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Hunters killing more bears in South Carolina, despite criticism of 'trophy hunts'

Sammy Fretwell, The State on

Published in Outdoors

For the second consecutive year, South Carolina sportsmen killed a record number of black bears during the state’s often-criticized bear hunting season, a two-week period when the shy bruins are stalked in the mountains and on parts of the coast.

Hunters killed 174 bears in 2022, eclipsing last year’s state record of 169 bears harvested, according to data from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The vast majority were killed in the mountains of Pickens, Oconee and Greenville counties, an area of the state where bear-hunting is a long-standing tradition.

“It was a big season for the bear harvest,’’ said Tammy Waldrop, a DNR biologist who keeps track of bear hunting in the mountains.

While the number of hunters registering with the DNR to kill bears has steadily increased, Waldrop suspects the robust harvest relates to where acorns the bears feed on could be found.

White oak trees dropped large numbers of acorns — which black bears prefer over nuts from red oaks — but only in certain areas, she said. That caused bears to move about more and to congregate in some areas, she said.

“It gave more opportunity for these bear hunters to encounter them,’’ Waldrop said.

 

A hunter in Oconee County shot and killed the largest bear, a 536-pounder during the part of the season when dogs can be used to stalk bears. The state record is a bear weighing 609 pounds.

The state’s season runs the last two weeks in October. In the mountains, hunters can use dogs with tracking collars to stalk bears for one of the two weeks.

South Carolina allows bear-hunting in a handful of counties for multiple reasons. It’s seen as a way to keep the bear population in check in a growing state. And it is a cultural activity that goes back generations among hunters. Bear hunts are allowed only in mountain counties and on the northern coast near Myrtle Beach.

Animal welfare activists have long criticized South Carolina and other states that allow hunters to shoot and kill black bears, saying it is an unnecessary and cruel trophy hunt that may eventually threaten bear populations.

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