COLUMBIA -- Results of the 2018 Deer Hunter Survey conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources indicate that the statewide harvest of deer increased about 5% last season and was comprised of an estimated 109,208 bucks and 85,778 does, which made up a total harvest of 194,986 deer.
The modest increase in harvest is likely due to some level of remaining “carry-over” of deer from 2015 and 2016, according to Charles Ruth, SCDNR Big Game Program coordinator. The 1,000-year flood spawned by Hurricane Joaquin in 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 each resulted in temporary season closures in some coastal counties and general access problems or decreased opportunity for hunters across much of the state.
Also, each of these years saw unseasonably warm fall temperatures, and there was what many called a record acorn crop in 2016. This resulted in back-to-back decreases in harvest, Ruth said.
“That being the case, there were likely deer that would have otherwise been harvested during those years that were carried over and reproduced, thereby increasing the harvest in 2017 and 2018,” Ruth said.
The fall of 2018 was the second season of the “all deer” tagging system and statewide limit on antlered deer.
“Interestingly, the 13% increase in harvest since 2016 is primarily a result of an increase in doe harvest (18%) rather than an increase in the harvest of bucks (9.5%). Increases in harvest are normally the result of increases in the buck harvest or a more equal increase in buck and doe harvest.
"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,” Ruth said.
Top counties for harvest in 2018 included Bamberg, Hampton, and Calhoun in the coastal plain, Anderson and Spartanburg in the Piedmont, with each of these counties exhibiting harvest rates in excess of 12 deer per square mile, which should be considered extraordinary. Although the harvest has generally declined in recent years, South Carolina still ranks near the top among Southeastern states in harvest per unit area.
All areas of South Carolina have long and liberal firearms seasons and most deer (158,134) were taken with centerfire rifles in 2018. Archery equipment (19,889 deer) and shotguns (16,184 deer) also contributed significantly to the overall deer harvest, whereas muzzleloaders, crossbows and handguns combined (3,705 deer) produced less than 2% of the total statewide harvest.
Although the annual Deer Hunter Survey focuses on deer hunting activities, there are questions on the survey related to the harvest of wild hogs and coyotes in the state.
“Results of this year’s survey indicate that approximately 22,731 coyotes were taken incidental to deer hunting. This figure represents a 1% increase from 2017, continuing what seems to be a moderating trend in coyote numbers in recent years. On the other hand, approximately 39,347 wild hogs were killed statewide representing a 4% increase from 2017,” Ruth said.
Other survey statistics indicate that approximately 129,477 South Carolina residents and 14,757 nonresidents deer hunted in the state in 2018. Deer hunters reported an overall success rate of 67%, which is outstanding.
Overall hunting effort was estimated at just over 2 million days. The number of days devoted to deer hunting in South Carolina is very significant and points not only to the availability and popularity of deer as a game species, but to the obvious economic benefits related to this important natural resource. About $200 million in direct retail sales is related to deer hunting in South Carolina annually.