By HEATHER WALTERS
Results of last year’s deer season in South Carolina are in and show a statewide increase in the number of deer killed on public land, a statistic that also shows the number of coyotes in the Palmetto State are going down.
According to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the number of deer harvested in the state increased by 2.4 percent in 2020, compared to 2019.
In Colleton County, the number of deer killed during the 2020 deer season was 8,505: 4,272 bucks and 4,233 does. Overall, Colleton had a 10.9 percent increase in the number of deer killed, compared to 2019.
Nearby Hampton County also saw an increase, at 21.7 percent.
Other neighboring counties, however, had a dip. In Dorchester County, there was a 15 percent decline in the number of deer killed in 2020, as compared to 2019.
Charleston County had a 2.1 percent decline and Beaufort County had a 42.3 percent decline in deer harvests in 2020.
The overall state harvest was comprised of an estimated 107,212 bucks and 90,681 does.
This is a total of 197,893 deer, up slightly from the 193,073 estimated harvested in 2019, according to Charles Ruth, SCDNR Big Game Program coordinator.
The new stats from last year are good news, especially when you look at recent trends.
S.C. DNR statistics say that between 2002 and 2015, the deer population in South Carolina was trending 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,” according to S.C. DNR.
Since 2016 the state’s deer harvest has increased, possibly as a result of declining coyote densities.
According to Ruth, 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 percent) since 2016, this increase is primarily a result of an increase in doe harvest (25 percent) rather than an increase in the harvest of bucks (7 percent),” said Ruth, in a press release.
“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.”
The top counties in South Carolina for harvest in 2020 are Anderson, Spartanburg, and Saluda in the Piedmont, and Bamberg and Orangeburg.
Results of this year’s survey indicate an estimated 18,919 coyotes were taken incidental to deer hunting. This figure represents a 9 percent 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 percent 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.”
Deer hunters reported an overall success rate of 69 percent, which Ruth said is outstanding.
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/eer/2020DeerHarvestReport.html