Wildlife - 2005 Deer Harvest Report
The white-tailed deer is the most popular, sought after, economically important, and controversial game animal in South Carolina. The 2005 Deer Hunter Survey represents the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources' (DNR), Wildlife Section's ongoing commitment to conduct pertinent research related to the state's white-tailed deer resource. The primary objectives of this survey research were to obtain valid estimates of; (1) the statewide deer harvest in 2005, (2) the harvest of deer in the constituent counties of the state, (3) hunting effort related to deer, (4) resident and non-resident hunter activities, and (5) weapons use, weapons preference, and harvest rates by weapon type. Information on hunter opinion related to certain aspects of the deer resource as well as estimates of the wild hog and coyote harvest in the state is also presented.
Due to the importance of deer as a state resource, DNR believes that accurately assessing the harvest of deer, as well as hunter participation in deer hunting, is key to the management of this species. Proposed changes in deer-related laws and regulations should have foundations in biology, therefore, the population dynamics associated with annual hunting mortality cannot be ignored. Similarly, when issues arise that do not involve biological parameters, it is important to have information related to deer hunter activities afield because they too form an important basis for managing deer.
Since the inception of the Statewide Deer Research and Management Project (Deer Project) the methods used to document the state's deer harvest have changed. Historically, deer harvest figures were developed using a system of mandatory deer check stations in the 18 county Upstate (Game Zones 1, 2, & 4) in conjunction with reported harvests from properties enrolled in the Antlerless Deer Quota Program (ADQP) in the 28 county Coastal Plain (Game Zones 3 & 5-11). This system yielded an actual count of harvested deer and was, therefore, an absolute minimum harvest figure. Shortcomings in this system included deterioration of check station compliance in the Upstate and failure to report by ADQP cooperators in the Coastal Plain. Also, since the acreage enrolled in the ADQP tends to be about one-half of the deer habitat in the Coastal Plain, past harvest figures have not documented deer harvests on non-quota lands (4.8 million acres) because there was no legal re quirement to report harvested deer in the Coastal Plain. Therefore, it is suspected that historic deer harvest figures only accounted for about one-half of the total deer harvest that occurred annually in the state.
The 2005 Deer Hunter Survey represents a near random mail survey that involved a single mail-out. The questionnaire for the 2005 Deer Hunter Survey was developed by Wildlife Section personnel (Figure 1). The mailing list database was constructed by randomly selecting 25,000 known Big Game Permit holders that included 5 license types, the first 3 of which have a Big Game Permit included. The license types included: (1) Resident Sportsman's, (2) Resident Combination, (3) Resident Junior Sportsman's, (4) Resident Big Game Permit, and (5) Non-resident Big Game Permit. The number of individuals associated with each license type was based on an attempted sampling rate of approximately 15 percent for licenses purchased through December of 2005. Since deer seasons statewide end on January 1 there was no need to sample individuals that were licensed thereafter.
Experience gained from past survey efforts indicated that even though licenses used to construct the database for each license type are randomly selected, there are biases associated with counties being either under or over-represented. In order to avoid this identified form of bias, a minimum number of each type of license from every county was randomly selected and entered. The final mailing list for each license type was then randomly selected from each license type database.
Statistical analysis was conducted using Statistix 7 (Analytical Software, Tallahassee, FL)
Special thanks are due DNR Licensing personnel for their cooperation in building the licensee database and data entry associated with the completed surveys. Specifically, thanks go to Sandra Hartley for her overall cooperation as Licensing Coordinator and Vanessa Calhoun, Tiffany Green, Marilyn Jumper, and Lori Harrelson for their outstanding data entry. Thanks to Jay Butfiloski, DNR Furbearer Project supervisor, for his considerable efforts in data entry form design.
Thanks to South Carolina deer hunters. Funding for this report, as well as all activities related to the Statewide Deer Research and Management Project, is made possible through hunters' participation in antlerless deer tag programs.
