Santee Coastal Reserve has opportunities for hunters to bag deer or wild pigs.Scott Calderone waited patiently in his climbing stand, whining mosquitoes the only sound in the forest except for errant puffs of wind ticking the occasional leaf against its drooping twin.
It was afternoon, and he had scouted the swamps well, selecting a tree stand overlooking a trail that held the tracks that marked the comings and goings of wild hogs and white-tailed deer in the waterlogged parts of a hardwood bottom inaccessible to humans.
A tiny movement caught his eye.
Parts of a deer materialized from the late afternoon shadows, the horizontal brown line of a back then the flickering white of an inner ear. Antlers came into view. He drew his bow and launched an arrow. He was elated when the bolt’s strike was true. He followed a short blood trail and found his seven-point buck.
“He didn’t go far,” he said. “I was really trying for a hog, but I was happy to get the seven-pointer instead. My friend and hunting partner, Eugene Leonard, helped me load the buck on the truck and we headed to the check station.”
After the deer had been checked in with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources technician personnel, Leonard started skinning the buck. He ignored a skinning cradle, preferring to start with the deer hanging above the concrete skinning platform with the aid of a winch.
The technician took antler measurements and the deer’s weight. Sometimes the technician also will take a jawbone from a deer (the age of a deer is determined by the wear of its teeth). In this instance, the technician waited until the deer was skinned.
Two does had been taken the day before. A couple of wild hogs also had been arrowed.
“I’ve dressed plenty of hogs and deer,” Leonard said. “This is a fun hunt, and we’ve made it several times.
“The limited hunting pressure helps the odds for a getting a hog or deer during a bow hunt. Not many people hunt with a bow because there are so many other areas they can hunt with guns this time of year.”
The hunt was one of the special bow hunts scheduled each year at Santee Coastal Reserve. The 24,000-acre reserve was established in 1974 and, at the time, it was the largest donation of land in South Carolina’s history. Approximately 5,000 acres of the reserve are open to hunters during the special hunts. Remnants of old plantations, the reserve served as a private hunting club. It’s primarily a waterfowl-management area where lottery/permit hunts are awarded to luck sportsmen. But several special hunts for big game are held each year.
These hunts allow deer and wild hogs to be taken with primitive weapons, although deer hunting is the main focus. However, the reserve has a large population of wild hogs that were set free during the former plantation days. These feral animals are unwelcome because of the damage they do to when they root up the soil and damage rare plants and creating soil erosion. They also eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds such as turkey and quail and eat small animals, such as reptiles and amphibians.
Deer are hunted everywhere else in South Carolina, so many hunters focus on hunting Santee Reserve’s wild hogs instead of deer.
Basil Watts, who makes his own bows out of many different types of wood and uses them to hunt wild pigs, has participated in several hunts at Santee Coastal Reserve.
“A bow can be made out of any type of wood except for green ash,” he said. “All you have to do is dry the stave to 10 percent moisture and shape the bow. There are many sources for information if a hunter wants to make his own bow and his own arrows. It adds to my enjoyment of a hunt if I take a game animal with bows and arrow I made myself.”
Watts hunts both hogs and deer at the reserve. But he sets up where the odds are better for hogs, if he find the right signs.
“If I get a shot at a deer, I’ll take it,” he said. “But the places where you find the deer and the places you find the hogs are usually different.”
Watts arrowed an enormous hog, estimated at more than 400 pounds, during a 2003 reserve hunt. He didn’t have as much luck during 2004.
“The hogs had moved,” he said. “You need to scout out the area ahead of time to find good places to hunt. In 2003 I found a thick, swampy area where a sow with piglets was hiding and hunted around the edges.
“I shot the big boar with a wooden arrow. I also had chances at a nice buck and a doe. There was lots of deer sign. The hunt was held during the rut and there were scrapes and rubs everywhere.”
Watts finds good sign, then hunts the area from a portable climbing stand. Any stand that doesn’t cause harm the tree can be used at the reserve.
It also features lots of managed food plots that concentrate deer. Watts finds the trails leading from food plots and hunts where they enter the wet, thick areas — if he’s hunting hogs.
“Those pigs will lay where it’s thick and wet,” he said. “The deer will skirt the edges.
“If I want to specifically hunt deer, I hunt over the scrapes and rubs or over a trail leading from a food plot.
“The best places to set up for deer are the trails along the edges of the thickets. But sometimes I find a hot spot where a buck is making scrapes and rubs around a live oak or on a scrub oak ridge. It’s harder to get close to a deer out on the ridges.
