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SCDNR Deer Management Public Meeting Post Game

As we all are aware SCDNR is hosting public meetings around the state to discuss the deer management legislation (Senate Bill 454) that’s up for vote. If you haven’t attended a session I encourage you to do so to let your voice be heard. I support the bill and think it will be a good thing for the state given the condition of our deer population and tendencies of some of our state’s hunters. 

Last night I attended the meeting held in Lancaster, SC. I really didn’t know what to expect as far as how many people would attend and what the discussions/comments would be like. I know that hunters feel differently about the legislation and for some it gets pretty personal and emotional. I was interested to attend and hear the data from DNR as well as the reactions from the crowd.

Charles Ruth speaking at the SCDNR Public meeting to discuss deer management program legislation

I met coyote slayer Gavin Jackson there and upon arrival it was obvious that DNR had a heavy presence at the meeting. I bet there were 25 to 30 DNR representatives and officers present. There were also some gentlemen wearing business coats who sat down at the front. I assume they were politicians, but am not sure as they didn’t say much, but seemingly were just there to observe.

Charles Ruth was the presenter for DNR. Charles is a Wildlife Biologist at SCDNR and he is over the turkey and deer programs. He went through several PowerPoint slides pretty fast to start the presentation. He gave some background on the current state of deer hunting and regulations within the state. One thing he pointed out early on was that buck limits are not a function of SCDNR, but rather it's voted on at a higher level in government. DNR simply enforces the laws that are adopted by government. Even though he stated that fact, some obviously didn’t understand it, but more on that shortly.

A panoramic view of the crowd in Lancaster SC to hear Charles Ruth speak on the deer management legislation

In the “Background” section Mr. Ruth highlighted a lot of information. He noted that the declining deer population in our state was due to several factors. The factors he noted were:

  • Lack of reasonable bag limit
  • Forestry practices
  • Years of extremely liberal deer harvest
  • Coyotes

Regarding the lack of a reasonable bag limit Mr. Ruth pointed out how much of an outlier SC is. He noted that just about every state has some type of tag program and the states that don’t have tag programs have “antler restrictions”. South Carolina and Hawaii (which Hawaii doesn’t have native deer) are the only ones with really no type of regulations, tag programs, or antler restrictions. From that perspective it’s easy to see that SC is an outlier. 

Media present filming Charles Ruth of SCDNR speak on the 2015 deer management legislation

Mr. Ruth also noted that while we have fewer deer now and deer harvest numbers are down… we still lead the southeast in terms of harvest per square mile. Since he went through his slides quickly I wasn’t able to jot down all the data points, but I did capture a few that I thought were interesting: 

  • Since the year 2000 there have been 3 million deer harvested in SC. 
  • Over last 14 years only 7% of hunters average killing more than 4 bucks per year 
  • That 7% of hunters is killing 30% of the total deer harvest per year – i.e. there is a small % of hunters that kill a lot of bucks
  • SCDNR issuing far fewer depredation permits, but some agricultural damage still exist in places in SC

Mr. Ruth also noted that DNR conducts surveys and polls + they have worked with independent agencies to conduct surveys over the last few years. From the polls and surveys they have been able understand both quantitative and qualitative data as it relates to deer hunting across the state. Some of the sentiment and data they gleaned was:

  • Hunters focus on bucks, not does and with no limit on bucks hunters can repeatedly take bucks
  • Hunters are ready for a more modern approach in SC
  • Bucks are exploited under current system
  • Hunters want better sex ratios and more mature bucks
  • The majority of hunters in SC are tired of the “If it’s brown it’s down” mentality
  • The majority of SC hunters are “for” buck limits
  • Hunters don’t mind paying for tags as long as money goes into deer program in DNR

Current Status of Bill 454
Senate Bill 454 was filed on DNR's behalf in January and has passed the senate. It’s up for vote in house shortly in the upcoming session. Mr. Ruth noted that the proposal may not please everyone, but DNR had to come up with 1 proposal that attempts to please everyone. If the bill is passed in the next session it will still take a year to implement. If it doesn’t pass then the process will have to start over. 