As with any mail survey, a portion of the attempted sample (25,000) was returned as undeliverable mail (1,033). Therefore, the actual attempted sample was 23,967 representing 14.8 percent of the entire population (161,478) of license holders. A total of 7,332 completed surveys were returned yielding a 30.6 percent response rate and 5.7 percent sampling rate on the entire licensee population. Response rates for resident hunters was less (30.1 percent) than for non-residents (39.7 percent).
During the 2005 deer season it is estimated that a total of 123,503 bucks and 120,542 does where harvested for a statewide total of 244,045 deer (Table 1). This figure represents a 2.9 percent decrease in harvest from 2004 (251,205) and a 23.7 percent decrease from the record harvest established in 2002 (319,902). After many years of rapid increase, the deer population in South Carolina was relatively stable between 1995 and 2002. The reduction in harvest seen since 2002 can likely be attributable to several factors. (1) The state experience a very significant drought 1998-2002, and although rainfall has been more normal the last 3 years, any reduction in reproduction, recruitment, and survival of deer during the drought would result in reduced deer numbers in years immediately following the drought. (2) Although timber management activities stimulated the growth in South Carolina’s deer population in the 1980s, considerable acreage is currently in even-aged pine stands that are greater than 10 years old, a situation that does not support deer densities at the same level as younger stands. (3) The good rainfall that was experienced in many parts of the state during spring/summer 2005 produced an abundance of natural foods for deer (including acorns) which worked to keep deer movements low during the fall hunting season. (4) Fall temperatures in 2005 were unseasonably warm which also contributed to decreased daytime movements of deer during the hunting season. (5) Hunter effort in 2005 was down nearly 10 percent likely a result of the significant increase in fuel prices following hurricanes in the Gulf Coast Region. Deer harvest is directly related to hunter effort.
Comparisons can be made between deer harvests from the various counties in South Carolina if a harvest per unit area is established. Harvest per unit area standardizes the harvest among counties regardless of the size of individual counties. One measure of harvest rate is the number of deer taken per square mile (640ac. = 1 mile²). When considering the estimated deer habitat that is available in South Carolina, the deer harvest rate in 2005 was 11.5 deer per square mile over the entire state (Table 2). Although the deer harvest has been down each of the last 3 years, this harvest rate should be considered extraordinary in comparison with other states. Three counties recorded harvest rates in excess of 20 deer per square mile with the top counties including; Bamberg (26.5 deer/mile²), Hampton (21.6 deer/mile²), Allendale (20.8 deer/mile²), Union (19.7 deer/mile²), and Fairfield (17.5 deer/mile²) (Table 2).
Total deer harvest from a county is not comparable among counties because there is no standard unit of comparison, i.e. counties vary in size and are, therefore, not directly comparable. However, it has become customary to rank the counties based on number of deer harvested (Table 3). The top 5 counties during 2005 were Orangeburg, Hampton, Fairfield, Colleton, and Williamsburg.
Deer hunting on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) remains popular in South Carolina with approximately 47,000 licensees having a WMA Permit. Wildlife Management Areas represent lands owned by DNR, other state owned lands enrolled in the WMA Program, US Forest Service lands enrolled in the WMA Program, and private and/or corporate lands that are leased by DNR as part of the WMA Program. Deer harvest figures for coastal WMAs are from check stations and are presented only for those WMA properties that have a deer check-in requirement. Deer harvest figures for upstate WMAs (Mountain and Central and Western Piedmont Hunt Units) were estimated by extrapolating the county deer harvest rates (deer/mile²) to the acreage of WMA land that falls within the respective counties comprising the WMA. This assumes that hunters on WMA lands exhibit effort and deer harvest patterns similar to those of the general licensee database that was surveyed. Finally, the estimated deer harvest on WMA lands is included in, not additive to, the county and statewide estimates found throughout this report.
During the 2005 season it is estimated that 4,524 bucks and 4,187 does were harvested for a total deer harvest on Wildlife Management Areas of 8,710 (Table 4). This figure represents an increase of approximately 2.1 percent from 2004. If hunter effort and deer harvest patterns of hunters on WMAs are similar to that of the general licensee database then it would require approximately 15,042 hunters 128,125 days to harvest that number of deer on WMAs in South Carolina in 2005.
