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HUNTING 2021: Fewer coyotes, hogs? Deer turning corner?

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Coyotes are present in all 46 counties of South Carolina. The 2020 Deer Hunter Survey indicates 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, according to SCDNR.

Very much like a lot of you, I received my yearly email on the statewide deer harvest for the 2020 season. It will certainly be available for all to read in multiple outlets, but let’s discuss the more pertinent points made by Dr. Charles Ruth, the longtime deer project manager and Big Game Program manager for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

The total harvest for deer statewide was up about 2.4% over 2019 with 197,893 deer taken vs. 193,073 for 2019. Of those 107,212 were bucks and 90,073 were does. That’s not a bad ratio, folks, well done!

Another stat that jumps out is the 69% success rate for hunters over 2.2 million hunt/days, which Ruth said was outstanding. I think this means that 69% of hunters got a deer last year, which I think is surprisingly low.

I guess you have to take into account some people don’t have the advantage of a good place to hunt. For instance, hunting on public land is a lot tougher than hunting over private corn fields.

I think another factor is that quite a few folks might not even care to shoot a deer most days. The only reason I carry a rifle into a stand these days is for coyote control and the off chance that I will see a buck that is larger than anything I have taken before. Occasionally, I will take a doe for donation purposes or for a friend in need.

Another somewhat surprising statistic was that less coyotes and hogs were taken incidental to hunting deer than in past years.

According to Ruth, this indicates that the numbers of both species have leveled out and are down from previous years. Another factor in the decreased number of hogs is the recent lowland flooding we have experienced over the last couple of years, which makes young pigs more exposed to predation and mortality. Don’t be fooled, though! Under ideal conditions, hog numbers can repopulate within months.

A few years ago when coyote numbers reached carrying capacity, disease (such as mange and distemper) broke out in the coyote population. I witnessed several animals that just looked horrible, some of which approached my truck and home without fear. I didn’t handle them when I buried them.

Although I have plenty of coyotes on my property, I have noticed a resurgence of rabbits and mice while mowing fields lately. That would indeed indicate to me I am not as covered up with coyotes as I have been in the past. Armadillos … another story altogether.

Orangeburg and Bamberg were the top harvest counties in the coastal plain, with about 13 deer per square mile harvested. Considering that 30 deer per square mile is considered a very dense population in most states, that’s pretty incredible.

Of course, most deer were taken with rifles (about 161,000) while about 12,000 were taken by archery and about 15,000 by shotgun. That would indicate to me that still hunting is more efficient than dig driving, and dog hunting is far less popular than it was when I was a kid when few people still hunted.

Read the DNR report and draw your own conclusions but this is what I took out of it. I personally think the new tag system where every animal has to be accounted for has contributed to the increased reported harvest. Having to purchase tags and the deer-processing sites requiring deer to be tagged under penalty of law also reinforce more stringent reporting of deer harvests. I hope this is not the case. I hope that, indeed, our deer have turned the corner on avoiding coyote predation and hunters are being more selective.

I think we will need a couple of more years’ data to make that conclusion. I would also hope, against present trends, that we will shift the season back a month at some point in the future to make hunting in the South Carolina summer a thing of the past. It would be good for deer. It would be good for us.

Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.


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