The legislation would provide the following:

  • Limit of 4 antlered deer per hunter
  • Limit of 4 antlerless deer per hunter
  • $15 for 4 buck and 4 doe tags
  • Tagging will be required for all deer
  • Doe days would be eliminated to avoid untagged deer
  • Non-residents deer tag (Amended in senate) $30 for first tag and $10 for each additional tag
  • Doe Quota Program - Large property owners would get extra tags to use on their specific property. There is a $50 application fee, then DNR has to grant the access into the DQP based off their research.

Open Forum Q/A Session
After Mr. Ruth’s presentation he wanted to get to the questions from the audience and he also wanted to conduct surveys both via raise of hands and via paper. During this session I was reminded that I was in Lancaster as several of the audience members were interrupting each other, complaining that DNR was trying to “Help the rich man and hold the poor people down”, and just not being courteous to one another in general. 

Some audience members asked about reviving the check-in locations, rolling big-game license cost & tags into same fee, call-in harvest reporting, and wanting punishment for people caught with illegal deer. Mr. Ruth answered the questions as best he could. As the session went on the environment became more animated. 

In Sum
I was glad that I attended the meeting and got the info and am up-to-date on the current state of Senate Bill 454. I was also disappointed in some of our fellow outdoorsmen that were present and I think we collectively owe Mr. Ruth an apology. Several audience members were disrespectful to Mr. Ruth during his presentation. They made snide comments, interrupted him, asked him questions and then didn’t let him answer before interrupting him again. Even worse some crowd members were essentially holding Mr. Ruth solely responsible for the way the government works, the way the legislation is written, and how laws are interpreted. It was as if they didn’t understand how our government currently works and what DNR is trying to do. Mr. Ruth and DNR are trying to help the deer population and hunters across the state, but the way some interacted with him you could tell they didn’t understand. 

It was also obvious, at least to me, that everyone came and voiced their own unique perspective, but yet didn’t consider the scope of the greater task at hand for DNR. Whether it was a bow hunter that was mad about when the season starts in various game zones, or a processor worried about tagging deer in his cooler, a person who wants to blame coyotes for everything, or just a redneck in general who changed positions on a question half way through his response… all attendees had an individual perspective and concern that was voiced. There seemed to be a disconnect in that DNR has to collectively consider all of the unique perspectives, but yet the audience didn’t care about other hunters perspectives, rather they only considered their own. I did not envy Mr. Ruth’s position on stage last night, but I do respect him for delivering the info and taking the misdirected heat. It was impossible to please a room full of 60+ hunters from one area of the state so I can’t imagine trying to please all hunters across the entire state in 1 bill. Though, even though the crowd was animated during the survey session the majority of the crowd was in support of adopting the new legislation, which was a positive.

I thought Mr. Ruth handled the increasingly animated crowd very well and was very professionally even when some members hurled insults at him and his organization. Kudos to the DNR team for hosting the event, remaining professional, and working to get this bill passed. I think the future of deer hunting in our state will benefit from it for years to come. I for one appreciate your efforts and recognize that the challenge before you with this legislation is not an easy one to get across the line. Thank you!

Coyote Control

The potential change in the South Carolina deer regulations as highlighted in the blog by Clint titled "South Carolina Buck Regulations?" has a lot of people talking about buck limits, fees, and the one I'm most interested in, PREDATORS. 

  Coyote in trap

I had the opportunity earlier this year during trapping season to watch what I would call a professional trapper at work.  If they were to give trappers a degree, this guy would have his Masters.  For the purpose of this blog, I will refer to him as Master Trapper.  His main goal was to trap wily coyotes from a friend?s property and he didn?t disappoint.  My buddy told a story of a few days before when they noticed Master Trapper abruptly stop his ATV and examine a spot on the pasture fence.  My buddy said they stopped and asked him what he was looking at. Master Trapper replied, ?coyotes are crossing here.?  He spotted a single coyote hair on the fence while traveling 40 mph on his four-wheeler.  That?s impressive.

