COLUMBIA — Results of the 2020 Deer Hunter Survey conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources indicate that the statewide harvest of deer increased by 2.4% last season.
The harvest was comprised of an estimated 107,212 bucks and 90,681 does, which made up a total harvest of 197,893 deer, up slightly from the 193,073 estimated harvested in 2019, 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 a number of 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. Since 2016 the state's deer harvest has increased, possibly as a result of declining coyote densities.
The fall of 2020 was the fourth season of the “all deer” tagging system and statewide limit on antlered deer. Although the harvest has increased (15%) since 2016, this increase is primarily a result of an increase in doe harvest (25%) rather than an increase in the harvest of bucks (7%).
“Prior to the tagging program,” Ruth said, “increases in harvest were 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 and increasing the harvest of does. It will likely take a few years for this to become clearer.”
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Top counties for harvest in 2020 included Anderson, Spartanburg and Saluda in the Piedmont, and Bamberg and Orangeburg in the coastal plain, with each of these counties exhibiting harvest rates of more than 13 deer per square mile, which Ruth said should be considered extraordinary.
Although the harvest is lower now compared with 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 long and liberal firearms seasons, and most deer (161,085) were taken with centerfire rifles in 2020. Archery equipment (11,676 deer) and shotguns (15,040 deer) also contributed significantly to the overall deer harvest, whereas muzzleloaders, crossbows and handguns combined (10,092 deer) produced less than 5% 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 18,919 coyotes were taken incidental to deer hunting. This figure represents a 9% decrease from 2019, continuing what seems to be a declining trend in coyote numbers in recent years. Additionally, approximately 28,043 wild hogs were killed by deer hunters statewide, representing an 11% decrease from 2019.
“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,” Ruth said.
“The dramatic decrease in harvest the last two years is likely related to these factors as bottomland flooding has been relatively widespread the last few years, particularly in 2018, which resulted in a record hog harvest.”
Other survey statistics indicate that about 134,675 South Carolina residents and 15,488 non-residents deer hunted in the state in 2020. Deer hunters reported an overall success rate of 69%, which Ruth said is outstanding.
Overall hunting effort was estimated at just over 2.2 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.
The complete 2020 South Carolina Deer Harvest Report can be viewed at https://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/deer/2020DeerHarvestReport.html.