deer habitat and provides some very good deer hunting, according to SCDNR biologist Gerald Moore.
"The deer population is at a level where we could not grow sunflowers in the dove field without putting up an electric fence," Moore said. "The dove field provides a good food source, and the deer come to those areas to feed."
While it sits apart from the Sumter National Forest in the Central Piedmont Hunt Unit, the Thurmond Tract is in Union County, which ranks second in the state for deer harvested per unit acre of available habitat and sixth in total deer harvested at 7,397 for the 2006 season.
The property is located on S.C. Highway 9, slightly more than 4 miles north of the intersection of S.C. 9 and S.C. 49 near Lockhart.
Game Zone 2 season dates and bag limits apply.
Mason Wildlife Preserve WMA
Some nice deer are taken every year off the Mason Wildlife Preserve, located between S.C. Highway 28 and the Savannah River in lower McCormick County, according to biologist Billy Fleming.
The 2,000-acre tract in the Western Piedmont Hunt Unit, deeded to DNR in the estate of the late James Mason, includes 600 acres that had been tied up in a private hunt lease until the 2006 hunting season. Fleming said that as timber is harvested, DNR will create food plots in the openings, including clearcuts in the past year that have been replanted in millet.
"The property goes all the way to the river in some places, and the boundary is well posted," he said. "The roads are open seasonally, although we do block off portions at different times primarily because of litter problems. However, we open some of the roads during the season to give hunters access."
Game Zone 2 seasons and limits apply.
Marsh WMA/Woodbury WMA
These two Marion County tracts, purchased by the state over the past two years and totaling more than 34,000 acres, have opened boundless new public deer-hunting opportunities in the Pee Dee region.
At 8,560 acres, the Marsh WMA has 8.5 miles of river frontage and bottomland hardwood forest on the Great Pee Dee River on the western side of the county. Woodbury's 25,668 acres are downstream from Marsh in the floodplains between the "black river" (Little Pee Dee) and "red river" (Great Pee Dee) in the lower end of the county.
The very good deer hunting opportunities on both areas should get even better in the future, according to SCDNR biologist Greg Lynch
"Over the next couple of years, we have big ideas for both properties," Lynch said. "We plan to primarily manage for small game, and the deer will follow suit. We'll do a lot of burning and open up the canopy in some of the pine plantations to get good herbaceous growth in there."
Lynch said Woodbury has about 30 food plots from onehalf an acre to an acre each. Work has begun on Marsh to create wildlife openings and feeding areas.
"We've begun road stabilization work and are planting browntop millet in there," he said.
Hunters have already found good success hunting deer on the areas, Lynch said.
"We even have people coming from out of state to hunt there, especially for hogs. You can take hogs during deer season, no limit, shoot as many as you want - please!"
Woodbury is under quality management regulations, which require bucks to have at least 4 points on one side or a minimum 12-inch antler spread.
There are designated camping areas on both the Marsh and Woodbury WMAs.
On the Marsh WMA, archery season is Oct. 1-6, with a 1-deer daily bag limit (either-sex). Archery-muzzleloader season is Oct. 8-20, with a 1-deer daily bag limit (either-sex), and gun hunts are Oct. 22-27 and Nov. 5-17, with a 1-deer daily bag limit (bucks only).
On the Woodbury WMA, archery season dates are Sept. 15-Oct. 6, with a 1-deer daily bag limit (either sex). Archery-muzzleloader dates are Oct. 8-20, with a 1-deer daily bag limit (either-sex). Gun hunts are Oct. 22-Jan. 1. Either-sex hunts are Oct. 26-27, Nov. 2-3, Nov. 9-10, Nov. 16-17, Dec. 15, 22, 29 and Jan. 1. Hunters are limited to 3 bucks for the entire season.
Although this Chesterfield County WMA is in the sand ridge, which means poor soils and poor nutrition, DNR conducts an aggressive burning and planting program to improve habitat for deer and other wildlife.
"We've planted a lot of native food plants like ragweed, partridge pea and Florida beggarweed," said Lynch. "I see a lot of deer tracks there, and I know that there are a lot of people hunting the area."
And, he noted, there is good reason to be optimistic about deer hunting prospects on the property.
"I saw a really nice deer come of the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge draw hunt last year," Lynch said of the wildlife area just a few miles away.
