Planning A South Carolina Draw Deer Hunt

Application deadlines for public-land draw hunts for deer are getting closer. Here's a look at several areas in the state that could help you decide where to apply. (July 2007)

Photo by Ralph Hensley.

Hunters have full schedules.

Between the numerous outdoor opportunities that exist in South Carolina and family and work obligations, it is tough to find sufficient time to ever spend all you would like in the woods.

Many hunters find it hard to justify joining a hunt club because of their busy lives. Escalating membership costs and lease rates frankly have priced many hunters out of the game as well.

All is not lost, however. Many wildlife management areas (WMAs) of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and a few other pieces of public land offer high-quality deer hunts for hunters who can only spend a few days in the woods or for those people looking for a change of view from their deer stands.

It doesn't hurt, either, that some WMAs apply quality deer management practices. Therefore, you might get a chance at a nice buck. Otherwise, antlerless deer abound on many areas, so freezer meat is a perpetual, and encouraged, option as well.

To get in on one of these hunts requires filling out an application -- and deadlines are fast approaching. So, take time out from your busy schedule to complete and submit an application for this fall's hunts. Here's a rundown of various draw hunts for deer to help you in the process.

DONNELLEY WMA

Your chances for being drawn to hunt at Donnelley WMA in Colleton County are pretty good.

Donnelley WMA is included on what SCDNR coins the "five-site" hunt application. What this means is that Donnelley is paired with four other WMAs on the application. The other WMAs include Palachucola, Santee Cooper, Bonneau Ferry and Bear Island.

The benefit of this application is you can apply to hunt on one or all of these areas. You only will be drawn for one, however. But if your preference is only to hunt Donnelley WMA, that's fine, whereas another hunter might apply to hunt at Donnelley WMA and Palachucola and Santee Cooper WMAs. If you are willing to hunt any of the WMAs on the application, then you stand a better chance of hunting one of them.

Four hundred and sixty-six five-site applications were received last season. These applications totaled 1,170 hunters who were vying for 766 available slots, so you had a 2-in-3 chance of being drawn.

The biologist at Donnelley WMA describes the draw deer hunts on the area as being drawn for your own 8,048-acre deer club lease that is limited to 30 members.

Donnelley WMA used to hold 12 1 1/2-day hunts for 30 hunters each. Budget cuts caused a rethinking of the hunt schedule, and since 2003, the area has functioned with seven 2 1/2-day hunts for 30 hunters between late September and late November. The number of hunter days is the same as in the past, which still allows harvest objectives to be met without the outlay of manpower.

The other good thing is you get to have the entire area to yourself for a longer period of time.

"It used to be that we catered to hunters a lot more," said Dean Harrigal, SCDNR biologist at Donnelley WMA. "We don't drive people to and from stands unless they require it.

"Today, hunters are free to scout the entire area and place their stand wherever they would prefer. If they find an area that is attractive to them, they are free to hunt it. They are no longer bound to drawing for one of our stands, like in the past."

With this in mind, Harrigal recommended that hunters scout out more than one area, but don't over scout. He said if you find a good place, stick with it. Because you're potentially sharing the area with 29 other hunters, he mentioned it is a good idea to have a backup spot in case someone is in your area. Hunters place a pin on a map at the check station to indicate where they are hunting.

There was also a change in harvest regulations a few seasons back.

"We went from only 4 or more points on one side," Harrigal said, "to 4 or more points on one side or a 12-inch spread. This was done to reduce the harvest pressure on 1 1/2-year-old bucks and to increase the antlerless deer harvest."

It worked.

The 2002 season's harvest was 73 deer (33 bucks, 40 does). This declined to 52 deer (22 bucks, 30 does) during the 2003 season, the first season with the change. The 2004 and 2005 harvest was 54 deer (19 bucks, 35 does) and 65 deer (23 bucks, 42 does), respectively. Last season, hunters took 78 deer (16 bucks, 62 does).

Harrigal stated that the decline right after the change coincided with the severe drought, which reduced deer harvest statewide. As the harvest has rebounded in recent seasons, the harvest management objective has been achieved.

Some nice bucks are being taken as well. Of the 16 bucks taken last season, 25 percent had spreads greater than 16 inches, which is respectable for a public area.

About 85 percent of the harvest occurs by the early November hunt period. The highest harvest last season was during the Oct. 23-25 hunt period when 24 deer (three bucks, 21 does) were taken.

Three deer are permitted per hunt period and hogs are legal.

Hunters drawn to hunt at Donnelley WMA may camp at the primitive campground at nearby Bear Island WMA, located a few miles farther down Bennetts Point Road, during the hunt period. There is a commercial campground located five miles from Donnelley WMA at Woods Brothers Store in nearby Green Pond. A selection of motel accommodations is available in Walterboro, about a 20-minute drive away.

