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Coastal development eliminates hunting grounds

Associated Press

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - As homes and shopping malls go up where deer once roamed, South Carolina's coastal hunters are finding fewer places where they can participate in their sport.

"You used to see more deer along the roads and now you see big shopping centers," said Wade Long, who hunts dove and deer by bow and rifle near his home on state Highway 111. "We used to hunt off of (state Highway) 90. Now, there are homes there."

Cathy Honeycutt sometimes sees hunters in her back yard in the Pelican Bay neighborhood near Carolina Bays Parkway in northern Horry County. She sees deer, turkey and black bears all around her neighborhood. Sometimes she sees lost hunting dogs or hunters themselves.

"It's all private land, and it's not supposed to be hunted on," she said. "But the hunters will walk right through.

"Once this guy with a shotgun was out there, and I yelled at him, and he just looked at me and said, `This is public property.' I said, 'No it's not.' "

In South Carolina, the number of deer hunting permits decreased 13 percent in the 1990s, according to a 2001 Department of Natural Resources study. Similarly, dove hunting permits fell 43 percent during the same period. Only turkey hunting permits saw an increase.

"Times have changed," said Danny Stone, president of the Five Rivers Council, a hunting advocacy group in Georgetown. "It's a lot worse in Horry County, where you have so much development."

While the number of hunting licenses was dropping, the amount of housing in Horry County was ballooning. Between 1990 and 2000, Horry County's population increased by 36.5 percent, and the annual number of building permits issued for home construction doubled.

Hunters now find themselves siding with conservationists on restricting growth and conserving some green space.

"There's a lot of overlap," said conservationist Scott Yaich of Ducks Unlimited, a group that includes environmentalists and waterfowl hunters in its ranks. "Our mission is habitat conservation, and we focus our activities on preserving wetlands and grasslands. But our activities certainly benefit hunters, and it's designed that way. Many of our members are sportsmen who want to conserve, and they do hunt. They're one and the same."

Many hunters have to pay private property owners to hunt on undeveloped land or they go to public preserves that allow hunting. But even some of those areas are being surrounded by housing.

Development "happens gradually and incrementally, so you don't notice it so much," said Bob Perry of the Natural Resources Department. "But it's happening all around us, and it's something that hunters recognize."

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