Deer hunting

The Bull's Island Fall Archery Hunt is Dec. 4-9. Photo provided

There will be several noticeable changes when the South Carolina deer hunting season begins later this year. The biggest change is that all harvested deer – bucks and does – must be tagged at the point of kill.

There will be no charge for the tags, which will automatically be sent to hunters with a Big Game permit that is valid during the deer season. If your license expires, you should renew at least 7-10 days prior to the start of deer season to ensure deer tags arrive in time. Tags will not be mailed until early August.

Youth, senior, gratis and disability licensees must request the tags. Tags also will not be available over the counter at sporting goods stores. They will be available after Aug. 1 at S.C. Department of Natural Resources offices in Charleston, Clemson and Columbia. They can be requested by phone after July 1 by calling 1-866-714-3611, or can be ordered online at dnr.sc.gov/purchase.html.

Hunters will receive three unrestricted antlered deer tags and eight date-specific antlerless deer tags. The antlerless deer tag is valid on one specific day and cannot be used on any other day.

Additionally, residents can purchase two additional buck tags for $5 each that restrict harvest to deer that have four points on one antler or a minimum 12-inch inside spread. Hunters also can purchase up to four antlerless deer tags for $5 each which are valid on any day beginning Sept. 15 in Game Zones, 2, 3 and 4 or Oct. 1 in Game Zone 1. They are valid until the end of the deer season.

DNR recently released results of the 2016 Deer Hunter Survey that showed an 11-percent decrease in the number of deer harvested. Hunters took an estimated 99,678 bucks and 72,637 does, a total of 172,315 deer.

The decrease was not surprising, according to Charles Ruth, DNR’s Big Game Program coordinator. South Carolina’s deer population has generally been declining over the last dozen years.

Hurricane Matthew in October certainly contributed to the harvest decrease with associated flooding resulting in a temporary season closure for all game species in many coastal counties. Hurricane Matthew also created access issues, and the harvest was down more than 25 percent in some coastal counties.

Unseasonably warm temperatures also played a factor. Forest management practices and coyotes also factor in deer harvest.

That being said, if hunting conditions are more normal, DNR expects that the 2017 deer harvest will increase because of a population carryover from 2015 and 2016. And, Ruth noted in his summary, South Carolina still ranks among the top southeastern states in harvest per unit area with hunters reporting more than a 65-percent success rate.