Even though all individuals receiving a survey were licensed to hunt deer, only 88.1 percent actually hunted deer. For residents, 86.4 percent of sampled licensees hunted deer and for non-residents 96.6 percent hunted deer. Extrapolating to the respective licensee populations yields 124,366 residents (Table 5) and 16,941 non-residents (Table 6) for a total of 141,307 deer hunters statewide during 2005. This figure is a modest 1.3 percent increase from the 139,437 hunters in 2004. Counties with the highest estimates for individual hunters include Orangeburg, Fairfield, Colleton, Newberry, and Aiken for resident hunters (Table 5) and Hampton, Chester, Allendale, Union and Fairfield for non-residents (Table 6).
For determination of hunting success only those individuals that actually hunted deer were included in the analysis and similarly, success was defined as harvesting at least one deer. Overall hunting success in 2005 was 72.5 percent, which should be considered extraordinary. For the second year in a row, residents were less successful (72.3%, Table 5) than non-residents (73.9%, Table 6). Estimates for resident and non-resident success rates for all counties are presented in Tables 5 and 6. Success rates for resident hunters were highest in Bamberg, Allendale, Hampton, Beaufort, and Marlboro. Non-residents experienced the highest success in Horry, Lee, Marion, Spartanburg, and Jasper counties. However, only Jasper county had reasonable numbers of non-resident hunters.
For the purposes of this survey hunter effort was measured in days with one day being defined as any portion of the day spent afield. Resident hunters averaged 15.0 days afield for a total of 1,859,504 days deer hunting and non-residents averaged 12.9 days for a total of 219,137 days (Table 7). Compared to 2004, these figures represent an 6.9 percent decrease in effort for residents and a 21.7 percent decrease in effort for non-residents. The dramatic increase in fuel costs early last fall likely attributed to reduced days devoted to deer hunting particularly by non-residents. Total effort expended deer hunting in South Carolina during 2005 was estimated at 2,078,641 days (Table 7), down approximately 8.7 percent from 2004. Although hunting effort was down in 2005, 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. Previous surveys (2001) conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service indicate that approximately 200 million dollars in direct retail sales are related to deer hunting in South Carolina annually.
The top 5 South Carolina counties for overall days of deer hunting during 2005 were Orangeburg, Colleton, Fairfield, Williamsburg, and Hampton counties (Table 7). Resident hunters expended the most hunting effort in Orangeburg, Colleton, Williamsburg, Fairfield, and Aiken counties. Non-residents hunted the most in Hampton, Chester, Allendale, Colleton, and Fairfield counties and these 5 counties totaled 43 percent of all the non-resident deer hunting effort that took place in South Carolina in 2005. For the first time in two years residents (33,056 days) hunted more in Hampton County than non-residents (32,979 days).
Resident hunters who were successful at harvesting at least one deer averaged more than twice as many days (20.1 days) afield as unsuccessful residents (9.2 days) (Table 7). Similarly, successful non-residents (15.7 days) averaged about 2 times the days afield when compared with unsuccessful non-residents (8.4 days).
The amount of effort required to harvest a deer varied between residents and non-residents and by the county hunted. On the average it took less time for non-residents to harvest a deer (6.79 days, Table 6) compared to residents (8.78 days, Table 5). This may be due to the fact that many non-residents hunt commercially where considerable preparation is done prior to the hunter’s arrival. Also, there may be less selectivity with respect to deer harvested by non-residents. Counties requiring the least effort to harvest a deer included Allendale, Cherokee, Clarendon, Orangeburg, and Hampton for resident hunters (Table 5). On the other hand, non-residents spent less time to harvest a deer in Spartanburg, Williamsburg, McCormick, Clarendon, and Saluda counties (Table 6), however, none of these counties exhibited what should be considered a high level of non-resident hunting activity.
