The South Carolina Natural Resources Board has approved the 2014-15 migratory bird hunting seasons for numerous species, including a lengthened mourning dove season that annually signifies that autumn is just around the corner in the Palmetto State.
Dove season traditionally opens in South Carolina on either the first Saturday in September or on Labor Day, whichever comes first, and this year the season will open on Labor Day itself, Sept. 1. The season has been increased from 70 to 90 days.
The season is separated in stages in private hunting fields, Sept. 1-6, when hunting is set for noon to sunset, followed by Sept. 7–Oct. 11; Nov. 15-29; and Dec. 13–Jan. 15. Aside from the Sept. 1-6 hunting days, hunting hours are from 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset. The daily bag limit is 15 doves per day.
Hunting opens later on the 48 public dove fields across the state offered for hunting by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Hunting dates on the public fields are on Saturdays including Sept. 6, Sept. 20, Oct. 4, Nov. 15 and Dec. 13.The DNR-maintained fields are planted with some mix of annual grains including wheat, millet, corn, sorghum and sunflowers.
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The only public dove hunts on a WMA in Horry or Georgetown counties will be held at Samworth WMA in Georgetown County.
Extreme weather conditions have made for difficult managing of the dove fields in the state in recent years, said Derrell Shipes, S.C. DNR’s Chief of Wildlife Statewide Projects, Research and Survey.
“We’ve gone from the drought we had for a few years right into excessive rainfall,” Shipes said. “Producing a dove field is nothing more than farming – you’ve got to deal with all the elements. We work hard at it and we’re proud of it. We want to provide the opportunity for hunters to hunt as many different species as they can.”
Other seasons set by the board include:
• The two-part season for marsh hens – including king, clapper, sora and Virginia rails – and common moorhens and purple gallinules will be from Sept. 8-12 and Oct. 6-Dec. 9. The daily bag limit for king and/or clapper rails is 15 birds per hunter and moorhens and/or purple gallinules is 15 birds per hunter. The daily limit for sora and/or Virginia rails is 25 birds per hunter. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset.
• The 2014-15 South Carolina season for woodcock will run Dec. 18 to Jan. 31. Three birds per hunter is the daily limit for woodcock. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset.
• The 2014-2015 season for common snipe, also called Wilson’s snipe, will be Nov. 14–Feb. 28. The daily bag limit is eight birds. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset.
• A statewide early season for Canada geese is set for Sept. 1-30. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise until sunset. The daily bag limit for Canada geese during the early season is 15 birds.
• The South Carolina early season for teal will be Sept. 12-27. The daily bag limit is six birds. Shooting hours are sunrise until sunset (not 30 minutes before sunrise, as with other migratory bird seasons). Category II waterfowl areas will be open for hunting during teal and Canada goose seasons.
All possession limits for the coming migratory bird season will be three times the daily bag limit as opposed to two times the daily bag limit as in the past.
South Carolina migratory bird hunters age 16 and older must have a state hunting license and a free migratory bird permit.
Participants in the September Canada Goose season and the early teal season must also have the Federal Waterfowl Stamp and S.C. Waterfowl Permit. Completion of an approved hunter education course is mandatory for resident and nonresident South Carolina hunters born after June 30, 1979, to purchase a license.
The board-approved dates are still pending approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and must be published in the Federal Register in order to become final, a step that Shipes called “a formality.”
The annual Migratory Bird Hunting Regulations brochure will be available in early September after the regular duck seasons are finalized.
The entire process must be repeated before the regular duck seasons are officially set, a process Shipes hopes will be streamlined in the coming years.
“[The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is] considering combining those two processes into one, which would allow us to set all migratory bird seasons in one step and one process,” Shipes said. “Then these late announcements [of the seasons] will go away and we’ll simply put the seasons in the [annual S.C. DNR] Rules and Regulations booklet. Hunters would know [the hunting season dates] earlier.”