For any additional information about the deer hunts held at the Donnelley WMA, you can contact the office at (843) 844-8957.

BEAR ISLAND WMA

Just down the road from Donnelley WMA is Bear Island WMA. It is primarily a waterfowl management area. As such, it is characterized by many impoundments. Woods of varying sizes are scattered across the WMA.

Don't think of deep swamps and extensive stands of forests that you would find at Donnelley WMA. Bear Island is wide-open spaces, with deer hiding in anything from marsh grass on old ditch banks to wax myrtle thicke

ts in coastal pine stands.

Thirty hunters are drawn for each 2 1/2-day hunt period, with the majority of hunts held in October. The 2006 harvest was 22 deer (nine bucks, 13 does). Not surprisingly, the most deer (nine bucks, seven does) were harvested during the same hunt period as the Donnelley WMA, Oct. 23-25.

You can find out more about the draw deer hunts at Bear Island WMA by calling SCDNR at (843) 844-8957.

BONNEAU FERRY WMA

The 10,700-acre Bonneau Ferry WMA in Berkeley County is a newcomer to the draw-deer hunt program. Last year was only the second season the property had draw deer hunts.

Hunts start in early October and continue into November. Normally, six 2 1/2-day hunts are held on the area. There is a three-deer limit, but only one buck may be harvested per hunter. There are no antler restrictions.

SCDNR personnel said they expect draw-deer hunt regulations and hunting procedures to be the same as last season, with one exception.

The property is divided approximately in half, and the draw hunts take place on one side. Adult-youth deer hunts take place on the other half of Bonneau Ferry WMA. The following season, the draw hunts and adult-youth hunts flip-flop sides. So, if you're lucky enough to be drawn two seasons in a row, you will have a different view from your tree stand.

Applications for Bonneau Ferry WMA are included with four other WMAs, so it is hard to determine exactly how many people applied just for Bonneau Ferry. The harvest last season was 39 deer (26 bucks, 13 does). The bucks included four 8-pointers, two 9-pointers and two 10-pointers.

Drawn hunters are permitted to scout between 7 a.m. and noon on the first day of the hunt period that they're drawn. Scouting is also permitted between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the remaining hunt days.

No permanent stands are provided. Only one portable stand is permitted per hunter, and no stalking or man drives are permitted.

Information about Bonneau Ferry WMA can be obtained by calling SCDNR's Dennis Wildlife Center at (843) 825-3387.

CROFT STATE NATURAL AREA

Encompassing 7,000 acres just south of Spartanburg, Croft State Natural Area is owned by State Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Unlike the other areas, the Croft hunt is archery only.

During the 2006 season, 657 hunters applied for 626 slots. There are four two-day hunt periods held on the area. The dates for the 2007 hunts are Sept. 19-20, Oct. 3-4, Oct. 17-18 and Nov. 7-8.

"The most deer seem to be taken during the late October hunt," said Gerald Moore, a SCDNR wildlife biologist. "Last season, hunters took 74 deer, with 27 of those coming during the late October hunt. Twenty-two deer were taken during the other October hunt." Hunters reported seeing 1,588 deer, taking shots at 206 and hitting 110 deer over the four hunts.

The bag limit is three deer, including no more than one antlered buck. There are no antler restrictions. Moore said there were no impressive bucks harvested last season in terms of antlers or spread, but one buck did weigh 170 pounds.

"Since one of the objectives of the hunts is to reduce the size of the deer herd and prevent overbrowsing of native vegetation," Moore said, "we encourage hunters to take antlerless deer. If you shoot a doe, you are automatically pre-selected for a hunt next season."

Camping is permitted at Croft. Reservations (two-night minimum) can be made in advance by calling toll-free (800) 385-7275 or go online at www.southcarolinaparks.com.

FANTS GROVE WMA

Tucked away in the upper Piedmont of South Carolina, the 7,000-acre Fant's Grove WMA is a dandy piece of property with a great reputation for large bucks.

Traditionally, Fant's Grove was an archery-only area, but that was changed several seasons ago in an attempt to improve the deer herd by harvesting more antlerless deer.

Richard Morton, a SCDNR wildlife biologist in Clemson, said the property has a good potential for producing quality bucks.

"By changing the hunting strategy, we felt we could improve the deer-herd dynamics and produce even nicer deer, including bigger bucks," he said.

SCDNR began offering rifle-only draw hunts on the WMA in December 2000. Originally, there were four two-day hunts accommodating 70 hunters per hunt. Morton tinkered with the process, and for several seasons, 75 hunters were selected for three 1 1/2-day hunts. All hunts take place in December.

