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August 18, 2010

DNR biologist predicts good 2010 deer season

The much-anticipated start of the 2010 deer season is just around the corner, 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, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator.
Top counties for harvest in 2009 included Bamberg, Allendale, Union and Anderson 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 2009 included Aiken, Orangeburg, and Calhoun in the coastal plain and Fairfield, Anderson, 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 2009 deer harvest and 2010 antler records at the DNR Web site.

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 booklet that DNR publishes each summer, said Ruth. This is particularly true for hunters that use the various Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in the state.               
South Carolina’s deer population expanded rapidly in the 1980s and early 1990s and peaked in the late 1990s at about 1 million animals. However, since 2002 the population has trended down with current figures being about 750,000 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 1970s, considerable acreage statewide 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.
Hunters should not be concerned if the deer population is down compared to several years ago when the population reached its peak. DNR has been working to moderate South Carolina’s deer population and 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 about 900 bucks successfully entered into the state records program.
It is important that hunters and land managers understand how the density of deer in an area affects the quality of the animals. Areas with fewer deer typically have better quality animals because natural food availability and nutritional quality is higher. Good nutrition is important in producing good antlers, but deer reproduction, recruitment and survival are also directly tied to nutrition.
Deer hunting generates about $200 million in retail sales for South Carolina’s economy annually.

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