South Carolina has a great amount of diversity in topography, climate and outdoor opportunities. Our state stretches literally "from the mountains to the sea" and is like no other place on earth. We are truly blessed to live here.
The mountains in the Upstate are part of the Blue Ridge chain that extends from New England out to Alabama. It is one of the oldest mountain chains on earth. The rounded peaks are covered in hardwoods that turn into an amazing blaze of color every autumn. Bear hunting, trout fishing and kayaking rapids are possible in this part of the state. Winters here see more snow than other parts of the state.
The mountains give way to the Foothills or the Piedmont, an ancient eroded mountain chain that is generally hilly with thin clay soils. The Piedmont was once farmed but is now mostly reforested. Huge tracts of woodlands throughout this region are enrolled in the Wildlife Management Area Program and offer excellent deer, turkey and small game hunting to the public.
The Sandhills are located across the middle of the state at the fall line and are thought by some to be ancient beach dunes. The Sandhills are home to many rare and endangered species such as the red cockaded woodpecker, the pine barren's tree frog and the gopher tortoise. Manchester State Forest in Sumter County is part of the Sandhills.
The Coastal Plain lies below the Sandhills and extends all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. This area is relatively flat and fertile, with a good mix of farmland and timber. Big hardwood river swamps and piney wood uplands provide wildlife habitat for an amazing variety of creatures. The Black River, the Santee, the Edisto and the Pee Dee flow through this region.
Hunting and fishing are a way of life in the Lowcountry. Deer hunting with hounds, alligator hunting and an amazing amount of freshwater and saltwater fishing opportunities exist in this region. The climate is moderate, perhaps because of the more favorable ocean breezes in winter. The occasional hurricane and tropical storm push onshore to reshape the landscape.
Our rules and regulations for hunting and fishing are quite liberal in South Carolina. It offers fantastic opportunity for outdoor pursuits. Some states only allow a week to 10 days for deer hunting. Our state offers four-and-a-half months in some areas. Our limits for game animals and freshwater fish are liberal, yet our resources are stable.
Most of the laws regarding hunting, fishing and outdoor activities in our state are set in place by our Legislature based on traditional uses and advice from natural resource professionals. This system has been in place for a long time and has worked well. It offers the greatest amount of use and opportunity to our residents and has given way to change when needed.
Current deer hunting regulations vary widely in different regions of the state. The Department of Natural Resources made an effort in recent years to modernize some of the deer hunting rules and set a statewide limit. I have supported these changes. The changes were discussed in public meetings held across the state over a long period of time. The seasons will remain pretty much the same, but a statewide limit has been set.
Changes to standardize the turkey season statewide and lower the limit is not such a good thing in my opinion. The changes were not discussed in public meetings and caught most turkey hunters by surprise. The diversity of our state, it's topography and climate are factors that cry out for a season that varies by region.
I do support the idea of adding more opportunity, but I would support changing the Lowcountry season in zone six back to the traditional dates of March 15 to May 1. Leave the rest of the state to the new dates of March 20 to May 5. I would also propose a county limit of two birds in every county of the state for a total of three statewide. That will do more to limit the harvest than anything else.
The DNR has expressed concerns in recent years about a downward trend in turkey populations. I don't think hunters and hunting seasons are the problem but suggest there are other limiting factors that should be addressed. Expanding coyote populations and the lack of studies to accurately identify problems should be a bigger concern.
The Legislature will revisit the turkey season changes after the next season, and DNR is expected to offer recommendations, but I am skeptical of their intent. A DNR biologist has already told me that the season should go back to an April 1 opener statewide. Seems to me they have already made up their minds.
Remember, our state is special because of it's diversity and so are it's renewable resources and traditions.