Successfully drawn hunters must check in and obtain a daily permit at the Clemson SCDNR checkpoint by 11 a.m. on the first day and 6 a.m. on the second, which is the full day. Anyone not checked in by 6 a.m. cannot hunt that morning. All hunters must check out by 7:30 p.m. each evening. If you need to track a deer later than that, you must notify SCDNR personnel.

Scouting is open to hunters before each hunt period. During the hunt period, midday scouting is permitted only between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. by hunters drawn for that hunt period.

Morton said that portable stands can be placed before each hunt period, but hunters doing so leave their stands at their own risk. All portable stands must be removed no later than one day following each hunt period.

The hunts are popular, with over 350 hunters applying for these hunts annually.

Morton adjusted the hunt schedule again during the 2006-07 season.

"We felt the sex ratio on Fant's Grove was getting better," he said. "Additionally, manpower has become an issue and the hunting pressure during the archery season has really increased. As a result, we only held two 1 1/2-day hunts last season."

Sixty-five slots were available for each hunt. The number of hunters that applied was 386.

Because of the hunt schedule, weather has always played a role in harvest success. Since 2001, only the 2003 season has not seen any precipitation.

"Two seasons ago, we had a major ice storm," Morton said. "Even then, 54 hunters still showed up to hunt. The weather this past season cooperated fairly well."

Morton said 23 deer (eight bucks, 15 does) were taken during the two hunts, with most of the bucks coming early. The total deer harvest over the last six seasons has been 56, 25, 24, 41, 34 and 26.

"The majority of bucks were killed during the first hunt this past season," Morton said. "We had a 12-pointer killed that grossed near 148 points and net

ted about 136 points. The other bucks, including three 8-pointers and two 9-pointers averaged in the 110 Boone and Crockett size class."

The habitat at Fant's Grove is constantly changing.

"Clemson's School of Forest Resources still has an active forestry management program on the property," Morton said. "This plays a vital role on the deer herd. The timber harvest creates a lot of browse for deer."

Morton said wildlife openings are still being planted on the WMA, but some of the harder-to-reach ones have been converted to orchards featuring crabapples, sawtooth oaks and persimmon trees. This past fall, he said, one orchard was in full production with five types of soft mast being produced.

Despite the good things happening at Fant's Grove, Morton does have a concern.

"We have lost a lot of WMA land in the Upstate," he said. "There are some Corps of Engineers properties available, but Fant's Grove remains as the only WMA land in Anderson County.

"It has a great reputation as a place to archery hunt, and the area is beginning to experience a tremendous amount of pressure. We'll continue to evaluate the harvest and may have to make regulation changes in the future to handle the pressure."

For additional information about Fant's Grove WMA, contact SCDNR's Region 1 office at (864) 654-1671.

WEBB CENTER WMA

One of the oldest draw deer hunts takes place at the Webb Center WMA in Hampton County. Hunters lucky enough to be selected for a hunt here enjoy a unique experience.

Unlike other WMA hunts, hunters spend the night in the old plantation house located at the WMA. In addition, they are treated to supper following the evening hunt and breakfast before the following morning's hunt. Hunts are held from mid-September to December and include an evening and morning hunt usually occurring on a Monday/Tuesday or on a Friday/Saturday.

During the 2006 season, 1,351 hunters applied for 540 slots.

Adjacent to Webb Center WMA, hunts are also held on Palachucola WMA. Just to the north, a recently acquired piece of property, Hamilton Ridge WMA, was opened for draw hunts. Harvest totals for both areas were unavailable, but hunts will be held this season on both WMAs.

Information for Webb Center, Palachucola and Hamilton Ridge WMAs can be obtained by contacting SCDNR's Webb Center office at (803) 625-3569.

OTHER DRAW HUNTS

Other areas that support draw hunts are Santee Cooper WMA and Santee State Park in Orangeburg County, with the last area's drawing administered by the state park (803/854-2408).

Women-only draw deer hunts are held at Webb Center WMA and North Dike WMA, located in Berkeley County on the north side of Lake Moultrie. Up to 30 slots are available at Webb, and until the 2006 season, every woman who has applied the last two years has gone on the hunt. Twenty-three applications with 32 applicants were received last season for 30 slots. At North Dike WMA, 32 women applied for the 20 slots available during 2006 season.

A mobility-impaired hunt is held at Webb Center WMA as well. Ten slots are available and over two dozen applicants were received for last season's hunts.

With the kids out of school for the summer, relatives in town enjoying the beach and the weather feeling more like baseball season than hunting season, deer season is quickly approaching. Take a break from the rat race, and get your application submitted for this season's draw deer hunts. Applications are available at any SCDNR office or by accessing the Web at www.dnr.sc.gov.

Good luck.

Find more about South Carolina fishing and hunting at:

SCgameandfish.com.

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