South Carolina Increases Bear Tags Amid Overpopulation

South Carolina Increases Bear Tags Amid Overpopulation

In recent years, South Carolina’s coast has become overrun with black bears, resulting in the revision of bear hunting regulations by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) to increase hunter interest in the season and keep the population in check.

According to the SCDNR website and a letter sent to hunters who previously applied for the coastal bear draw:

  • Coastal bear tags will now be available to any hunter instead of through a lottery draw.
  • The season will operate on a 30-bear quota across all four counties (Horry, Marion, Williamsburg and Georgetown) offering legal bear hunting. 
  • If total bears harvested reaches 30 before the scheduled season close date of Oct. 30, the SCDNR will provide notification through both the “bear hotline” and its website and the season will close 24 hours following the notification.
  • Tags will cost $25 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. Hunters must also possess a valid South Carolina hunting license and big-game permit. 

“When the initial legislation was drafted, it mandated a lottery system where hunters applied for tags and only a limited number were drawn,” said Charles Ruth, SCDNR Big Game Program Coordinator. “That system simply didn’t work and we knew updates needed to be made. When we heard legislators filed a bill regarding the coastal bear season this past legislative session, we worked with them to have the coastal season treated more like the bear season in the mountains.”

The increase in tags should be effective at boosting the number of bears harvested, but the 30-bear quota limit will help safeguard the population. According to Ruth, a harvest rate of 10 to 12 percent of the current population is acceptable for managing the growing number of bears on the state’s coast.

While the bear tags now will be available to anyone wanting to hunt during the coastal bear season, the state’s wildlife agency believes the changes were needed to get tags in the hands of the right hunters. “Hunters within the coastal bear zone were drawing tags about once every four years. Now, tags will be available to hunters who have bears on their property and have reasonable expectations of taking one,” said Ruth.

Harvests are limited to one bear. Additional restrictions include: no harvesting sows with cubs or bears weighing 100 pounds or less; no bear hunting with dogs; and no hunting bears by the aid of bait.*

It’s important to note that the coastal bear season overlaps with the state’s whitetail deer rut. While the use of bait is common practice for deer hunting, it is currently illegal for hunting bear. “Hunters will still have to decide if they want to hunt bear or deer when it comes to the presence of bait,” noted Ruth.

Previous statistics show hunters may not be willing to sacrifice their deer season during the two-week bear season, as only 13 bears have been killed over the past six years and more than one-third of the hunters who were successful in the 2016 draw opted to not hunt on their tag. “The most bears ever killed in a single season was four, but I hope to see about 25 to 30 bears harvested following the recent regulation changes,” said Ruth.

The South Carolina bear season will continue to be evaluated and the SCDNR will work with legislators if any updates are needed in the future.

*While baiting bears is not permitted, hunting them over food plots or crops cut under normal agricultural practices is legal under current game regulations, but all hunters are encouraged to consult local wildlife officers to ensure they are operating within the law.