South Carolina'™s Public-Land Waterfowl Hunts

Looking for a quality public-land waterfowl hunt? This overview will tell you what you need to know to plan your draw duck hunt.

Photo by R.E. Ilg

The weather on the 6 o'clock news called for warm temperatures for the next morning's duck hunt.

For the first two weeks of 2005, a dome of warm air was smothering the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Still, moist air hanging over cold coastal waters formed nearly daylong fog every morning. Not real good duck-hunting weather.

My hunt the next day was a draw duck hunt supported by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) on their wildlife management areas (WMAs). After failing to be drawn the previous season, I had one preference point, which paid off with a late-season hunt for the 2004-05 season at Santee Coastal Reserve WMA.

When I gather up my equipment for a duck hunt, one of the questions I routinely struggle with is, "How many layers of clothes should I wear?"

My dilemma for this hunt was not how much to wear, but how little to wear so I didn't sweat to death while still remaining camouflaged. Pale arms poking out of my dove-hunting shirt would have me resembling a scarecrow to the ducks, not to mention the all-you-can-eat buffet I'd provide for the mosquitoes.

It was dead still when I was dropped off at the paddleboat for the blind I had drawn. Occasional duck calls of assorted species drifted with the fog. I prayed for wind to keep the bugs at bay and I hoped would help move some birds around.

Shooting time came to the marsh. Green-winged and blue-winged teal wheeled about the marsh, while gadwalls and pintails took higher and more direct courses.

Some birds sneaked by without a shot, while others tolled like they were being pulled down on a kite string. A few cupcake shots were missed, but the nice double on a pair of blue-winged teal burning from left to right compensated for the missed "give-me" shots.

Constrained by the warm weather, the ducks stopped moving and the action faded very quickly. The bugs feasted on me, but I managed to take a drake gadwall and widgeon, the latter wearing a band, before the hunt was over. Despite the heat, it was a good morning on the marsh.

The majority of SCDNR draw duck hunts turn out to be a good bet. Every hunter might not kill a limit, but you are usually assured of some success. On average, hunters on these draw hunts shoot twice as many ducks per day as someone hunting elsewhere in the state.

While you may not be on one of these hunts this season, here is a rundown of some of the areas to help you decide where to apply for next season. If you were drawn for one of this season's hunts, the summary should help you understand what to expect.

BEAVERDAM CREEK WMA

Beaverdam Creek WMA is a small WMA found in the Upstate near Clemson. Six hunters are selected for each Saturday hunt.

Don't let the spot's small size fool you. With the exception of last season's down year at Beaverdam (a trend shared across this region of the state), this WMA has been a consistent producer.

Back in the 2001-02 season, hunters averaged 2.91 ducks per gun, ranking it third in the state that season. Success the subsequent season fell slightly to 2.71 ducks per hunter, but was still above the overall average for all draw duck hunts that year. Forty hunters killed 99 ducks in 2003-04 (2.48 ducks per hunter), and as mentioned, things were way down last season at 1.12 ducks per gun.

Ranking the area based solely on the ducks-per-gun average is deceiving. Wood ducks routinely make up 30 to 50 percent of the harvest. With hunters limited to only two woodies per person, if nothing else is flying or using the area, the average will remain near two. Fortunately, some other species are usually around.

Mallards and green-winged teal can be very common on the area. During the 2003-04 season, ring-necked ducks were the No. 1 species, accounting for two-thirds of the total harvest. Some gadwalls are known to frequent this WMA as well.

Because of Beaverdam Creek's small size, much of the area's success depends on producing a good food base. About six acres is planted in corn each year, and the remainder of the location is managed for moist-soil vegetation. Above-average rainfall limited corn production in 2003, but the area produced a good crop in 2004. However, even when personnel do produce good food, sometimes the ducks don't respond, as was the case last season for some reason.

The SCDNR office in Clemson at (864) 654-1671 can give you an update on habitat conditions and duck usage of the WMA before your hunt.

BROAD RIVER WMA

Broad River WMA, in Fairfield County near Winnsboro, is a good selection for waterfowlers living in the Piedmont and Upstate or those who want a good chance at killing a mallard on public lands.

Mallards normally account for roughly 30 percent of the total harvest on Broad River WMA. In recent seasons, however, ring-necked ducks have been taking some of the limelight. During the 2001-02 season, 30 percent of the harvest was mallards, followed by green-winged teal and wood ducks. Ring-necked ducks were tops the next season, with wood ducks and mallards second and third, respectively.