All areas of South Carolina have long and liberal firearms seasons and the majority (79.2%) of deer are harvested with centerfire rifles (Table 8). Shotguns (11.5%) and archery equipment (6.2%) also contribute significantly to the overall deer harvest in the state, whereas, muzzleloaders, crossbows, and handguns combine to contribute less than 5 percent of the total harvest (Table 8).
Although rifles are used by approximately 90 percent of hunters, over 70 percent of hunters use multiple weapons during the course of the deer season (Table 9, Table 10). Resident hunters appear to be more flexible than non-residents in their use of multiple weapons and significantly more residents use archery equipment (24.6%) and shotguns (34.8%) than non-residents (16.2% archery and 14.6% shotguns) (Table 10). Two points can likely be made on this outcome. First, since most aspects of deer hunting (travel, accommodations, etc.) are typically more convenient for residents, they may have more time to devote to becoming comfortable or proficient with additional weapons, in this case archery equipment. Second, shotguns are the customary weapon related to hunting deer with dogs and the argument can be made that dog hunting is being practiced more by residents than non-residents. The weapons utilization data supports this contention.
On the other hand, non-residents (24.6%) used muzzleloaders more frequently than residents (15.7%). Keep in mind that muzzleloader or primitive weapons seasons are only available in Game Zones 1, 2, and 4 (the Upstate). It is suspected that the high utilization of muzzleloaders by non-residents is related to the availability of this special season at an earlier date in South Carolina than in neighboring states. Also, the argument can be made that muzzleloaders require less commitment than archery equipment and would allow non-residents a comparatively easy method of harvesting deer during the special season.
Unlike weapons utilization, weapons preference is the single weapon that a hunter prefers. Obviously, a majority (78.2%) of deer hunters prefer rifles (Table 11). However, there are several interesting points that can be made about preferences for other weapons based on residency. Archery equipment and shotguns are preferred significantly more by residents (12.0% and 9.3%) than non-residents (8.1% and 2.5%) and muzzleloaders are preferred more by non-residents (3.5%) than by residents (1.2%) (Table 12). The explanation of this situation is likely similar to that for weapons utilization in that, (1) hunting is more convenient for residents and they can devote the time needed for archery, (2) the idea that residents do most of the dog hunting in the state and tend to use shotguns, and (3) non-residents use muzzleloaders to take advantage of a special season that is not available as early in their home state. Finally, non-residents (85.2%) prefer rifles significantly more than residents (76.8%), however, this is likely an artifact of the idea that non-residents participate less in dog hunting than residents, favoring rifles and still hunting.
The 2005 Deer Hunter Survey asked participants their opinion regarding one topic; compared to past years, how would you describe the number of deer in the area that you hunt most often. About half (53.4%) of hunters indicated that the number of deer in the area they hunted most often was about the same as in past years (Table 12). More hunters (28.9%) believed that the deer population was decreasing than increasing (17.7%). There were no significant differences in hunter’s perception of deer numbers based on residency. On a scale of 1 to 3 with 1 being increasing, 2 being neutral, and 3 being decreasing, the overall rank mean of 2.11 suggests that hunters viewed the deer population as slightly decreasing.
For the first time survey participants were asked their sex and age which allowed for a profile of South Carolina deer hunters to be developed (Table 13). Men made up 96 percent (135,655) of all deer hunters in 2005 while women accounted for 4 percent (5,652). The average age of male hunters was significantly higher (44.5 years) than for females (42.1 years) with the overall average age of deer hunters being 44.4 years. Men averaged 23.7 years of deer hunting experience with women averaging significantly less experience at 10.9 years. Based on this, men begin deer hunting when they are about 20 years old while women do not begin until they are about 30 years old. With an average of 60 deer killed, men had harvested significantly more deer in their lifetime than women (16 deer).
