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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

September 5, 20142014 deer season forecast good

With the opening of the 2014 deer season in all counties just around the corner, 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)’s Deer and Wild Turkey Program Coordinator.

Top counties for harvest in 2013 included Bamberg, Union, Allendale, Spartanburg, and Calhoun 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 2013 included Aiken, Kershaw, and Orangeburg in the coastal plain and Anderson, Fairfield, and Oconee 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 2013 deer harvest and 2014 antler records at the DNR website.

There are several regulation changes that hunters on private land should be aware of for the 2014 season. In response to declining harvest trends in many areas of the state, the number of scheduled either-sex days has been decreased. Additionally, hunters can now take only one antlerless deer per day on either-sex days or when using the optional Individual Antlerless Deer Tags compared to 2 per day in the past. Finally, archery hunters in Game Zones 1 and 2 (mountains and piedmont) can take either-sex of deer during archery and primitive weapons seasons, but can no longer take either-sex during the general firearms season unless it is an either-sex day or they use an optional Individual Antlerless Deer Tag.White tail deer

As for deer related regulation changes on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in the state, hunters should pay particular attention because there are a number of changes that they need to become familiar with for 2014. Perhaps the most notable change is the implementation of a single statewide limit for all WMAs of 5 deer total for all seasons and weapons combined. This total can include no more than 2 antlered bucks. In the past, WMA limits have varied and were additive among the various Game Zones and WMAs. Now hunters on all WMAs have the same statewide bag limit.

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 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 related to forest management and exceptionally high deer harvests over the last 10 to 15 years.

Also, coyotes are a recent addition to the landscape and are another piece of the puzzle. SCDNR has recently completed a major study investigating the affects coyotes are having on survival of deer fawns. The research was conducted at the Savannah River Site and led by Dr. John Kilgo with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station. 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.

The last 3 years of the study were for the purpose of determining if reducing coyote density through trapping increases fawn survival. It seems logical that if coyotes are preying on fawns, then significantly reducing coyote densities should increase fawn survival. Over the course of the 3 year coyote “control” phase, 474 coyotes were trapped on the study areas. Overall, results showed only modest increases in fawn survival following these efforts with an overall average of about 39 percent increase in survival. Given these results and the difficulty and high cost of coyote control, it seems apparent that making adjustments to how we manage deer, particularly female deer, is more important now than prior to the colonization of the state by coyotes.

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 4 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. The state’s deer population is always changing and the department has been involved in a multi-year process to measure hunter opinion and assess harvest trends and data from research projects. DNR has formulated recommendations related to future deer management needs in South Carolina and looks forward to working with the legislature in 2015 and beyond in an effort to update the state’s deer management program.

Deer hunting generates approximately $200 million in retail sales for South Carolina’s economy annually.

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