Mallards were back on top during the 2003-04 season, and ring-necked ducks and wood ducks were tied for second. Last season, ring-necked ducks were No. 1 and wood ducks and green-winged teal were tied for second, with mallards a very close third. In addition to these species, hunters might also see widgeon, gadwalls and Canada geese.

Habitat management on Broad River consists of planting corn and manipulating water levels for moist-soil foods. Flooding on the area in 2003 prevented crop production. Even with no corn, hunters still averaged 2.93 ducks per person. An excellent crop of corn in 2004 was destroyed by excessive tropical rainfall, which also breached dikes on the area. Because of the habitat damage, the number of hunts was reduced last season, with hunters averaging 2.29 ducks per gun.

With luck, Mother Nature will give Broad River WMA a break this season. To find out conditions at the area, contact SCDNR's regional office in Columbia at (803) 734-3886.

SAMWORTH WMA

Samworth WMA is one of the state's oldest WMAs. In Georgetown County, outside of Georgetown, Samworth WMA has had waterfowl hunts since 1966. Hunting takes plac

e on 802 acres of managed freshwater impoundments nestled between the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers.

The 2004-05 season was the first year after a three-year absence that Samworth WMA was included in the draw hunt program. Waterfowl use of the area was good during the winter of 2004-05. For the season, 24 hunters harvested 73 ducks for an average of 3.04 ducks per hunter. Green-winged teal and wood ducks made up 57 and 33 percent, respectively, of the total bag. Green-winged teal and wood ducks have historically been the top species on the area with an occasional mallard thrown in.

Hunters selected to hunt at Samworth draw for a blind on the morning of their hunt. All of the hunting takes place in impoundments only accessible by boat. Hunters are transported by SCDNR personnel to drop-off points where they access their blinds by walking or with the use of provided paddleboats. Hunting takes place over natural foods. Chest waders are strongly suggested, but hunters could get by with hip boots if they are careful.

For more information about waterfowl hunting at Samworth WMA, contact SCDNR at (843) 546-8119.

SANDY BEACH WMA

Some of the luster that Sandy Beach WMA enjoyed as a premier duck-hunting spot several seasons ago has dulled, but the area should not be ignored.

During the 2001-02 season, Sandy Beach WMA, located in northern Berkeley County off Lake Moultrie, was the top draw hunt area at 4.46 ducks per hunter. It was No. 2 the following season and slipped again the last two seasons. Despite the slide, the average is nearly three ducks per hunter.

The top species harvested, in varying orders, are usually mallards, wood ducks and green-winged teal. During the 2003-04 season, wood ducks were the top duck at 30 percent of the harvest, followed by mallards (24 percent) and green-winged teal (22 percent). Mallards (34 percent), wood ducks (27 percent) and green-winged teal (20 percent) were the top three species last season. A couple of black ducks, gadwalls, widgeon and ring-necked ducks each are killed on the area every season as well.

About 40 acres of Sandy Beach WMA are planted each growing season for waterfowl. Corn, chufas and millets are the main shallowly flooded crops. Growing season conditions were good in 2003, but abundant rains from numerous tropical systems and a crop infestation of armyworms caused problems in 2004. Despite the setbacks, waterfowl still used the area in good numbers.

Because of the area's limited size, only eight hunters are on the hunts, which are usually held on Wednesdays. Most of the area is very shallow, so hip boots can be adequate, but SCDNR still suggests waders, since there are some fairly deep ditches on the WMA that hunters might accidentally wade into.

Additional information about Sandy Beach WMA can be obtained by calling SCDNR at (843) 825-3387.

SANTEE COASTAL RESERVE WMA

Santee Coastal Reserve WMA, along the Charleston and Georgetown county line, is the largest of the SCDNR WMAs where waterfowl hunting is featured. Hunting takes place on 14,000 acres of managed impoundments spread across three parcels, The Cape and Murphy and Cedar islands.

Because of its large size and the appropriate number of hunters for that acreage, success is consistently good on the area. Hunters averaged 4.75 ducks per gun during the 2003-04 season and 3.87 ducks per hunter last year, both tops in the state. For the last two seasons, hunting has been about equal across all three parcels.