The profile of hunters based on residency revealed that resident hunters comprised 88 percent (124,366 hunters) of deer hunters in 2005 and non-residents made up 12 percent (16,941) (Table 14). Non-residents were significantly older (49.1 years) and have more years hunting experience (25.0 years) than residents hunters (43.5 years old and 22.3 years experience). These statistics may be related to the idea that older individuals are more financially stable and can bear the cost of hunting abroad. Finally, there was no significant difference in the number of deer killed over their life comparing residents (59.9 deer) and non-residents (56.7 deer).
The 2005 Deer Hunter Survey also asked hunters to provide information on their wild hog and coyote harvesting activities. Documenting the harvest of these species has been difficult to accomplish in South Carolina, however, both wild hogs and coyotes are commonly taken incidental to deer hunting. On the one hand, wild or feral hogs are often though of as "game" and there is a certain amount of sport associated with harvesting hogs. Wild hogs provide quality meat for the hunter and mature hogs can make a highly sought-after "trophy". Wild hogs are not native to South Carolina or any part of the North American continent. They are descendants of European domestic hogs that escaped or were released dating back as far as the early Spanish explorers. Also, closed-range or fencing requirements for livestock did not arise until the 1900's and letting hogs "free-range" was common prior to fencing laws. Wild hogs were historically associated with the major river flood plain systems in Coastal South Carolina. Unfortunately, recent relocations of wild hogs by hunters appear to be responsible for the species populating areas where they were not found in the past. Wild hogs directly compete with native species like deer and wild turkey for habitat and food, and hogs can do significant damage to the habitat and agricultural production through their rooting activities. Legislation passed during the 2005 session of the South Carolina General Assembly prohibits the release of hogs in the state (SC Code Section 50-16-25).
During 2005 an estimated 23,166 wild hogs were harvested by deer hunters in South Carolina (Table 15), a 3.2 percent decrease from 2004 (23,932 hogs). Evidence of the presence of hogs in 38 of 46 counties was made by hunter harvest activities (44 of 46 counties in 2004). Statewide, approximately 1.06 hogs/mile² were harvested and the top 5 counties for wild hog harvest per unit area were Allendale (4.73 hogs/mile²), Calhoun (3.69 hogs/mile²), Hampton (3.04 hogs/mile²), Dorchester (2.85 hogs/mile²), and Sumter (2.80 hog/mile²). With respect to river drainage systems, top counties for wild hog harvest per unit area include Allendale, Hampton, and Jasper in the lower Savannah River drainage and Calhoun, Richland, and Sumter counties in the Congaree/Wateree drainage.
On the other hand, coyotes are typically thought of as varmints that pose a threat to native game species. Like wild hogs, coyotes are a non-native species in South Carolina. However, the occurrence of coyotes in the state is more recent and they appear to have gotten to the state by two methods, (1) natural movements from western states and (2) illegal importation. Coyotes were first documented in Oconee and Pickens Counties in 1978 and were thought to be linked to animals that were illegally imported for hunting purposes. Evidence for this includes an illegal importation case that was made and the fact that coyotes had not been document in adjacent counties in Georgia and North Carolina. Within a few years coyotes began to appear in the western piedmont counties of Anderson, Abbeville, McCormick, etc. indicating a southeastern expansion from the original site. In the early 1980's coyotes were documented in Allendale County and were thought to be natural immigrants from Georgia since they had previously been documented in the adjacent Georgia counties. Coyotes from this source apparently populated to the Northeast until they encountered the Santee Cooper Lakes. In the late 1980's coyotes were documented in the Pee Dee Region, again associated with illegal imports. In any event, by the mid-1990's coyotes had been documented in all South Carolina counties.
Sportsmen often voice concern over the presence of coyotes and the potential impact they have on game species such as deer. Though coyotes are one of the most adaptable animals, they are not designed to prey on big game. The coyote's diet is chiefly composed of small mammals (rats and mice), insects, and a variety of vegetable matter including fruits. Clearly, coyotes will take very young deer and deer that are sick or injured, however, there is no reason to believe that coyotes constitute a threat to the deer population in South Carolina. On the other hand, since coyotes share the same habitat and food requirements as foxes, competition between them can be important. For example, there has been a documented decline in the red fox population index as the coyote population has increased.
