deer

Increased doe harvest has helped improve the quality of South Carolina's deer herd. Tommy Braswell/Special to The Post and Courier

In approximately seven weeks, hunters will begin heading to the woods once more for South Carolina's lengthy deer hunting season.

The season begins Aug. 15 on private lands in Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry, and ends Jan. 1. Based on last year's results, chances for success are pretty good.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources recently released its 2019 Deer Harvest report that showed 126,283 South Carolina residents were joined by 14,833 non-residents in hunting deer in 2019. Those hunters recorded an overall success rate of 69 percent, according to the report, which is an outstanding number.

The total harvest was 193,073 deer (105,201 bucks and 87,872 does), down slightly from the 194,986 estimated harvest in 2018.

Overall hunting effort was estimated at just over 2 million days, which points to the availability and popularity of deer as a game species but also to economic benefits. It is estimated that $200 million in direct retail sales is related to deer hunting each year in the Palmetto State.

Charles Ruth, the Big Game Program Coordinator for the SCDNR, said the state's deer population isn't as high as it was 15 to 20 years ago, "but by and large that's a good thing."

"In the late '90s, we had areas that probably had too many deer," Ruth said. "Hunters now are much more in tune with deer management and the concept that you can't have a lot of deer and have good deer at the same point in time. Hunters understand this and have made it clear that they're okay with sacrificing quantity for a little better quality. I think we're in a really good place now. If you look at our antler record program the last four years, it's as good as it's ever been. I think that' s an artifact of having a few less deer in the state."

Ruth said the state's deer harvest has increased by 12 percent since 2016, and that's primarily due to an increased doe harvest, which is up 18 percent.

"We may need a few more years (of results) but I think that may be related to the statewide buck limit which may be having the desire effect, which is to moderate that buck harvest. People think a little more about shooting every buck they see," Ruth said.

"In (the Lowcountry), historically there was no daily or seasonal limit on bucks. Hunters could shoot all they wanted. Now they are having to be a little more selective.

"If you go back and look historically, when we have (harvest) increases from year to year, it's normally people killing more bucks. What we've seen the last couple of years when the harvest ticked up, it's more related to harvesting more does than harvesting more bucks."

Ruth noted that the statewide limit on antlered deer first went into effect in 2017 along with a requirement that all deer harvested must be tagged. Resident hunters get a set of three buck tags, which are good for any buck. They also can purchase two other buck tags which have antler restrictions -- four points on one antler or a 12-inch inside spread.

"That serves to protect a very high percentage of year-and-a-half-old bucks," Ruth said of the antler restrictions.

Hunters also receive two antlerless deer tags that are valid beginning Sept. 15. They also can purchase up to four more antlerless deer tags, and in doing so receive two more tags. So altogether, a resident hunter who takes full advantage of his tagging opportunity can harvest up to five bucks and eight does during the season.

The annual Deer Hunter Survey focuses on deer hunting activities, but there also are questions on the survey related to wild hogs and coyotes. There were an estimated 20,674 coyotes taken in 2019, a nine-percent decrease from 2018 and a continuation of a declining trend in coyote numbers. There also were approximately 31,508 wild hogs killed by deer hunters in 2019, a 20 percent decrease from 2018.

"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," said Ruth. "The dramatic decrease in harvest in 2019 is likely related to these factors as bottomland flooding was relatively widespread due to tropical systems in 2018 and the resulting record hog harvest that year."

America’s Boating Club classes

America’s Boating Club Charleston is offering two classes next month.

The first is a free boater education course (ages 12-18) on July 11 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Roper Berkeley Medical Facility located at 730 Stony Landing Road in Moncks Corner.

The class is limited to 15 participants, who will earn the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Boater Education Card required for motor boat operators under 16 years of age. Pizza lunch will be provided.

The club is also conducting a safe boating class for all ages on July 18 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Successful participants earn the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Boater Education Card. The cost is $25 for adults with youngsters 12-18 free. Bring a bag lunch.

For information or to register for either class, contact Billy Lynes at lynes@tds.net or 843-312-2876.