South Carolina is one of a handful of states that still restricts Sunday hunting, but that’s about to change—at least partially. During a recent legislative session, Palmetto State lawmakers approved a regulation change proposed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) that will allow Sunday hunting on two tracts of federally-managed National Forest land and 8 state-owned Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). The change will open up more than 600,000 acres of public land to Sunday hunting no later than May 26, 2023.
“The two National Forests in South Carolina are the Sumpter, which is in the Upstate, and the Francis Marion National Forest, down in the Low County,” National Wild Turkey Federal (NWTF) District Biologist Ricky Lackey tells Field & Stream. “Those forests represent the vast majority of publicly-hunted land in the state.”
Lackey says the South Carolina-based NWTF supported the rule changes, and the conservation organization was heavily engaged in the legislative process that helped bring them about. But the multi-year effort to legalize Sunday hunting on South Carolina’s public lands wasn’t without opposition. According to Lackey, it almost came off the rails back in the Spring of 2022.
“There was a lot of political gamesmanship going on,” Lackey says. “There were politicians who said, ‘We don’t like this.’ And they tried to hijack the process.” Most of that opposition came from alternate user groups, like equestrians, who’ve become accustomed to having public lands to themselves on Sundays, he says.
After the 2022 push to open up Sunday hunting on public lands stalled out in the legislature, SCDNR put the effort on hold. “They made some slight adjustments to the number of days that Sunday hunting would be allowed and added one or two WMAs to the list,” Lackey says. “When they reintroduced it during this year’s Spring Session, there wasn’t any of that political gamesmanship or opposition to it, and it passed after its first vote.”
Unlike other states, South Carolina does not have a game commission that implements new rules and regulations on an annual basis. Instead, SCDNR biologists must go to the state legislature for approval when they want to update rule codes or make season-setting adjustments.
The department’s new regulations will only open public land Sunday hunting from October 15 to January 7, during the state’s fall deer and small game seasons. Lackey says the spring hunting seasons were omitted from the change out of concern for the state’s flagging wild turkey populations. “We’ve seen low recruitment and population declines happening all across the state,” he says. “DNR doesn’t want to put additional harvest or hunting pressure on those public land birds by opening up an extra day of opportunity.”
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In addition to 632,000 acres of National Forest lands, South Carolina has more than 100 state-owned Wildlife Management Areas and Heritage Preserves that contain tens of thousands of additional acres where Sunday hunting is currently prohibited. But there are only 8 WMAs included in the new regulation changes. “We’re definitely going to advocate for more Sunday hunting on additional WMAs wherever it’s appropriate,” says Lackey. “It’ll be incremental, but I think it will come with time.”