Bird hunting would no longer be allowed at the Santee National Wildlife Refuge under new regulations proposed this week by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. However, wildlife officials say hunters have not used the site for nearly a decade.
According to a proposed rule change, the FWS wants to close migratory bird game hunting on the refuge, which is located along the shores of Lake Marion in Clarendon County. It has long been home to migrating geese, ducks, and doves. Since hunting is already banned on Lake Marion, the current rules only allowed mourning dove hunts on units away from the water.
Doves are traditionally hunted in open fields, which were plentiful at the site when officials first allowed dove hunting in 1975. Santee maintained the fields for the thousands of Canada Geese that spent winters along the lake. 37 years later, those geese have largely moved north and the fields have become abandoned and overgrown.
Refuge manager Marc Epstein says that means the area is no longer appealing for dove hunters. “Nobody has checked in or checked out since 2003, according to our records,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “There’s (sic) so many other productive areas to go dove hunting in this region.”
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources maintains several fields nearby in Clarendon County, he said. Santee would also still allow big game hunting for deer and hogs, as well as raccoons and opossums. It would also continue to offer sport fishing.
Bird hunting is already banned on the lake and within 300 feet of a road. If the regulation is approved, as expected, it would effectively ban all types of bird hunting at the site. Epstein said officials are hoping to start a turkey hunt soon.
“We are going to try to get a family-friendly turkey hunt on the Cuddo Unit,” he said, “It’s going to take maybe a year or so to get through the paperwork on that, but that’s something we hope for in the future.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service is also proposing to open the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge up to woodcock hunting. Other types of waterfowl are already hunted at the site.