Gators, bears and other wild animals could be shot if they threaten people or pets under a bill being considered by state legislators.
The Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee has forwarded a bill to the full Senate that would allow hunters who commit violations -- such as shooting game out of season or at night -- a way to claim self-defense or defense of another person, hunting dogs or house pets.
The hunters wouldn't face penalties as long as they report the alligator or "big game" kill to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and hand over the carcass.
Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, whose 43rd District includes parts of Beaufort, Charleston and Colleton counties, is sponsoring the proposal. The committee chairman crafted it after discovering during last year's session that hunters accused of gaming violations could not defend themselves from punishment if they were protecting themselves or others from harm.
"What happens when you have to kill an alligator or a bear that's coming after you or your dog or your child?" Campsen said, adding it is important to include defense of pets in the bill. He would know: On the property he hunts on in the ACE Basin, his family has lost several hunting dogs to alligators.
Hunters have a relationship with their dogs "like they do with their children," he said.
DNR Capt. Robert McCullough said DNR supports the bill, although it is rare for wild animals to attack people in South Carolina. He can only recall a handful of incidents in his 30 years with the department, all involving gators.
Local gator wrangler Joe Maffo, who owns Critter Management, said that usually when a house pet is eaten by a gator, it is because the owner let it off a leash or let it go into waters where gators live. Gators usually will try to flee when humans come near, he said.
For that reason, Maffo doesn't think the new proposal will do any good.
"Common sense is all you need around wildlife," he said.
DNR Sgt. Michael Paul Thomas, who leads enforcement in Beaufort County, said that when the department gets reports of aggressive wild animals, its agents set traps to try to capture the animals before they do any harm. The department also removes and kills gators that have eaten a house pet, Thomas said.
Campsen said that when the bill gets on the Senate calendar, likely next week, he will add language to outlaw shooting wild animals that do not pose an imminent threat.
The proposal already establishes penalties for hunters who don't follow the bill's other provisions. For example, those who keep the game they kill can be fined $2,000.
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