An inadvertent change in wording that allowed the hunting of deer lured in by bait in the Upstate would become law under a bill that cleared its first hurdle Thursday.
The Senate Fish, Game and Forestry subcommittee’s 2-0 approval of the bill (S.91) was reluctant, as was the backing of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Sens. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, and Greg Hembree, R-Horry, voted to move the bill to full committee, while Sens. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, and Ross Turner, R-Greenville, abstained.
At issue is the legality of using bait while hunting for deer in Game Zones 1 and 2, which cover much of the Upstate. When the Legislature took over regulation of hunting rules from the natural resources agency in 2008, most of the old rules were picked up verbatim. But somewhere in the process, a phrase was left out. Instead of making it illegal to put out bait for deer and to hunt for deer over that bait, the rules only say it’s illegal to put out bait for deer.
That created a loophole, backed by rulings from a magistrate court judge and then the state Attorney General last year, making it nearly impossible to prosecute deer baiting. Because baiting is legal for wild hogs, hunters could just say the bait – usually corn – was put out for hogs.
Game officers didn’t write tickets for baiting this year, after averaging around 350 in previous years, according to the agency.
Deer baiting long has been allowed in the rest of the state, and it is popular among hunters. The natural resource agency would like to see baiting banned because it increases the chances of the spread of deer diseases. But the agency is in favor of the recent bill filed by Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, because it doubts a bill to ban baiting has any chance of passage.
“We would prefer (a bill) we can get passed,” said Emily Cope, deputy director of the agency, “because we don’t want to stay where we are.”
That brought a frustrated response from Greenville hunter J.B. Squires, who prefers to hunt without bait.
“The idea of changing a law because it is politically easier makes me cringe,” Squires said. “We’re not saying we’re doing it because it is the right thing to do. We’re saying it’s the easy thing to do.”
McGill said the bill will receive much debate, and possibly many changes, in the full committee.