Hunters who have pined for the piney woods for months don’t have to wait much longer. Deer season is just over the horizon, only a couple of weeks away for South Carolina hunters and a month down the road for their North Carolina brethren.
What to expect, well, that’s a little more hazy. North Carolina hunters are coming off a 2016 season that was subpar, to say the least. The harvest was under 150,000 for the first time since 2005, off almost 8 percent and the latest in a series of yo-yo results: up one year, down the next, on and on.
Harvests have been driven up or down by factors including huge or small mast crops, regional outbreaks of disease, more perhaps than anything else. This past spring, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission took its show on the road, engaging hunters in a series of public meetings to discuss possible changes in deer management, both across the state and on a regional basis. Any changes could show up as early as the 2018-19 season, but for 2017, dates, season lengths and bag limits have not changed, with the exception of a new, bucks-only archery season in the Western deer section that begins Dec. 10 — the day after gun season ends — and runs through Jan. 1.
South Carolina hunters, on the other hand, are facing some new regulations this fall after an 11-percent decline in the harvest. Season dates and lengths haven’t changed, but bag limits will be much different, and all deer killed must now be tagged.
Any South Carolina resident hunter will receive three buck tags and eight date-specific doe tags with their big-game license. Hunters can also purchase two additional buck tags with antler restrictions (four points on one side or a 12-inch outside spread) and four antlerless tags good on any date.
In Game Zones 3 and 4 (roughly the eastern half of the state), hunters can use all of their tags for a potential take of 17 deer. In Game Zone 1 (Greenville, Oconee and Pickens counties), hunter can kill only four antlerless deer per season, regardless of how many tags they have. In Game Zone 2 (some Upstate and most Midlands counties), hunters can take only five antlerless deer per season.
“These changes were brought about based on hunters’ desires to see some more modern management for deer in South Carolina,” said Charles Ruth, the deer project lead for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. “Most people have been talking about seeing fewer deer on the properties they’ve been hunting over the past 15 years.”
Hunters who purchase big-game licenses or have lifetime licenses should receive their tags in the mail in early August, before the Aug. 15 opening of the season in Lowcountry counties.