Planning Your Draw Hunt

South Carolina has a variety of public-land draw hunts that can enhance your deer-hunting season. Here's how to plan a hunt that fits your goals. (August 2009)

Finding quality places to deer hunt is a primary quest for any South Carolina deer hunter. If that place has a good population of deer and a limited number of hunters, that's even better. If it's actually managed for deer and wildlife, it can be a very special place.

Fortunately, for South Carolina deer hunters, there are such places, and they are open to public land hunters. While the popularity of public draw hunts on South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) wildlife management areas has been on the rise, according to SCDNR, the potential to get in on one of these quality hunts is still very good.

Not all WMAs are public draw hunt areas. Many are open to the public through pre-established seasons. The Public Draw Hunt WMAs are different and these specific WMAs have an application process that is the key to getting drawn. We'll take a look at the draw hunt process, how to do it correctly and add some information about each of these deer-hunting areas. Timing is everything and July is the time to complete and submit applications for these public draw hunts for this hunting season.

According to Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project Supervisor for the SCDNR, the public draw hunts offer deer hunters a controlled environment for hunting.

"All of the public draw hunt WMAs are well-managed hunts, and the opportunity to see and harvest deer is good," Ruth said. "As is the case anywhere, weather and other external factors will play a role in hunting success. Some of the areas are well suited to numbers of deer and others seem to have more potential for producing large bucks. One public draw hunt WMA, the Webb Wildlife Center, is an overnight hunt and the success rate at the Webb WMA is very good. This is actually the most popular public draw hunt we have, but there are a lot of other opportunities that many hunters may not know about. In addition, there is one public draw hunt for dog drives at the Manchester State Forest WMA in Sumter County."

Patty Castine works with Ruth in many capacities at SCDNR, one being Public Draw Hunts Coordinator. Castine listed several separate public draw hunts that outdoorsmen can consider. She added that although most of the pubic draw hunt areas are located in the Lowcountry portion of the state, there are some in other sections. Most hunters can find an opportunity within reasonable driving distance.

Castine said the public draw hunts are divided into separate drawings for specific hunts. The Webb Center hunt is a standalone draw as is the Manchester Club Dog Drive hunt. Also, the Fants Grove WMA is a standalone application. The WMAs grouped together as Lowcountry applications include the Donnelly, Botany Bay, Bear Island, Palachucola, Hamilton Ridge, Santee Cooper and Bonneau Ferry WMAs.

Castine added that there is also a separate public draw hunt for women only at the Webb Center.

"This is an exciting opportunity for women and we really want to get the word out that it is available," she said. "The deer hunting is very good at the Webb Center and it gives women, especially newcomers to the sport, a great opportunity to gain confidence in their hunting abilities."

Castine added that there are a few keys to getting consistently drawn for these hunts.

"We already get enough applications that not everyone can be drawn every year for the hunts," she said. "The Webb Center hunt is a good example because that usually takes a couple of years of applying to get drawn. We have almost as many hunters applying for the Webb Center Hunt as we do for the multi-site hunts combined. But the key to getting drawn is the preference procedures that are in place. To equitably allocate hunt slots for the more popular hunts, applicants are issued a preference point for each consecutive year not drawn. Applications with the most preference points are drawn first, the next high number second, etc., until all slots are filled.

"This procedure guarantees each applicant a slot eventually, if the applicant applies every year," Castine said. "It's crucial that hunters continue to apply every year if not drawn because the preference points revert to zero if the applicant skips the application process one year. Keep applying and everyone will eventually get in. The preference points also revert to zero when a hunter is drawn for a specific hunt.

"As all the hunts become more popular, it's important to be consistent in the application process to be competitive," she said.

Castine also noted that hunters can only apply once for a specific hunt. All applicants on an application with duplicate names will be disqualified. One other very important point Castine makes is if an individual has built up preference points and during the next cycle adds someone to the application that has no preference points or fewer preference points, then the original applicant's points will be negatively affected. There is other information you'll need to know as well. It is available on the application forms and on the SCDNR Web site at www.dnr.sc.gov/hunting/ drawlicenses and the 2009 public draw hunt information should be available by late-June or July.

The specific dates of the hunts and other pertinent information can be obtained at that time.

