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So Why is the Topic Still So Murky?
By Tiffani Ireland – As previously reported by The Advertiser in our Aug. 22, 2012 edition, the law regarding deer baiting in South Carolina received clarification earlier in the year with an opinion issued by the SC Attorney General’s Office. In that Jan. 8, 2012 opinion, Attorney General Alan Wilson wrote, “Based on a plain reading of §50-11-310(B), as amended by the Legislature in 2008, it is the opinion of this office that the provision expressly prohibits baiting for deer in Game Zones 1 & 2, but not hunting or taking deer over bait.” Clear enough, right? Not so fast.
One glaring problem noted with this opinion regarding the baiting issue is charging for the act of baiting itself. If a Department of Natural Resources official finds corn on the ground where a sportsman is hunting deer, can he charge the hunter for baiting deer? Well, he could, because, as the law states baiting deer is illegal; but will the charge hold up? Not likely. As an Edgefield County DNR official who spoke with The Advertiser for our initial report stated, unless a person admits to specifically placing the corn on the ground for the purpose of luring deer, prosecution is not possible. Here is the loop hole: since corn is allowed to be used by hunters to bait other animals such as hogs or even by farmers as food for cattle, a hunter could simply claim the corn was set out for one of these purposes, whether truthful or not. So prosecution for actually baiting deer — the only issue deemed illegal by this law — becomes somewhat nullified.
The second problem regarding this issue is the apparent confusion between DNR officials across the state as to how to handle this new interpretation of the law. Apparently, counties within the same Game Zones are handling the matter of baiting and hunting over bait quite differently. A hunter from York County contacted The Advertiser after reading our first story and said that he was told by DNR officials in his county that if bait was found on property there while someone was hunting, DNR in York County would proceed as normal and charge the hunter for baiting deer. However, this attitude is contradictory to the position given by the aforementioned Edgefield County DNR official even though York and Edgefield Counties are in the same game zone.
The differing positions on how to handle the issue of deer baiting within same Game Zones led The Advertiser to question DNR officials in Columbia about the matter. Our investigation ultimately led to a press release by DNR on Friday, Sept. 28. In it, DNR stated that the current interpretation of the baiting law has had “the unintended consequence of making existing law confusing for both the public and DNR enforcement officers and staff.” The release went on to say “there will be less priority placed on enforcing the statute due to the confusing nature of the law and a diminished work force of 192 officers.” As for how DNR intends to proceed on the matter in the future, their release stated, “The department will seek to have the law clarified during the upcoming legislative session.”
What sort of clarification will DNR be seeking? That answer can be found in the minutes of their Feb. 2012 board meeting. According to those minutes, a vote was taken at this meeting directing DNR staff members to seek legislation that will again prohibit hunting over bait in Game Zones 1 & 2. However, DNR may find such legislation difficult to pass.
One opponent DNR may face to any such prohibition could be Rep. Bill Hixon, a resident of Edgefield County and member of the Agriculture and Wildlife Committee in the SC House of Representatives. The Advertiser spoke to Rep. Hixon last week to gain his perspective on the deer baiting issue. “It needs to be clarified,” Rep. Hixon said but went on to add that while he is not against deer bating, the law regarding it “needs to be state-wide or cut out all together.” Rep. Hixon stated it did not make sense for a hunter to legally be allowed to hunt one way in one county of the state, and then in another county face prosecution for the same action. “Common sense needs to prevail in this situation,” he said.
Other local legislators seem to hold Rep. Hixon’s opinion on state-wide uniformity of the law. Sen. Shane Massey, who also spoke to The Advertiser last week on the matter, related how he had introduced legislation this past session that would have made baiting legal throughout the state. While the bill did make it out of committee for the first time, it was ultimately “killed.”
The “final” say as to how this issue will work out will have wait until at least next year as the General Assembly will not convene again until January. However Rep. Hixon assured The Advertiser that any proposed change to the law “will get my microscope of review.”