Wildlife - Deer
Public Sentiment Related to Buck Limits and Tagging Programs
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
For a number of years many South Carolina deer hunters have expressed concern over the unregulated harvest of antlered bucks in the state. Although there is a 5-buck season limit prescribed in law in the two upstate Game Zones (Game Zones 1 and 2) these limits have never been enforceable. In the four coastal plain Game Zones (3, 4, 5 and 6) there is no daily or seasonal limit on antlered deer. Many hunters feel that this situation leads to overexploitation of bucks, particularly young bucks, resulting in a poor overall management approach. 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. Limiting buck harvest may also shift harvest emphasis towards female deer in parts of the state where better population control is needed. Hunters have encouraged the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) to recommend and implement a statewide limit on bucks including appropriate law enforcement measures to provide enforcement for such a limit. The following summarizes agency efforts to determine public sentiment on these issues.
- In May of 2010 SCDNR contracted with Responsive Management, Inc., a nationally recognized natural resources survey firm, to conduct a random telephone survey of resident South Carolina deer hunters related to the buck limit and deer tag issue. The survey provides statistical reliability of + 1.60 percent at the statewide level and + 3.74 to 3.94 percent at the Game Zone level (depending on Game Zone). A total of 3,663 interviews were completed. Statewide, results indicate the following: 70 percent of hunters support a limit on the number of antlered bucks a hunter can kill each year; 50 percent of deer hunters chose a limit of fewer than 5 bucks, 42 percent of hunters chose a limit of 5 bucks, and only 6 percent indicated that they supported no limit or a limit of greater than 5 bucks; 74 percent of deer hunters indicated support for a tagging system that would enable buck limits to be enforced; 78 percent of deer hunters indicated that they would be willing to pay at least $5 for a tagging system provided that revenue be used to administer the tagging program and for deer research and management; and 62 percent of deer hunters supported limiting the harvest of bucks based on antler criteria, such as antler points or antler spread, in an effort to reduce the harvest of young bucks. A complete summary of the survey can be found on the SCDNR website at:
- Subsequently, in September of 2010 SCDNR conducted an internet based survey that was identical to the telephone survey conducted by Responsive Management, Inc in May, 2010. Not only was the survey open to the public, but a notification was sent directly to the 82,439 individual license holders whose e-mail addresses were on file with the agency. A total of 7,049 individuals participated in the survey. Statewide, results indicate the following: 74 percent of hunters support a limit on the number of antlered bucks a hunter can kill each year; 60 percent of deer hunters chose a limit of fewer than 5 bucks, 19 percent of hunters chose a limit of 5 bucks, and only 16 percent indicated that they supported no limit; 75 percent of deer hunters indicated support for a tagging system that would enable buck limits to be enforced; 66 percent of deer hunters indicated that they would be willing to pay at least $5 for a tagging system provided that revenue be used to administer the tagging program and for deer research and management; and 64 percent of deer hunters supported limiting the harvest of bucks based on antler criteria, such as antler points or antler spread, in an effort to reduce the harvest of young bucks. A complete summary of the survey can be found on the SCDNR website at:
- In January and February 2006, a series of 12 public meetings were held related to the buck limit
and deer tag issue. These meetings were highly publicized including 2 statewide news releases, posters
were placed at approximately 200 hunting related retail outlets, and direct notification was sent by
mail to 1,722 participants in the private land Antlerless Deer Quota Program. Three of the 12 meetings
were held in the piedmont/mountains, with the remaining 9 meetings being held in the coastal plain.
Total attendance at the meetings was 1,974 with an average of approximately 165 people. The meetings
were the most heavily attended meetings ever hosted by the SCDNR Wildlife Section. Statewide,
approximately 74 percent of meeting attendees supported a statewide 5-buck limit while approximately
95 percent supported the concept of having a low cost set of deer tags to provide tools for enforcement
of limits. At the regional level, 94 percent of piedmont meeting attendees supported a 3-buck limit
in their area. Results for the 9 meetings held in the coastal plain indicate approximately 68 percent
support for a 5-buck limit and 94 percent support for the concept of having a low cost set of deer
tags to provide tools for enforcement of limits. A complete summary of the meetings can be found
on the SCDNR website at:
- In January 2006, a survey of participants in the Antlerless Deer Quota Program (ADQP) was
conducted. The ADQP is a private lands deer management program in which participants are issued
a quota of antlerless deer tags to facilitate the harvest of antlerless deer on their property.
Participants in the survey included 1,776 individuals who owned, leased, or managed 3.8 million
acres of property. Approximately 95 percent of these properties were located in coastal counties
that have no limit on bucks. Results of this private land survey indicated that 69 percent of
program participants believed that there should be a statewide limit on bucks with 94 percent
of those who supported a limit indicating the limit should be 5 or less
(limit 5=35%, limit 4=13%, limit≤3=46%).
- In January 2004, a statewide random survey of hunters was conducted by SCDNR in which 7,748 responses indicated that approximately 71 percent of hunters felt that the statewide limit on bucks should be 5 or less, and 72 percent of hunters felt that there should be some enforcement mechanism, a tagging program for example. Of those who supported a limit, 90 percent indicated that the limit should be 5 or less (limit 5=32%, limit 4=12%, limit<3=46%).
