Characterization of the Ashepoo-Combahee-Edisto (ACE) Basin, South Carolina


The ACE Basin has a long tradition of hunting beginning with Native Americans and continuing to present-day hunters. Hunting has an economic impact in the ACE Basin study area and the entire state. Based on the 1996 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, it was estimated that 300,000 individuals (16 years and older) hunted in South Carolina and made total hunting expenditures of $3.49 million (USFWS, 1996). A total of 201,579 hunting licenses were sold in FY 1991-92 (Shipes, 1993). In the ACE Basin study area, over 200 hunting clubs were operating in 1996.

Male wild turkey displaying tail feathers

The primary wildlife hunted in the ACE Basin study area are white-tailed deer; ,wild turkey,; bobwhite quail; mourning dove; eastern gray squirrel; rabbit; terrestrial furbearers such as raccoon, gray fox, and opossum; waterfowl; and American alligator. The white-tailed deer is the most popular species sought by hunters in South Carolina. Trends in deer harvest for Colleton County have remained relatively stable since 1988. Harvest reports obtained from private and public lands in the state represent the minimum number harvested, largely because reporting harvested animals is not required and many killed deer are unreported. The other big game sought by hunters in the ACE Basin is the wild turkey. In the coastal plains of South Carolina hunting for turkey occurs during the spring months. Hunting is restricted to gobblers only, but bag limits are liberal with two birds per day or five per season allowed. No special permits are required to hunt turkey in S.C., and the mandatory turkey tags are issued free to individuals with a license and big-game permit. Turkey harvest in Colleton County has increased steadily since 1989.

One of the most striking changes that has occurred with hunting in the ACE Basin study area and other parts of South Carolina has been the transition from small game, such as squirrels and rabbits, to big game hunting for white-tailed deer and wild turkey. Squirrel hunting was once the most popular hunting activity in South Carolina, but, today, squirrels are among the most underutilized game animals. Rabbit hunting has also declined in popularity. The switch from small game to deer and turkey has increased demand for available hunting land. A score of hunting clubs that are tightly managed have been formed in the ACE Basin and are a popular means of gaining access to private land.

Waterfowl hunting has been a long-standing tradition in coastal South Carolina and the ACE Basin study area. The impoundments of the ACE Basin study area offer ideal wintering habitat for waterfowl. Private lands are not available to most hunters, but Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), such as Bear Island WMA and Donnelley WMA, provide hunting opportunities through the statewide lottery. In Colleton County, the waterfowl harvest has been variable, with the greatest estimated harvest occurring in 1995. The major species of interest to hunters statewide are wood duck, mallard, and green-winged teal. Reports from band returns and surveys indicate that the primary species harvested in Colleton County, over a ten-year period, were green-winged and blue-winged teals, wood ducks, widgeons, and mallards. At Bear Island Wildlife Management Area, primary harvested species in 1996-97 were shoveler, green-winged and blue-winged teal, and widgeon, while at Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, green-winged teal and wood duck constituted greater than 70% of the total harvest.

Management of wildlife is not only a state and federal activity, but is also undertaken by private landowners, hunt clubs, and timber companies. Management of hunting emphasizes maintaining habitat for populations, in particular the creation of edge habitat, and enhancing hunting opportunities for game species. Hunter-based conservation organizations have been instrumental in educating landowners and sportsmen and in promoting sound management practices (Beasley et al. 1996). A major factor in the future of hunting is the public's attitude. As the rural face of the landscape surrounding the ACE Basin changes due to burgeoning population growth, fewer individuals are viewing hunting as an acceptable tradition. The future of hunting in the ACE Basin study area will depend on strict enforcement of laws and regulations along with educational efforts that focus on hunter ethics, safety, and game management.