Blue-winged teal reign at Santee Coastal Reserve WMA. This species routinely is the top duck, with gadwalls and green-winged teal slugging it out for the No. 2 spot in recent seasons.

Santee Coastal Reserve WMA also winters a large number of other species. Shovelers are very common in the bag, as are widgeon and ring-necked ducks. Mottled ducks, pintails and lesser scaup appear in less important numbers in hunters' bags.

Hunters draw for pre-constructed blinds. Paddleboats are provided to reach each blind, and transportation is provided to the islands as well as on the mainland portion. Chest waders are strongly recommended when hunting here, and early-season hunters with dogs should be mindful of the alligator population.

More information can be provided by SCDNR at (843) 546-8665.

SANTEE DELTA WMA

Santee Delta WMA is one of the elder statesman areas in SCDNR's draw duck hunt program. The site was constructed in the mid-1970s, and it has been hosting waterfowl hunts since 1976. The 1,135-acre WMA is between the North and South Santee rivers, about halfway between McClellanville and Georgetown, and divided into the East and West sides by Hwy. 17.

The entire area is managed for freshwater emergent vegetation, but different waterfowl species use the two sides of the WMA. The West Side is more wooded, and consequently supports more wood ducks and one of the last remaining migratory flocks of mallards along the coast. For example, last season, 65 mallards and 30 wood ducks were killed on the West Side as opposed to only two mallards and wood ducks each on the East Side.

Both teal species can be found on either side, but they tend to be more abundant on the east side, especially blue-winged teal. Shovelers are common on Santee Delta WMA, and they are found predominately on the East Side. Northern pintails routinely use the east side as well, but last season, a fair number were found on the West Side. Green-winged teal are normally the top duck on the entire Santee Delta WMA, and the bird typically accounts for 30 percent of the total harvest.

Even with the differences in waterfowl usage on the two sides, hunters have about the same success rates on each side. Last season, hunters on the East Side averaged 2.20 ducks per person as opposed to 2.35 ducks per hunter on the West Side for a total area average of 2.27 ducks per person. This was down about a duck per person from the 2003-04 season.

You can obtain more information about Santee Delta WMA by calling SCDNR at (843) 546-8119.

BEAR ISLAND WMA

Like Samworth WMA, Bear Island WMA has a long and rich waterfowl hunting tradition. Public waterfowl hunts have been held on the area in Colleton County since the late 1960s.

The WMA is also split into a West and East side and includes another area as well. The unit called Springfield/The Cut was added to Bear Island WMA in 1987. The majority of the Bear Island complex is managed for natural vegetation attractive to waterfowl.

Habitat conditions were severely affected by drought in 2001 and 2002. Success was under three ducks per person in 2001-02 and only 1.65 in 2002-03. Habitat conditions began improving in 2003 and continued to get better in 2004. Harvest across the complex averaged 1.77 ducks per hunter during the 2003-04 season and 2.37 last season.

Success and waterfowl harvest by species

varies by area on Bear Island WMA. Springfield/The Cut usually has the highest success, followed by the East Side and then the West Side. Last season, hunters averaged 3.53, 2.10 and 1.24 ducks per gun, respectively, across the three locations.

Blue-winged and green-winged teal account for nearly 50 percent of the harvest total. Hooded mergansers and mottled ducks are also abundant, and hunters can shoot shovelers, pintails, gadwalls and widgeon as well in smaller amounts.

Green-winged teal, blue-winged teal and gadwalls were the top three species on Springfield/The Cut in 2004-05. Blue-winged teal, green-winged teal and hooded mergansers were one, two and three on the East Side last season. Mottled ducks, hooded mergansers and widgeon were tops on the West Side, accounting for almost 80 percent of the total harvest on that side.

Bear Island WMA information can be obtained by calling SCDNR at (843) 844-8957.

Hunters selected for draw hunts will need a state and federal duck stamp, a H.I.P. permit as well as a wildlife management area permit. One-day wildlife management permits are available for those hunters who normally don't buy one for the entire season, but you need to check that box on the application to receive one. There is a shell limit on all draw hunts; that limit has been 25 shells the last several seasons.

Although it is too late to apply for this season's draw hunts, it's not too early to be thinking about next year's drawing. Applications are available beginning in late September each year. You can download them at

www.dnr.state.sc.us, pick one up at a regional office or call the Columbia office at (803) 734-3886. Hunts are $50 per hunter.

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