Now, we'll take a close look at the individual public draw hunt areas. In some cases, there is harvest data for hunter to consider as he narrows his choice of which hunt to apply to.

We'll start with the most popular, the Webb Wildlife Center. The Webb WMA is located in Hampton County and consists of 5,866 acres of managed lands. Ruth noted this is a "standalone" hunt application; successful applicants are drawn for a Webb Wildlife Center hunt and no other.

The Webb WMA offers additional amenities for those who are unable, or do not want, to deal with the scouting and erecting of climbing stands. For the $125 application fee, hunters are able to hunt for one afternoon and the following morning. The limit is two deer per hunter; only one of the two may be a buck. Also included in the package are accommodations and meals (supper and breakfast) at the Webb Center lodge.

Over 100 permanent stands are located on the WMA with a random drawing held for stand selection. Staff transports hunters to and from their stands, cleans any harvested deer or hogs and hangs them in a cooler. Forty-six bucks and 55 does were harvested from Webb WMA during the 2007 season, the latest harvest figures available at this time. The overall harvest rate was 11 deer per square mile.

To get to th

e Webb Wildlife Center, proceed on U.S. Highway 321 in Hampton County and turn on S.C. Highway 20, also known as Augusta Stagecoach Road in Garnett. The check station is located about 2.5 miles northwest of the intersection of U.S. Highway 321 and S.C. Highway 20 in Garnett. For more specific information on the Webb Wildlife Center, call (803) 625-3569.

There are several WMAs included in the overall Lowcountry Public Hunt Draw. We'll look at them individually as well. Draw hunts for deer still-hunting occur on the following coastal wildlife management areas (WMAs): Bear Island, Bonneau Ferry, Donnelley, Hamilton Ridge, Palachucola, Webb, and the newly acquired Botany Bay Plantation. For $25 per hunter, one can participate in two and a half days of gun still-hunting for deer on one of the above listed WMAs. Hunting on the six coastal areas begins with an orientation at 1 p.m. on the first day of the hunt and ends on the evening of the third day.

Bear Island is a remote, 1,519-acre WMA located in Colleton County. The 2007 harvest data indicates this WMA had the highest harvest per square mile of any of the public draw WMAs with a 12.2 deer per square mile figure.

Bear Island is located near Green Pond approximately 13 miles form U.S. highway 17 off Secondary Road S-15-26, also known as Bennett's Point Road. A highway sign marks the turn onto Bennett's Point Road from Highway 17. After turning onto Bennett's Point Road, travel another 12 miles before crossing the Ashepoo River. After crossing the bridge, go about one mile and turn left into the Bear Island WMA. This is a dirt road and will lead you to the check station. For more information on Bear Island WMA, call (843) 844-8957.

The Donnelley WMA consists of 8,048 acres and is located in Colleton County. The Donnelly WMA is located about 40 miles south of Charleston and 15 miles east of Walterboro near U.S. Highway 17. To reach the check station from Highway 17, turn onto Bennett's Point Road (SC-26) and go about four miles to the marked entrance of the gravel road into the area. The check station is located two miles from this intersection.

Both Donnelly and Bear Island WMAs offer quality hunting, according to the SCDNR. The limit for both Donnelly and Bear Island areas is three deer. Only one buck may be harvested and it must have at least 4 points on one side or a 12-inch minimum outside spread. Hunters must bring their own portable stands. There was a 4.5 deer per square mile harvest rate for the 2007 season for the Donnelly WMA.

That harvest rate number may not be very high, but the good news is there is good opportunity to harvest quality bucks from both the Bear Island and Donnelly areas.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) wildlife biologist Dean Harrigal, located at Donnelley WMA, believes the antler restrictions make a difference in the quality of bucks harvested from the Bear Island and Donnelly WMAs. According to Harrigal, 12 bucks and 17 does were harvested from Bear Island, while Donnelley's harvest was 21 bucks and 36 does. Harrigal said that several wildlife openings are planted in winter grains to facilitate deer harvest.

The 6,757-acre Palachucola WMA, located in Hampton and Jasper counties, and the 13,281-acre Hamilton Ridge WMA, located in Hampton County, offer the same style of hunting as Donnelley and Bear Island WMAs, as well as the same bag limits and buck restrictions. A primitive camping area and a skinning shed are provided at each location during the hunts. No meals, lodging, nor permanent stands are provided.

