Deer harvest increases slightly in South Carolina

  • Thursday, June 26, 2014

Photo Provided South Carolina DNR recently announced the latest deer hunting statistics for the state.

Results of the 2013 Deer Hunter Survey conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources indicate that the statewide harvest of deer last season totaled 225,806, an increase of 4 percent from last year.

An estimated 124,482 bucks and 101,324 does made up this total, according to Charles Ruth, Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Since 1997, DNR’s Wildlife Section has employed an annual random mail survey to estimate the harvest of deer at the state and county level. This year’s survey was sent to 25,000 hunters.

Prior to 1997, deer harvest figures were dependent on Deer Check Station reports in the 18-county Upstate and reports from hunt clubs in the 28-county Coastal Plain.

“The old way of documenting the deer harvest had flaws including failure to report harvested deer and the fact that there was no reporting required in many cases. Based on the survey work that has been done since 1997, it appears that the old system was documenting only about half of the deer being harvested annually in South Carolina, which is exactly why DNR is now using the survey technique,” said Ruth.

Increasing rapidly through the 1970s and 1980s, the deer population in South Carolina has generally been declining over the last 10 years, according to Ruth.

Although the harvest was up a bit in 2013, it was still down about 29 percent from the record harvest established in 2002.

The reduction in harvest seen since 2002 can likely be attributed to a number of factors including habitat change.

Although timber management activities stimulated the growth in South Carolina’s deer population in the 1980s, 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. DNR recently completed a major study with researchers at the Savannah River Site investigating the affects coyotes are having on the survival of deer fawns.

Cumulative data through the first 3 years of the study indicated 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.

All areas of South Carolina have long and liberal firearms seasons and the majority of deer (180,193) were taken with centerfire rifles in 2013.

Shotguns (21,452 deer) and archery equipment (14,452 deer) also contributed significantly to the overall deer harvest, whereas muzzleloaders, crossbows and handguns combined (9,709 deer) produced less than 5 percent of the total statewide harvest.

Other survey statistics indicate that approximately 131,963 South Carolina residents and 15,310 non-residents deer hunted in the state in 2013. Deer hunters reported an overall success rate of 70 percent.

About $200 million in direct retail sales is related to deer hunting in South Carolina annually.

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