– By Tiffani Ireland –
On March 18, 2015, the South Carolina Senate passed S. 454, a bill that will bring significant changes to deer hunting across the state. This bill will, among other things, change the bag limits on deer to 4 antlered and 4 antler-less deer a year and will require all deer be tagged. It does not, however, make any changes to the deer hunting season. The bill was read for the first time in the House of Representatives on March 19 and was subsequently passed that same day to the House’s Agricultural, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Rep. Bill Hixon, Chairman of the Wildlife Committee (a sub-committee of the Agricultural, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs Committee), spoke to The Advertiser last week about this measure and said he expects to see some changes made to it.
“I still have some heartburn with some of the stuff they [the Senate] passed in there,” Rep. Hixon told The Advertiser. One of the items Hixon takes issue with is the requirement of tags on all deer. Currently, deer hunters are only required to purchase doe tags. These tags allow a hunter to be able to harvest does on days other than either sex days, or, as they is popularly known, “doe days.” With the new requirement of tags for all deer, there will be no more doe days. Rep. Hixon maintained that this change is especially hurtful to “the little hunters,” those who do not own enough land to or do not participate in the deer quota program and/or those who did not or could not purchase doe tags and thus only hunted does on doe days. Rep. Hixon said this is hurtful because now those hunters are not only required to purchase a hunting license to be able to hunt, on top of that, they will also be required to purchase tags for all deer. Rep. Hixon said, “I’m of the belief a person should get something when he purchases a license.” Typically, that “something” has been the ability to hunt deer at no extra cost. However, in the Senate’s version, hunters will be charged an additional $15 for a set of 8 deer tags. Non-resident hunters will be charged $30 for their first deer tag and an additional $10 per tag for the remaining 7 available to them. Deer quota land holders would not need tags nor would those hunters who hunt on those designated lands.
Rep. Hixon said changes to deer hunting was an idea brought to law makers by the SC Department of Natural Resources. The changes seen in the Senate’s bill are somewhat in line with recommendations found in minutes from the Jan. 7, 2011, SCDNR board meeting that show that the department favors a 4 buck limit, mandatory tagging of all deer at the point of kill, and $5 per tag for hunters who are residents of SC and $25 a tag for non-residents. In those minutes, DNR suggests that youth, resident gratis, and lifetime licensees receive free tags. They also recommend that the number of doe tags that will be issued be determined each year. Their recommendation on doe tags at that meeting was 4 a year except in Game Zone 1 where the population of deer was deemed lower. These recommendations would eliminate the state’s doe days.
In the minutes from this SCDNR meeting, the department cited the recommended changes to deer hunting as being based on results gathered from a DNR contracted survey. They said this survey was conducted by an “internationally recognized public opinion and attitude survey research firm.” According to those minutes, the survey found that 70% of hunters in SC support the proposed changes to deer hunting.
The need to change the hunting laws on deer was spurred by decreasing herds across the state. Data collected in a recent study on deer conducted at the Savannah River Site showed that 72% of the fawns in that study were eaten by coyotes. Again, as in the case of the diminishing turkey flocks (see our related story on the changes to turkey hunting), the coyote is the culprit. When asked what provisions are being made against this predatory animal who is seemingly reeking havoc on other wildlife in the state, Rep. Hixon did say that law makers have taken all laws off hunting coyotes making it open season on the coyote year round. However, no other provisions have yet been made that might curtail the coyotes impact on the state’s wildlife.
Rep. Hixon agrees that changes must be instituted to protect the state’s deer population but, as stated, does not support all the current changes proposed in the Senate’s bill. He does support a drop in the bag limit but feels there needs to be statewide consistency in deer hunting laws. Rep. Hixon pointed out that SC is the only state with an area that has no bag limit. Rep. Hixon also said, “I do want people in SC to get something when they buy their licenses.”
Being a hunter himself, Hixon said he is not seeing the amount of deer he has in previous years and said he is being told by other hunters that they, too, are “not seeing the deer.” He said input on the changes to deer hunting is needed, especially from hunters, because, as he noted, most of the state’s law makers are not hunters. Rep. Hixon said hunters need to let their representatives know how they feel about this issue. “I would welcome input and anyone who would like to come and testify [before the Wildlife Committee],” Hixon said. Rep. Hixon said hunters are also welcomed to contact him and let them know how they feel about this matter. He may be reached by calling his office at 803-212-6898 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The SC House is taking a 2 week break. They will return to work on April 14 at which time Rep. Hixon said that he plans to quickly get to work on this matter. “I don’t want it to sit,” he said. The Advertiser will continue to follow this issue. We, too, invite input on this matter. Your comments may be submitted in writing to our office or as feedback on this story at our website. Please remember, The Advertiser does not publish anonymous comments.