- In 2003, SCDNR conducted 5 public meetings related to the buck limit and deer tag issue. Four of these meetings were held in the piedmont/mountains and one was held in the coastal plain. Results of the meetings indicated that about 90 percent of meeting attendees supported the concept of a uniform limit of no more than 5 bucks with some form of tagging system in place to provide for enforcement.
Research Related to Buck Limits and Deer Tagging Programs
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
SC Code of Laws 50-3-80 charges the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) with continuously investigating the game and fish conditions of the State and the laws relating thereto, and to recommend legislation and other action by the General Assembly in its judgment conducive to the conservation of wildlife. The Statewide Deer Research and Management Project (Deer Project) within the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of SCDNR is responsible for monitoring the state’s deer resource. To that end, SCDNR has conducted numerous research projects related to deer. The following summarizes research with implications to the issue of a statewide limit on bucks including the implementation of appropriate law enforcement measures to provide enforcement for such a limit.
- Over the last 6 to 8 years SCDNR has increasingly been contacted by hunters concerned with the unregulated harvest of bucks in the state. Many hunters allege that the current system is being abused resulting in a high percentage of bucks being killed by a small percentage of hunters. SCDNR’s Deer Project annually conducts a Deer Hunter Survey in order to determine deer harvest rates, hunter success, and other measures. The survey is executed immediately following the close of the deer season and involves 25,000 randomly selected Big Game Permit holders. Response rates normally run between 30 and 40 percent with the responses being used to statistically estimate the various parameters. As it relates to the issue of buck limits, harvest data for the period 1997-2009 indicates that on the average only 3.3 percent of hunters annually take more than 5 bucks. However, this 3.3 percent of hunters takes approximately 20 percent of all the bucks in the state each year. Similarly, over the last 13 years only 11 percent of hunters take more than 3 bucks each year but these hunters take 43 percent of the bucks each year. Therefore, allegations by hunters that the current system is being abused are supported by harvest data that has been voluntarily submitted as part of the annual Deer Hunter Survey by tens of thousands of hunters since 1997.
- Coyotes are now established in all counties in South Carolina and there has been increasing concern from sportsmen related to the impact of coyotes on deer. As coyotes have become more numerous deer populations have coincidentally decreased in most areas of the state with the net affect being approximately 25 percent fewer deer statewide compared to record levels in the mid 1990’s. SCDNR has recently completed a major study with researchers at the Savannah River Site investigating the affects coyotes are having on the survival of deer fawns. Cumulative data through the first 3 years of 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 in many areas of the state. This is especially true when combined with extremely liberal deer harvests that have been the norm in South Carolina. The last 3 years of the study were for the purpose of determining if reducing coyote density through trapping increases fawn survival. It seems logical that if coyotes are preying on fawns, then significantly reducing coyote densities should 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. This “year” effect may have something to do with the availability of coyote food sources that may change in abundance annually. Given these results and the difficulty and high cost of coyote control, it seems apparent that making adjustments to how we manage deer is more important now than prior to the colonization of the state by coyotes.
- Many landowners and hunt clubs are now using a selective harvest of bucks in order to decrease harvest pressure on young bucks. The goal of this approach is to allow young bucks to survive and enter older age classes where they exhibit increased body and antler size. In addition to increased buck age structure and better adult sex ratios, many hunters want the opportunity to see and harvest more mature bucks. However, a reoccurring complaint from properties involved in this type of management is that they get poor results because the younger bucks they are trying to protect are indiscriminately being killed by hunters on adjacent lands.
Since 1985 SCDNR has collaborated with researchers at Clemson University to conduct three long-term studies focusing on movements and mortality of deer in the coastal plain of South Carolina. Each study involved trapping male and female deer during the winter and equipping the deer with radio-transmitters to determine movements and mortality for up to 5 years. Two of these studies were conducted on private land and the third on public (WMA) land. Results of the studies have been similar and indicate that even on large properties, what hunters on adjacent properties do in terms of harvesting deer plays a critical role in the results of a management program on a tract of land. A summary of the most recent of these studies follows.
The study was conducted on a 14,000-acre tract of private land in Williamsburg and Georgetown counties during the period 1998-2002. During the course of the study 261 deer were captured. Six month old fawns and 12 month old yearlings were equipped with radio-transmitters and monitored daily for mortality and location. Deer were exposed to hunting on an annual basis and a selective harvest strategy was employed for bucks on the property. To be "legal" bucks had to have a minimum of 8 points for still hunters and 6 points for dog hunters. Results indicate that mortality rates of males were higher than females and male mortalities were more often associated with hunting. Approximately 50 percent of males were lost off of the property through the age of 1.5 years old and survival of males through 4.5 years old was zero. Starting with 100 males and 100 females born on the property and considering mortality on the property and mortality/movement off of the property there would be no males available for harvest on the property after 4 years compared to 48 females. These results demonstrate that even on large properties, efforts at deer management are often limited by deer movements and the 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 antlered deer.
Charles Ruth - Deer Project Supervisor
SCDNR Deer Project
P. O. Box 167
Columbia, SC 29202-0167