Hunters Finding Deer Tags Confusing, Ineffective At Stemming Decline

Upstate Outdoors
October 06, 2017 - 8:42 am

What started out as an idea whose time had come for South Carolina deer hunters has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare for many hunters. For two years prior to the 2017 Deer Season the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources began steps to implement a tagging system for the state’s deer hunters. The purpose of the tags was to finally establish a limit on the number of deer that could be taken per hunter in the state.

Although SCDNR published limits for Upstate deer hunters, the regulations were pretty much on an honor system unless a law enforcement officer could prove a hunter had exceeded the posted limits. In the lower parts of the state, there simply were no limits on antlered deer, the rules books plainly stated that.

After much public consensus and discussion about what the proposed tag system would look like, SCDNR made a recommendation to the State Legislature which eventually became the basis for a Senate proposed bill. The proposal was 4 bucks and 4 does per hunter and the establishment of tags for each of these deer. If passed each hunter would receive 4 buck tags and 4 doe tags prior to the beginning of the season.

One of the stated drawbacks to the bill, according to many Upstate deer hunters, was that the proposed limits were too liberal, allowing each hunter to harvest as many as eight deer a season in the face of a deer herd that had shown as much as a 30% decrease in the last several years.

Little did we know. Fast forward to Deer Season 2017, which depending on where you hunt, either opened in Mid-August, Mid-September, or first of October. The tag system bill has passed into law. Limits have been established, but they’re a far cry from anything resembling conservation.

Each deer hunter may possess 3 unrestricted buck tags, 8 date-specific doe tags plus for a fee of $5 each may purchase 4 more “anytime” doe tags and 2 more antler restricted buck tags. If you are keeping track, the new limit for deer just went to 17 deer per person.

As a side note, members of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources don’t make the laws, not even an advisory or judicial board representing SCDNR. South Carolina is one of only a handful of remaining states where the entire General Assembly must propose, vote and establish game laws just like any other piece of legislature.

At the same time a division between deer densities within the state occurs as well as some long standing traditions. These competing factors show themselves as legislators from varying corners of the state added caveats to the original proposal.

In the Low Country and Midlands, deer densities are greater presumably due to agricultural pursuits as well as lower human densities. In the Upstate, deer densities are less with population centers located closer together.

Trying to balance the state’s deer herd using one statewide set of regulations doesn’t seem to be the answer. For land owners and managers who apply, a deer quota program remained mostly  intact from prior years for large tracts and agricultural managers to remove more deer than would be allowed otherwise.

Further complications arise with archery privileges that allow the dated doe tags to be used by archery hunters to take antlerless deer during any date of the archery season by forfeiting a dated doe tag.

At the end of the day, a tagging system is in place for the state. All deer must be tagged at the point of kill, but what happens next also creates some confusion. For hunters who have their deer processed at commercial meat processors, the processor removes the tag once the deer has been processed, but what about the home processor?

The regulations provide that someone who kills a deer on must tag the deer at the point of kill for transport then remove the tag himself once he has processed the deer.

As for any registration of validation of the used tag by phoning in the tag number or taking the deer to a check station, no system is in place.

Sounds like we’re back to the honor system.


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest will be JD Large, General manager of Cabela’s in Greenville, talking about the Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s merger.


South Carolina has finally established a tagging system and harvest limits for whitetail deer, but many feel the program will do nothing to reduce the decline of the state’s deer herd.

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