Why do I need deer tags?
Deer management bill background information
Commonly called the "Deer Management Bill", passage of S.454 in June 2016 was the culmination of a multi-year effort on the part of SC deer hunters, SCDNR, and the SC General Assembly. The basis for the changes brought about by this legislation include changes in SC deer hunter attitudes and changes in the state’s deer population. The following points are key issues important in the passage of the legislation which becomes law July 1, 2017.
- White-tailed deer are the official state animal and the most important game species in SC. Yet, there has never been an enforceable limit on the number of bucks a hunter can take during the season.
- Although there has been a 5-buck limit prescribed by law in the two upstate Game Zones, these limits have never been enforceable. In the two coastal plain Game Zones state law has specified there is "no limit" on antlered deer. This has never been a function of DNR but rather history, tradition, and politics.
- This lack of a reasonable bag limit on bucks is in stark contrast to the approach in other states and to the approach with other fish and game species in SC which typically have bag limits.
- Limits in other southeastern states include; Alabama 3 (one has antler restrictions), Arkansas 2 (all have antler restrictions), Georgia 2 (one has antler restrictions), Kentucky 1, Louisiana 3, Mississippi 3 (all have antler restrictions), Missouri 2 (1 with firearms), North Carolina 4 (2 outside of eastern dog zone), Oklahoma 2 (1 with firearms), Tennessee 3, Texas varies by zone 1, 2, or 3, Virginia 3 (2 outside of eastern dog zone).
- Since 2000, an average of only 7 percent of hunters take more than 4 bucks annually, however, this 7 percent of hunters take 30 percent of all the bucks in the state annually. Hunters who take more than 4 bucks annually take 78 percent more bucks than does, whereas, hunters who take less than 4 bucks annually take bucks and does at about the same rate. Two different philosophies.
- Excluding South Carolina and Hawaii which has no native deer, 46 of 48 states have either a physical carcass tag or a license notch/punch tagging system. The two states that have no tags, Mississippi and Florida, have mandatory antler restrictions on all buck harvested.
- The state's deer population has changed in recent years and although there are still some areas with high deer populations, the overall statewide population has decreased as evidenced by a 35 percent reduction in harvest since 2002. This is likely due to changes in habitat conditions associated with forest management and many years of extremely liberal deer harvests. Also, coyotes are a recent addition to the landscape in SC and are another piece of the puzzle.
- SCDNR and the US Forest Service-Southern Research Station-Savannah River began a study in 2005 that was recently completed investigating the affects coyotes are having on the survival of deer fawns. The study indicated approximately 70 percent total fawn mortality with coyotes being responsible for approximately 80 percent of these mortalities. If these findings even moderately represent a statewide situation, this "new mortality factor" is clearly involved in the reduction in deer numbers. This is especially true when combined with extremely liberal deer harvests that have been the norm in SC.
- The study also tested the idea that coyote control would increase fawn survival. Over the course of the 3 year coyote "control" phase, 474 coyotes were trapped/killed on the study areas. Overall, results showed only modest increases in fawn survival following these efforts with an overall average of about 39 percent increase in survival. Also, trapping seemed to help in some years but have little effect on predation in others. Given these moderate/mixed results and the difficulty and high cost of coyote control ($199/coyote), the study concluded that making adjustments to how we manage deer, particularly female deer, is more important now than prior to the colonization of the state by coyotes.
- Hunters have been concerned about future deer management and hunting in SC and have encouraged DNR to study the matter and recommend a more modern approach.
- Hunters perceive that the current system leads to overexploitation of bucks, particularly young bucks, resulting in a poor overall management approach. Hunters became tired of the "brown is down" mentality that was common in SC.
- There has been increasing interest among hunters in reducing harvest pressure on antlered deer which should result in more total antlered deer, having the opportunity to see and harvest more mature bucks, and having a more balanced adult sex ratio.
- A five year deer movement and survival study using radio-telemetry conducted by DNR and Clemson University on a 14,000 acre private tract in Williamsburg and Georgetown counties estimated zero survival of bucks through 4 years old while 48 percent of does survived to 4 years. Although the harvest of bucks on the property was conservative, many bucks were harvested by hunters off the property. These results demonstrated that even on large properties, efforts at deer management are often limited by activities of hunters on adjacent properties. This is particularly the case when hunters on adjacent properties do not share management goals and there are no limits on the harvest of bucks.
- DNR has repeatedly measured hunter opinion on these issues using public meetings and various surveys. Regardless of the technique used, results of these efforts indicated 70+ percent support among hunters in having a reasonable limit on bucks and a tagging system for all deer that would provide for enforcement of limits.
- From a management standpoint, tagging all deer is beneficial because it would allow for enforcement of limits and better regulation and manipulation of the harvest of antlerless deer (doe deer). This is particularly important as we attempt to mitigate the impact of coyotes on future deer management.