“When you hunt in the open, you might want to switch to a compound bow because the opportunities for shots are going to be longer.
“But when you hunt the pigs or deer along the thickets, you put on your hip boots and follow the trails into the swamps. If you can see a good shooting lane to a trail at anything over 10 or 20 yards, you’re lucky. The thick vegetation is hard to see into, even from high up in a tree.”
There is a system of old plantation dikes along the edges of the designated hunting area. Pigs head into the black needlerush marshes and Phragmites reed patches along the edges of the marshes dikes to spend time during the heat of the day.
Hunters can hear them when they’re out in the marshes, where they feed by rooting in the soft soils when the tide is low. Needlerush grows thick and low, but it’s still so high it effectively hides hogs from archers. But high tides can push pigs out of the marshes and into arrow range.
“They started having wild hog hunts with dogs in the spring,” Watts said. “That made the pigs more wary and also reduced the number of pigs.
“You used to see them everywhere during the bow hunts. You could spot them by walking along the dikes, edges of the marshes and on the peninsulas. But now they’ve gotten wiser, so you have to use your best hunting techniques to score on pigs and deer.”
Hunts can be hot, sweaty and mosquito-infested. Watts uses insect repellent and mesh clothing to keep bugs at bay. When scouting for a new place to hang a stand or while stalking in the middle of the day, he always keeps the wind direction in mind.
“I don’t care what you put on to kill your scent, it’s not going to hide you from a pig or deer,” he said. “You’re going to be hot and sweaty. Even if you wash your clothing in de-scenting laundry detergent and spray on chemical scent killers or a cover scent, you’re still going to smell like a human in the hot, humid environment at Santee Coastal Reserve.
“If you’re hunting from a stand, make sure you set it up downwind of where you expect to see the animal. When you’re walking, make sure you walk into the wind.
“I use unscented insect repellent and spray it on before I begin hunting. I take along a can to spray down while I’m hunting.
“There’s nothing as bad as getting close to an animal that’s not quite within bow range and having a bunch of bugs you can’t swat. Repellents are a necessity on a Santee Coastal Reserve hunt. You just have to deal with them or you’re not going to be successful.”
Watts spends nights at the Bay View Motel at U.S. 17 South in nearby Georgetown. The drive to the reserve takes about 30 to 45 minutes depending upon where he’s hunting.
But many hunters take advantage of the reserve’s campground. The special hunts take on a festive air, with hunters and their families coming from many different places.
No special reservations are needed to camp during the hunts. It features restroom and shower facilities at the campground.
During the 2004 hunt, the campground was packed with hunters. It was evident hunters had done a lot of advance scouting because of the hunter signs in the woods. While marking trails isn’t permitted, hunters had festooned trees with surveyor’s tape marked with their names and hunting dates to keep other hunters from contaminating their chosen areas with scent.
During the day, hunters return to the campground to practice with their bows and to share information or check in harvested game.
Good roads exist throughout the hunting area, but wet areas and soft sand in some spots make a four-wheel drive vehicle an important means of transporting hunters and gear.
While scouting is necessary, it should be done with as little disturbance as possible to the hunting area. Humans are in the reserve all year. Hikers, birdwatchers and other outdoors enthusiasts can acclimate deer and pigs to human presence. When special-hunt dates aren’t in effect, people see deer and hogs regularly. But the heavy influx of human scent and noise gives the game animals fair warning when the season is about to begin.
Jim Westerhold, SCDNR’s Upper Coastal Waterfowl Project Leader, heads the crew in charge of managing and maintaining Sam Worth and Santee Delta Wildlife Management Areas in addition to Santee Coastal Reserve. The reserve has approximately 50 acres of food plots for deer and other game animals. The WMAs also feature special hunt-opportunities as well as the reserve.
“We’re offering archery opportunities for deer hunters and the main priority is to control the wild hog population,” Westerhold said. “We have special hunts for hogs in the spring.
“Archery hunts are a poor way to control hogs, but if every bow hunter walked out with 10 pigs apiece, we’d be happy. We realize we’re managing for more than just deer, and the hogs negatively impact our management capabilities.”
Before entering the reserve, hunters must fill out a permit form and keep it on their person while involved in hunting activities. During hunts, SCNDR personnel are usually at the office near the campground, so hunters can find them to check in any deer they harvest. Permits for camping and hunting are available at the office and at information stations around the site.
The special hunts offer a two-deer, either-sex limit; there’s no limit for wild pigs.
The 2004-05 season dates for archery-only hunts were Nov. 7-12 and Nov. 21-26. An archery and muzzleloader hunt was scheduled Dec. 1-3.
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