Archery season is Sept. 15-Nov. 24, with a 2-deer daily and 3-deer season limit (either-sex). Buck-only gun hunts are Oct. 1-24, except for either-sex hunts Oct. 6, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, Nov. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-17. The 10-deer season bag limit can include 5 bucks.
Great Pee Dee Heritage Preserve WMA
There are no wildlife food plots on this 2,725-acre tract in Darlington County, but there is a lot of river swamp on the Great Pee Dee River with a good many hardwoods, Lynch said.
But he noted, nobody knows what kind of mast production there will be in the Pee Dee area and across the state this year after a late freeze in the spring.
"But there are a lot of deer in the area, and a lot depends on how much pressure they get. A couple of big tracts around the area are in private hunt clubs, and they push the deer around a good bit."
Lynch said reports he's had from hunters indicate a lot of early-season success on the preserve, especially during archery and muzzleloader seasons.
"The main thing is, you just have to get in there and look around, do your scouting. There is also a fair amount of hog hunting opportunity in there."
Hunters must sign in and out of the property at the entrance, and the gates may be locked during wet weather.
Archery season runs Oct. 1-13, with a 1-deer daily bag limit (either-sex). Archery-muzzleloader is Oct. 22-27, with a 1-deer daily bag limit (either- sex). Gun hunts are Nov. 5-10, buck only, with a 1-deer daily bag limit. The season limit is 3.
Moultrie Hunt Unit
A myriad of opportunities exist on the Berkeley County hunt areas surrounding lower Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie in the Santee Cooper system, including some that are accessible only by boat.
The North Dike WMA that runs along the northern rim of Lake Moultrie includes some islands out in the lake that are only accessible by boat. Some wildlife planting is done in the area, and some very nice deer are taken from the North Dike WMA, according to biologist Sam Chappelear.
"The Sandy Beach Waterfowl Area (part of the North Dike WMA) is planted for waterfowl, and the deer benefit from that and from the several wildlife openings we plant in there each year to attract deer," he said.
The Hall WMA on the north side of the Diversion Canal is an archery-only area and does not get a lot of pressure, Chappelear said. The season runs from early September to January, so hunting is open throughout the fall, with no break in the season for gun hunting.
Most of the area is planted in pine stands of varying ages, but some hardwood stands are hotspots when the trees are dropping acorns. There are a half-dozen wildlife openings on the WMA.
The Bluefield WMA on the western bank of Lake Marion is an adult/youth-only hunting area, Chappelear said.
"Although Bluefield is somewhat small, it is fairly productive. We plant wildlife openings in there in the fall, mainly to provide adults a place to take a youngster to sit on a wildlife opening and have a decent place to hunt," he said.
On the North Dike WMA, gun season is Aug. 17-Sept. 29, for only bucks. Either-sex gun hunts are Oct. 1-27, with a 2-deer daily bag limit.
The Hall WMA is limited to archery hunting, with a Sept. 1-12 season for bucks only, and Sept. 15-Jan. 1 for either-sex.
Hunting on the Bluefield WMA is limited to Wednesdays and Saturdays only, with a 2-buck daily bag limit Aug. 15-Sept. 12 and either-sex hunting Sept. 15-Dec. 29.
The season bag limit on the Moultrie WMAs is 8.
Edisto River WMA
Most of the uplands on this Dorchester County WMA are in planted pines, but there are some really pretty bottomland swamps along the Edisto River which is where most of the deer are harvested, Chappelear said.
"Access is somewhat limited. You have to walk a good ways through the pine plantations to get to the bottomland forest, so one of the best ways to hunt the area is by boat," he said. There is no limit on hogs.
Archery season is Sept. 15-29, either-sex, 1 deer per day. Muzzleloader season is Oct. 1-13, either-sex, 1 deer per day. Still hunting for gun is Oct. 15-Nov. 17, bucks only, 1 per day. Either-sex hunts are Nov. 2-3, 9-10 and 16-17.
This is the second year of archery hunting on the Samworth waterfowl impoundments, and access is only by boat. No boat is required to archery hunt on Santee Delta.
"These are a couple of small places that are out of the way, and deer hunters might overlook them, but we've had some relatively good success there," Chappelear said, adding that last season's hunters can probably expect more success this year now that they have had a chance to learn the areas.
"Both places offer an excellent opportunity to harvest a hog, which we highly encourage hunters to do. The hogs are very detrimental to the dikes."
Archery-only hunting is Oct. 4-6, 11-13, 18-20 and 25-27, with a 2-deer daily bag limit (either-sex).