South Carolina wildlife officials just took the gloves off in the fight against wild hogs.
Hunters who register themselves and their hunting properties with the Department of Natural Resources can now hunt feral pigs — along with coyotes and armadillos — at night with any legal weapon, bait, lights and even night-vision technology. The new season runs March 1 to July 1.
The news seems to be spreading like wildfire in Lowcountry hunting circles.
The regulations are the latest step taken by wildlife officials to empower hunters to deal with devastating infestations of feral swine. These invasive animals can wreak havoc on hunting properties, farms, yards, public lands and sensitive natural areas.
Previous regulation changes have allowed pig-hunting year round on private property, and most recently to use iron-sighted handguns and certain lighting systems. The new regulations, as spelled out in a news release from DNR, are:
“Hogs, coyotes, and armadillos may be hunted at night with or without the aid of bait, electronic calls, artificial lights, and night vision devices using any legal firearm, bow, or crossbow from the last day of February to July 1, upon notification to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources at least 48 hours in advance.
“Notice to DNR is required once per season for each property and the names, dates of birth, and hunting license numbers of each person participating in the hunt must be made available for registration. Applicants will be asked to provide information regarding the location of the property including road names and numbers that border the property.
“Hunters using center-fire rifles during this time must be at an elevated position at least 10 feet from the ground. Persons convicted of certain offenses within the last 5 years are ineligible to participate.
“To register a property and hunters for the lawful night hunting of hogs, coyotes, and armadillos during the 2013 hunting season contact the DNR Dispatch Center at (803) 955-4000.
Just minutes after DNR sent this e-mail late last month, text messages and phone calls started flying around my own circle of hunting buddies.
This wasn’t surprising — I’ve seen grown men moved almost to tears at the site of a carefully prepared, fussed-over and expensive food plot destroyed overnight by a group of wild pigs.
Within an hour, I had called and registered myself and our hunting property.
Subsequent discussions with veteran hunters and DNR’s 1st Sgt. Angus MacBride generated a few tips for those who might want to give this new night-hunting season a try.
First, hunters should amplify their safety considerations. Beyond the obvious and serious concerns about discharging firearms at night — particularly long-range rifles — night hunters also must take extra care climbing into and out of tree stands and making sure the locations of all hunters are well known. Using lights in a tree-stand-hunting scenario might also generate unfamiliar risks.
MacBride said hunters should keep in mind that the new night-hunting season wasn’t designed to provide a new form of recreation, or a new “sporting method to harvest hogs.”
“The idea behind the program is to give land owners another tool in their tool bags to try to eradicate a hog problem,” MacBride said. “And it’s a serious problem in many parts of our state.
“They’ll tear up a road, your food plots — they’re extremely invasive. They’ll consume so much of the natural resource that some of our indigenous species are pushed out. They’ll destroy important natural habitats for amphibians and other species.”
MacBride also strongly cautioned hunters against using bait to concentrate hogs if they plan to hunt turkeys during the same time period. The new night-hunting season overlaps with the turkey hunting season, which is March 15 - May 1 on private land in the Lowcountry.
Hunting turkeys over bait is illegal, but regulations don’t specify a distance hunters must maintain from corn or other baits set for hogs. So it’s up to law enforcement officers to make the call on whether a hunter has broken the law when it comes to “hunting over bait.”
To be on the safe side, hunters might want to wait until after turkey season to give night-hunting a try, at least if they plan to use bait.
Otherwise, MacBride said, “you may be pushing yourself into a situation where your property is unhuntable for turkeys.”
Anyone willing to share their experience (and success rate) with night-hunting wild pigs or coyotes should send an e-mail to mwinter @postandcourier.com or call 843-937-5568.