As the 2015 white-tail deer season gets underway, all 46 counties in South Carolina were under drought status according to the latest information from the State Climate Office.
Twenty-eight of those counties, including Horry and Georgetown and all counties in the Pee Dee region, were undergoing moderate drought conditions, according to the July 16 release. The other 18 counties, most in the upstate, were experiencing incipient drought conditions.
A drought update is due soon, but in the month since the latest update was released there certainly hasn’t been enough rain to change the status quo.
When hunters take to the woods in the coming weeks, dry conditions will abound, which typically means skimpy food sources are available for the deer.
“I think there’s a couple different views you can have related to drought,” Charles Ruth, Deer Project Supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said earlier this week. “In areas where you do and have had this dry weather, you’ve got less natural vegetation production. It’s less palatable to the deer, less nutritious, which could increase deer movement as we move into the fall.
“Deer move for two reasons – food and sex. (Dry conditions) could benefit hunters in this early part of the season since they may be moving a little more than they typically are because there isn’t an abundance of food, which is positive.”
Conversely, for hunters who have or plan to plant food plots, the dry conditions are not a positive and need to end soon.
“A lot of folks will have tried to plant food plots, try to improve nutrition for the deer and hunt deer on those food plots,” Ruth said. “If those food plots fail (due to dry conditions), that’s not a good situation.
“If it continues to stay dry, it could affect successfully planting cool season food plots, which is normally going to take place after mid-September. If it stays dry and the success of those plots is going to be questionable, that could affect providing food for deer and places to hunt deer as we move into the meat and potatoes of the deer season in October and November.’’
Ruth doesn’t expect to see much change in the harvest rate in South Carolina for the 2015 season.
“With a few exceptions in some of the larger agricultural areas where we have still large deer numbers, the majority of the state has declined,” Ruth said. “Since our harvest peaked at the turn of the century, we’re off 35 percent total. I expect (the harvest) to be similar to last year. plus or minus five percent.”
Game zone changes
The game zones were streamlined in the Palmetto State, starting with the 2015 hunting season, lowering the number of zones from six to four.
The two upstate zones, 1 and 2, are unchanged but the four zones that comprised the midlands and coastal plain were consolidated into zones 3 and 4.
Local counties – Horry, Georgetown, Marion and Williamsburg – are now all in Game Zone 4, and the hunting season is a long one. The season opens Saturday with archery only (bucks only) through Aug. 31. Gun season opens Sept. 1 and runs through Jan. 1.
Either sex days are Oct. 3, 10, 17; Nov. 14, 21, 28; Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.
The bill designed to establish for the first time a limit on bucks in the entire state and would require tags for all deer harvested passed through the S.C. State Senate but was still on the table in the House when the legislative session ended.
“We are committed to working with key members in the House to resolve any questions they have in the bill in moving it forward,” Ruth said. “It will still be there when they go back into session in January.”
The Antlerless Doe Quota Program, from which many landowners receive doe tags, would be changed to the Deer Quota Program under the bill and would provide tags for bucks and does.
The bill would establish a limit of four bucks and four does per hunter per year. The total fee for the eight tags under the new tagging program would be set at $15 for South Carolina residents and $30 for non-residents. The tags would only be valid on properties not enrolled in the Deer Quota Program.
Currently, only the state’s two upstate game zones have a limit on bucks (five per season). The rest of the state, comprising the midlands and the coastal plain, has never had a limit on bucks.
South Carolina is considered to be the only state in the United States that does not have a statewide limit on bucks.
Gregg Holshouser: 843-651-9028, email@example.com