According to DNR wildlife biologist Jay Cantrell, both of these areas have good potential for quality bucks.

"Antler restrictions have also allowed for nicer bucks to be harvested from the area," Cantrell said.

Hunters harvested 24 bucks and 25 does from Palachucola WMA, along with 36 bucks and 66 does from Hamilton Ridge during the 2007 season.

Locating these two WMAs is easy. The Palachucola WMA borders the Webb Wildlife Center to the south, and the Hamilton Ridge WMA is to the north.

Bonneau Ferry is another large WMA, consisting of 10,697 acres, and is located in Berkeley County along the eastern branch of the Cooper River near the town of Cordsville. Unlike most of the public draw hunts areas, there is no SCDNR staff on site. Hunts for deer will be held on half of the WMA.

Hunters can hunt as much or as little as interested in order to harvest a maximum of three deer, of which only one may be a buck. The hunters may hunt anywhere on the designated side of 5,350 acres. No stands are provided, and hunters must use their own climbing stands. Several wildlife openings are also planted. According to SCDNR data, there were 36 bucks and 19 does harvested on draw hunts from the area during the 2007 season. The data indicates there were 7.2 deer per square mile harvested during the 2007 season.

Bonneau Ferry does have a diversity of habitat and generally offers a good opportunity for viewing other wildlife species while hunting deer.

The Bonneau Ferry WMA is located just outside of Moncks Corner. Take Highway 402 off Highway 52. Go about nine miles on S.C. 402 and you will cross the railroad tracks in Cordsville (and where, you should be aware, the highway speed limit also drops). The main entrance to the Bonneau Ferry WMA will be on the right. For more information on Bonneau Ferry, call (843) 825-3387.

The 4,630-acre Botany Bay Plantation WMA, located on Edisto Island, is now managed by the SCDNR. Limited draw gun still-hunts will be offered on the area. Deer limits and restrictions are the same as those listed for Bear Island and Donnelley WMAs. Hunters must bring their own portable stands, and no lodging or camping facilities are available on-site. For more information on Donnelley, Bear Island, or Botany Bay Plantation WMAs, call (843) 844-8957.

The Fants Grove WMA in Anderson County is a unique draw hunt, according to Charles Ruth.

"It's different because the area is open for bowhunting prior to the public draw hunt for gun hunting," Ruth said. "Normally the gun hunt is late in the season, and the specific days will change from year to year. But it does give upstate hunters a place they can hunt as well."

Ruth said that because of the bowhunting as well as the public draw hunt, he does not have hard harvest data for this area.

The Fants Grove WMA is located near Pendleton. Travel west on Highway 76/28 from Anderson or east from Clemson. Turn on Woodburn Road across from Tri-County Tech and go 1.25 miles. Turn left onto a dirt road. There is a sign at the entrance to the road. Follow the dirt road to the check-in site. For more information on Fants Grove WMA, call (864) 654-1671.

The Manchester State Forest WMA Club Dog Hunt Drawing in Sumter County is quite popular with dog hunting clubs. This is a standalone application and has some very specific rules. These rules cans be found in detail on the hunt application.

The Manchester State Forest WMA is located to the west of S.C. Highway 261 between Wedgefield and Pinewood. The hunt headquarters is located at the State Forest headquarters, marked by an entrance sign off Highway 261. Remember this is a club-only application and is not for individual hunters.

The Manchester State Forest WMA has a lot of other hunting opportunities on specific days, so there is no data on just the dog drive portion of the hunt. For more information on this WMA, you can call (803) 494-8196.

These public draw hunts are a hunting opportunity and they have several advantages. One, they are generally on well-managed areas and have controlled access. Second, only a specific number of hunters will be on the property since it is a draw hunt. Based on the above data, you can focus your efforts on WMAs where you have an improved chance for taking a quality buck, or you can opt for a "head count" WMA to fill the freezer with venison. Plus, dog drivers and female hunters also have special opportunities. There is something for almost everyone.

Take advantage of the opportunities to hunt these public wildlife management areas and fill out your application soon.

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