The much-anticipated start of the 2012 deer season is underway in some parts of the state and South Carolina’s deer population is healthy and the season outlook is good. Although the deer harvest has been on a downward trend the last few years indicating that population levels have moderated, hunter success and deer harvest rates remain good, according to Charles Ruth, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deer and Wild Turkey Program Coordinator.
Top counties for harvest in 2011 included Bamberg, Union, Calhoun, and Orangeburg with each of these counties exhibiting harvest rates in excess of 15 deer per square mile. Very few areas in the United States consistently yield comparable harvest figures. On the other hand, top counties for quality deer in 2011 included Aiken, Orangeburg, and Kershaw in the coastal plain and Anderson, Pickens, and Saluda counties in the piedmont. These results come as no surprise as these counties have historically produced good numbers of record entries.
Find out more about the 2011 deer harvest and 2012 antler records at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources website: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/deer/index.html.
Although there were no substantive changes made to deer hunting laws by the General Assembly this year, hunters should always consult the annual Hunting and Fishing Rules and Regulation brochure that DNR publishes each summer, said Ruth. This is particularly the case for hunters that use the various Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in the state.
For more information on hunting seasons, rules and regulations check http://www.dnr.sc.gov/regulations.html.
South Carolina’s deer population expanded rapidly in the 1980’s and early 1990’s and it peaked in the late 1990’s at about 1,000,000 animals. However, since 2002 the population has trended down with current figures being about 725,000 deer, a 25 percent decline from peak figures 10 years ago. The reduction can likely be attributable to a number of factors including habitat change. Although timber management activities stimulated significant growth in South Carolina’s deer population beginning in the 1970’s, considerable acreage is currently in even-aged pine stands that are greater than 10 years old, a situation that does not support deer densities at the same level as younger stands in which food and cover is more available.
Also, coyotes are a recent addition to the landscape and are another piece of the puzzle. DNR is currently involved in a major study with researchers at the Savannah River Site investigating the affects coyotes are having on the survival of deer fawns. Cumulative data throughout the study indicates approximately 70 percent total fawn mortality with coyotes being responsible for approximately 80 percent of these mortalities. If these findings even moderately represent a statewide situation, this “new mortality factor” is clearly involved in the reduction in deer numbers. This is especially true when combined with extremely liberal deer harvests that have been the norm in South Carolina. The study is currently in the process of determining if coyote control (trap/kill) leads to increased fawn survival on the area.
Hunters should not be overly concerned if the deer population is down compared to several years ago when the population reached its peak. Most hunters, to their credit, have recognized the fact that having fewer deer leads to better quality deer. Results of DNR’s antler scoring program indicate that this may indeed be the case as the last 5 years have seen approximately 1,000 bucks successfully entered into the state records program. On the other hand, said Ruth, we don’t want to see the population decline such that hunter success and the interest in deer hunting deteriorate. Earlier this year, DNR made recommendations related to future deer management needs in South Carolina, however, these recommendations have not met with any legislative action at this point.
Deer hunting generates approximately $200 million in retail sales for South Carolina’s economy annually.
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