Lowcountry's love affair with deer roars back into season

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comAugust 21, 2012 


Until moving to the Lowcountry, I had never considered a deer stand as a wedding gift.

It took a while to learn that when the locals talked about "dyah" they were talking about deer.

Children talk about bloodying their faces after their first kill. And that's the little girls. Old men talk about getting their shirt tails cut when they shoot and miss.

The Jasper County seal features a big old buck just begging for some target practice.

Deer season opened last week in the Lowcountry. We have one of the longest seasons, running from Aug. 15 to Jan. 1.

It's not that big of a deal in Beaufort County anymore. The wildlife streaking through the woods here are called people. We treat deer like Bambi, until Bambi gets in the begonias. Then it's up to someone else, under the cover of night, to do something unmentionable about it. On Hilton Head Island, where the land we call Palmetto Dunes Resort was a deer-hunting club as late as 1967, there once was a prolonged public conversation on the need to control the deer herd -- with contraceptives.

It wasn't that long ago that deer dogs yelped through the woods along S.C. 46 in Bluffton as armed men leaned against pickup trucks and "fo-wheelahs." You might see the same thing today, but it's not called deer hunting, it's called drug dealing.

Deer hunting generates $200 million in retail sales annually in South Carolina, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

The statewide herd is estimated at 725,000 -- down from 1 million a decade ago. Habitat change is the main reason for the decline -- even though the top deer-hunting counties still produce harvest rates in excess of 15 deer per square mile, and hunters killed 226,458 deer in South Carolina last year.

One of the biggest enemies of deer is the coyote. DNR is part of a study in the Savannah River Site that indicates coyotes are to blame for 80 percent of fawn mortalities. By the way, it's always coyote season during daylight hours, and last year deer hunters killed 32,204 of them, DNR says.

I was invited to go deer hunting once by neighbors in Ridgeland. My role was to stand off by myself and attract all the no-see-ums. The only thing my dog knew how to chase was a tennis ball. Let's just say I don't have any antlers hanging in my shed.

But at this time of year when I drive through Estill, I wear an orange suit and wave a white flag.

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