Senator Chip Campsen III is doing his part in the South Carolina Legislature to help overhaul the Palmetto State's antiquated hunting laws on white-tailed deer.
Campsen, Chairman of the Senate's Fish, Game and Forestry Committee, is one of two main sponsors of a bill that would seriously alter regulation of white-tailed deer in the state.
The bill, S 454, proposes establishing a limit of bucks in the entire state and would require tags for all deer harvested.
In addition, the Antlerless Deer Quota Program, through which many landowners over the years have received doe tags, would be changed to the Deer Quota Program and would provide tags for bucks and does.
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Campsen and Ross Turner, R-Greenville, sponsored the bill, which was unanimously approved by a subcommittee Thursday morning and is expected to be on the agenda Wednesday before the full Fish, Game and Forestry Committee.
“South Carolina is the only state in the nation without any limit at all [on bucks], so it’s a great thing on many fronts,” said Campsen, R-Charleston. “We're hoping [the bill will mean] better deer and better hunting experiences on private and public land. I hope it will help encourage an ethic that focuses on harvesting mature bucks in their prime and letting young deer who haven't reached their prime grow into those trophies you can be proud of.”
Campsen is familiar with the issue he is taking on with the bill. He manages land in the pristine ACE Basin area between Charleston and Beaufort, where he hunts deer and turkey among other species.
“This is not a theoretical issue for me, it’s practical,” said Campsen. “I'm a very avid hunter. I take great pleasure seeing wildlife respond to management practices.”
If put into law, the bill would establish a limit of four bucks and four does per hunter per year, with the fee for the eight total tags under the new tagging program 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 other four game zones in the state, comprising the midlands and the coastal plain, have no limit on bucks, and never have.
The tagging system would provide a mechanism for enforcing the limits.
The potential changes in deer management are just what Charles Ruth, Deer and Wild Turkey Program Coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, has been in favor of for numerous years.
“[The bill represents] basically the recommendations [S.C.] DNR put together after a decade of looking at hunter opinion, deer harvest data and research including [the Savannah River Site fawn mortality study],” said Ruth. “This is looking at the future of deer management in South Carolina. We’re trying to get something more mainstream here like other states have from a deer management standpoint.''
Deer hunters currently only need tags for harvesting does, with the aforementioned no limit on bucks in two-thirds of the state. Campsen thinks the bill will help curtail the number of young bucks harvested from the population.
“We have a small percentage of hunters who kill 20-30 deer a year,” said Campsen. “This will be very effective in letting some bucks grow up. I'll bet I let six or eight (8-point bucks) walk this year. I'd rather kill a really nice one.
“By reducing the number of bucks an individual can take we're going to increase the population. If you let a small buck walk, he's going to grow into a nice buck you can harvest. If we harvest more mature deer, we'll have a better, more quality deer herd.”
Ruth is hopeful the bill makes it through the legislature and is eventually signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley.
“We're kind of excited,” said Ruth. “We've been status quo for many lifetimes (in regards to deer management). We're going to try to be optimistic.”