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Columbia Business Monthly

Statewide deer harvest remained stable in 2019

May 29, 2020 11:29AM ● By David Dykes

Staff Report

Results of the 2019 Deer Hunter Survey conducted by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources indicate that the statewide harvest of deer decreased by only 1 percent last season.

State officials said hunters harvested an estimated 105,201 bucks, and 87,872 does, which made up a total harvest of 193,073 deer. That is just slightly down from the 194,986 estimated harvest in 2018, according to Charles Ruth, SCDNR Big Game Program coordinator.

Between 2002 and 2015, the deer population in the state trended down with the overall reduction in harvest likely attributable to several factors, including habitat change, a long-term drought, two decades of aggressive antlerless deer harvest, and the complete colonization of the state by coyotes and their impact on fawn survival, state officials said. 

Since 2015 the states' deer harvest has been stable to increasing, possibly due to declining coyote densities, the officials said.

The fall of 2019 was the third season of the "all deer" tagging system and statewide limit on antlered deer. While harvest increased (12 percent) since 2016, it is primarily due to an increase in doe harvest (18 percent), rather than an increase in buck harvest (9 percent), state officials said. 

"Prior to the tagging program, increases in harvest were normally the result of increases in the buck harvest or a more equal increase in buck and doe harvest," Ruth said. "This disproportionate harvest may be indicative of the new buck limit having the desired effect of decreasing pressure on bucks. It will likely take a few years for this to become clearer."

Top counties for harvest in 2019 included Anderson, Laurens and Spartanburg, and Bamberg and Beaufort in the coastal plain. Each of these counties exhibited harvest rates of over 12 deer per square mile, which should be considered extraordinary, state officials said. 

Although the harvest has generally declined from its peak some years ago, South Carolina still ranks near the top among southeastern states in harvest per unit area.

All areas of South Carolina have liberal firearms seasons, and most deer (155,617) were taken with centerfire rifles in 2019, state officials said. Archery equipment (11,391 deer) and shotguns (17,956 deer) also contributed significantly to the overall deer harvest, the officials said. In contrast, muzzleloaders, crossbows, and handguns combined (8,109 deer) produced less than 5 percent of the total statewide harvest.

Although the annual Deer Hunter Survey focuses on deer hunting activities, there are also questions on the survey related to the harvest of wild hogs and coyotes in the state.

Results of this year's survey indicate an estimated 20,674 coyotes were taken incidental to deer hunting, state officials said. That figure represents a 9 percent decrease from 2018, continuing what seems to be a declining trend in coyote numbers in recent years, the officials said. 

Additionally, approximately 31,508 wild hogs were killed by deer hunters statewide, representing a 20 percent decrease from 2018. 

"Hog numbers and thus harvest, can vary substantially from year to year due to bottomland flooding during the fall and winter farrowing season which can cause mortality in piglets (and some adults), as well as, increasing vulnerability to hunters as hogs move to higher ground," said Ruth. "The dramatic decrease in harvest in 2019 is likely related to these factors as bottomland flooding was relatively widespread due to tropical systems in 2018 and the resulting record hog harvest that year."

Other survey statistics indicate that approximately 126,283 South Carolina residents and 14,833 non-residents deer hunted in the state in 2019. Deer hunters reported an overall success rate of 69 percent, which is outstanding, state officials said. 

Overall hunting effort was estimated at just over 2 million days. The number of days devoted to deer hunting in South Carolina points not only to the availability and popularity of deer as a game species but also to the obvious economic benefits of this natural resource, state officials said.

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

View the complete 2019 South Carolina Deer Harvest Report at http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/deer/2019DeerHarvestReport.html

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