Wildlife - Deer Information
A Retrospective on Hunting Deer Over Bait in South Carolina - Can Baiting Negatively Affect Hunter Success and Deer Harvest Rates?
History of baiting in South Carolina
From a legal standpoint, prior to 2013 baiting for deer in South Carolina was regionally divided with the practice being prohibited in the Piedmont and not prohibited in the Coastal Plain. This divergent legal situation was rooted in the history of the respective deer populations and in the tradition and politics of deer hunting in the two regions. As was the case in most of North America, South Carolina’s white-tailed deer population was nearly extirpated by 1900 primarily as a result of overexploitation and habitat loss due to agricultural development.
The Coastal Plain held residual deer populations that were associated with major river flood plain systems that were relatively inaccessible and of little agricultural value. Even when deer populations were low and protection of deer high in other states, deer remained available and hunting of deer continued in some parts of the Coastal Plain. Pursuing deer with dogs was the customary method of hunting deer and notable figures like Archibald Rutledge frequently described this activity as it was carried out specifically in the Coastal Plain of South Carolina. Many laws governing deer related activities in the Coastal Plain originated prior to the existence of wildlife management as a science and prior to the establishment of a wildlife agency in South Carolina. Even today, most restrictions on deer hunting in the Coastal Plain are legislative rather than being regulatory functions of SCDNR.
Historically, there was no need for the South Carolina General Assembly to address the issue of baiting deer in the Coastal Plain because hunting deer with dogs was the only method used. However, due to changing land use and ownership patterns and the fact that hunters 2 determined that still hunting was an effective way to hunt deer, there was a relatively rapid shift from hunting with dogs to still hunting by the mid-1980s. Today less than 10 percent of the Coastal Plain is under a regime of hunting only with dogs. With this shift to still hunting and no restrictions on baiting deer, the practice began. Baiting is now widespread and used by the majority of hunters in the Coastal Plain. Baiting typically begins several weeks prior to the hunting season; therefore, this food source is available for about 6 months annually. In many cases, baiting has moved towards supplemental feeding since it is made available regardless of season and for the purpose of increasing deer condition and density. 1 In virtually all instances, shelled corn is the feed and it is typically provided free-choice, i.e. no timed feeders. Feeding rates on some properties are as high as 1,000 pounds per week per square mile.
In the Piedmont on the other hand, deer were nearly eliminated by the early 1900s and there are virtually no historical accounts of deer hunting in the Piedmont. By the 1950s, wildlife management as a science had emerged and a wildlife agency, now SCDNR, had developed in South Carolina. SCDNR was charged with restoring deer in the Piedmont and with this charge the agency was given regulatory authority over seasons, bag limits, and methods of hunting deer under Title 50 of the South Carolina Code of Laws. Deer restoration began in 1951 and the first open season for deer in the Piedmont was in 1958. Since deer numbers were low and there was no tradition of hunting deer with dogs, still-hunting was the only method prescribed. At that time, baiting was prohibited in the Piedmont by SCDNR regulation. This took place when virtually all deer hunting in the Coastal Plain was with dogs and baiting, though not prohibited by the legislature, was not an issue.
It is important to note that by Act 286 of the 2008 Session of the South Carolina General Assembly, the prohibition on baiting deer in the Piedmont of South Carolina was removed from SCDNR Regulation and placed into State Law. This Act did not address baiting in the Coastal Plain of the state. Also, due to pressure from some hunters and real and perceived problems with deer, there were a number of attempts by the legislature between 2000 and 2012 to eliminate the prohibition on baiting in the Piedmont. All along, there was a general lack of understanding among most hunters and legislators as to the history of baiting in South Carolina and how the conflicting legal situation arose. Hunters assumed that SCDNR had ultimate control over wildlife laws and that the agency was being arbitrary and capricious in allowing baiting in the Coastal Plain and prohibiting it in the Piedmont. Legislators, most having little or no experience in wildlife or hunting, either knew nothing about the issue or like hunters, felt the conflict was SCDNR’s responsibility.
This historical account brings us to the present. South Carolina has a fully recovered statewide deer population, still-hunting is the dominant method of hunting deer, and prior to 2013 the state was divided regionally on the legality of baiting. In the Piedmont baiting was prohibited by the legislature, whereas, in the Coastal Plain baiting had not been addressed by the legislature.
SCDNR Wildlife Section biological staff opposes the practice of hunting deer over bait due to the aforementioned set of biological, social, and ethical concerns. The following discussion more fully describes those concerns and is based on data collected in South Carolina and other states.