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A History of the Deer Baiting Laws of SC

and How it Led to the Current Controversy   

By Tiffaani Ireland – The current tide of confusion regarding deer baiting in South Carolina leads one to ponder how did we get to this?  Specifically, one might ask how can baiting for deer be legal in one SC county but illegal in another?  The matter can all be traced back to the 1950s.

The ban on baiting deer and hunting over bait began during this time when deer and turkey were restocked in the Upstate area of SC.  This area would ultimately become Game Zones 1 & 2.  The ban was seen as necessary to protect the newly introduced deer population which was deemed in need of close monitoring and management.  However, the Coastal Plain areas did not have any such baiting bans imposed.  The larger land tracts and inaccessible swamps were seen as being able to provide ample habitat and cover for that area’s deer.

From the 1950s until 2008, laws governing these deer baiting bans were regulated by the SC Department of Natural Resources.  However, in 2008, the SC Legislature took over regulatory authority for hunting on private lands, and new laws to govern hunting were written.  In regards to deer baiting, the new 2008 law, which serves as the current law, states “In Game Zones 1 & 2 it is unlawful to pursue deer with dogs, and it is unlawful to bait for deer.”  The mention of hunting deer over bait was apparently inadvertently left unaddressed.

However, from 2008 forward DNR continued to interpret the law as it was previously outlined under their provisions.  That is evident in the 2008 case that prompted the current view on the law.  At this time, a hunter from Greenwood County challenged the law when he was charged with hunting over bait.  The accused hunter appeared (self-represented) before a Greenwood magistrate.  Reportedly armed only with a copy of the SC Code of Law, the hunter won acquittal of his charges.  DNR appealed this verdict through the Appeals Court, but the finding was upheld.  DNR then requested an opinion from the SC Attorney General as to the interpretation of the law.  The Attorney General subsequently ruled that the law clearly states baiting deer is illegal but did not address, and thereby outlaw, hunting deer over bait.  Thus, the current controversy ensued.

DNR has made it clear they intend to try to reinstitute the ban on hunting deer over bait by introducing legislation to that fact in the up-coming legislative session.  However, the battle over the issue may prove to be long and drawn out.  While there are legislators who share DNR’s feelings of bans by zones throughout the state, there are also those who are unwilling to see any provision put forward that does not address the matter in a uniform manner throughout the state.  Making the law uniform, whether outlawing it state-wide or legalizing it throughout the state, may itself face opposition.  As Rep. Bill Hixon, a member of the Agriculture and Wildlife Committee in the SC House of Representatives, shared with The Advertiser in a recent interview, lawmakers from areas where baiting has traditionally been legal are unlikely to support a state-wide ban on the matter.

Legislators may not be the only interested parties with differing views on the issue.  Opinions throughout the hunting world are equally as diverse.  There are many who love the idea of baiting and yet others who see it as “unsportsman-like.”  As one hunter who weighed in on the matter recently lamented to The Advertiser regarding the law’s current interpretation, “Who wouldn’t come out for a free hamburger and fries?”

The Advertiser would love to know our readers’ opinions on the matter.  Please share your comments with us below.

Further information regarding hunting laws in SC may be found at  www.dnr.sc.gov.

 

DNR Statement on Hunting Deer over Bait