Over the past few years, the coyote has expanded his range and is often seen in places you wouldn?t expect.  I read an article this morning on CNN of coyotes in New York City.   I wouldn?t have believed that a few years ago.   I also have seen them in my backyard, which just a few years ago would?ve been unheard of.  According to SCDNR, ?populations in South Carolina were established in Pickens and Oconee counties in the late 1970?s by houndsmen, and coupled with natural immigration, have since expanded to include all counties in the State.?

The question that often is asked is ?what impact do coyotes have on deer/turkey/predator populations??   Based on my research there are various opinions on this question.  The scale goes from those that say that we need to eradicate coyote populations to those that say they have no impact at all.  Personally, I don?t think it?s rational to say they have no impact at all.   I found an interesting article called, ?Coyotes in the East: Are They Impacting Deer?? which was done by the USDA Forest Service.  Its research has found that coyotes do have a significant impact on deer fawn populations.  In its research they monitored 60 fawns and noted that 44 of these fawns didn?t survive until the fall season.  During the research, they were able to attribute 36 of the 44 (80%) fawn deaths to coyote predation.  That sounds significant to me.   They are still conducting research as highlighted in Clint's Blog "South Carolina Buck Regulations?" .   I also found an article at Outdoor Life magazine, which showed a series of pictures in which a coyote caught a fawn. This just gave me a visual of the research done by the USDA Forest Service.  As with everything, I feel that the impact depends on the situation, but you can?t ignore that there is an impact.

  Me posing with coyote trapped by the Master Trapper

The next question would be ?What does a landowner do??  Let?s face it, the coyote is here to stay, but there a measures that can be done to control them.  SCDNR has a good publication that gives a history of the coyote and how they can be controlled.  I got to see this done first hand by Master Trapper and it?s something I will not soon forget.  Let?s remember that they don?t call them Wily for nothing.

Personally I'm not against buck limits because I usually don't reach the proposed limit.  I usually will kill a doe or two for meat and then hunt for a "Wall Hanger".  That's just me though.  What impact do you think coyotes have as it relates to the proposed change in buck limits?


South Carolina Buck Regulations?

If you read SCDNR?s page then you are aware of their recent article about hunters requesting changes to the management of deer in our state.  In case you haven?t seen the article, I have pasted the text from it below. 

This article can be seen on SCDNR?s web site here: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/news/yr2010/dec23/dec23_deer.html

December 20, 2010
Deer hunters request changes to state?s deer management approach

South Carolina deer hunters are asking for changes to the state?s deer management approach based on public opinion data gathered by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Much of the discussion among hunters is related to concern over the unregulated harvest of antlered bucks, and an estimated 25 percent decline in the State?s deer population over the last 10 years according to DNR biologists. Currently there is no enforceable limit on the number of bucks a hunter can take during the season.

Public meetings, mail surveys, and more recently telephone and internet based surveys of the state?s deer hunters indicate that a minimum of 70 percent of hunters support the concept of a reasonable limit on antlered bucks and the implementation of a tagging program that would provide for enforcement of such a limit.

Additionally, a minimum of 70 percent of hunters indicate that they would support paying a modest fee to implement such a tagging program as long as the fee was used to administer the program and for deer research and management. A complete summary of DNR?s efforts to document public opinion on future deer management can be found online.

DNR?s governing board has discussed this issue on numerous occasions this year, and at the Dec. 17, 2010 DNR Board meeting voted to support a statewide limit of 4 bucks per hunter per year, and a mandatory deer tagging program whereby all harvested deer (bucks and does) must be tagged at the point of kill with tags provided by the department. A nominal fee of $5 per tag for residents and $25 per tag for nonresidents is proposed.

Although DNR can make recommendations, any changes to the current deer hunting laws require action by the South Carolina General Assembly. The DNR Board proposal will be incorporated into the DNR?s Legislative Proposal for the 2011-12 session.

Do you want a regulation on bucks in SC and do you think this will help or hurt hunting in our great state?



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