Coyotes are not protected animals in South Carolina and hunters are allowed to harvest them throughout the year during daylight hours. During 2005 it is estimated that approximately 20,159 coyotes were harvested by deer hunters in South Carolina (Table 15), a decrease of 9.9 percent from 2004 (22,379 coyotes). As in past years, there was evidence of coyotes being harvested in all counties. However, this was first time the coyote harvest by deer hunters has decreased since it was first measured in 1999. This may indicate that coyote numbers have stabilized in many areas or that deer hunters are loosing interest in killing them. Statewide approximately 0.92 coyotes/mile² were harvested and the top 5 counties for coyote harvest per unit area included Calhoun (2.72 coyotes/mile²), Saluda (2.50 coyotes/mile²), Allendale (2.34 coyotes/mile²), Newberry (2.51 coyotes/mile²), and Bamberg (1.88 coyotes/mile²).
The following section is not related to the 2005 Big Game Hunter Survey, but is offered as information relevant to the state=s deer population.
According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS), the number of reported deer-vehicle collisions for 2005 was 910 (Table 16). This figure is down 65 percent from 2004 (1,401 collisions) and is the lowest number of reported deer-vehicle collisions since prior to 1990. Since reporting of deer vehicle collisions is contingent upon notification of some law enforcement agency and then SCDPS, this figure should be considered a minimum. Also, the reader should bear in mind that reporting criteria have changed over time.
Average body weights and antler characteristic of deer vary among the constituent counties in South Carolina and are dependent on deer density and available nutrition (Tables 17 and 18). Statewide averages for male deer indicate that 1.5 year old bucks average about 107 lbs. and 3.6 antler points while bucks 2.5 years old and older average about 138 lbs. and 6.5 antler points. Yearling (1.5 years old) females average approximately 88 lbs. while does 2.5 years old and older average nearly 101 lbs. This information is based on sampling completed between 1987 and 1994.
Peak breeding in the Upstate and Coastal Plain occurs during late October and early November (Figure 2). Harvest dates for deer in the piedmont mirror the breeding season with the vast majority of deer being harvested during the relatively short peak of breeding (Figure 3). In the Coastal Plain, however, the relationship between peak breeding and hunter harvest appears to be undermined by the early opening buck only seasons found in Coastal Game Zones. Opening early, coastal plain buck only seasons find deer in summer movement and behavior patterns, therefore, the animals are not as vulnerable to harvest as they are during the breeding season when movements are greatest. It is suspected that hunter disturbance during the early buck only season leads to a suppressed harvest during the breeding season when deer movements and hunter harvests should be greatest.
The history of the deer population and harvest in South Carolina demonstrates a trend typical of a species that initially expands into available habitat, stabilizes, and begins to decline as habitat changes (Figures 4 and 5). It is important to recognize that habitat is the primary factor controlling deer density in South Carolina, though regulated harvest is important as well. Keep in mind that between 1750 and 1900 the deer population in South Carolina experienced a tremendous decline as it did in most of North America. Although unrestricted subsistence and commercial harvest of deer was important in the decline, major changes in habitat related to clearing of land for agriculture was the controlling factor.
By 1900 deer numbers in the State were very low, perhaps 20,000. However, in the 1920’s, significant drought and the cotton bowl weevil had devastating consequences for farming. With the decline in farming, reforestation of the state began and was largely complete by the 1970’s. Timber harvest activities that followed into and throughout the 1980’s created vast areas of early successional habitat that allowed for a dramatic increase in the State’s deer population. South Carolina’s deer population peaked in the mid to late 1990’s at just over 1,000,000 deer.
Over time, deer hunters have gained a better understanding of the relationship between deer numbers, habitat, and deer quality leading to more aggressive female harvests in many parts of the state. This increased emphasis on harvesting female deer as a means to control deer densities has played a role in the stabilization in the State’s deer population. However, the overriding factor is habitat. Keep in mind that the same timber management activities that stimulated the growth in South Carolina’s deer population in the 1980s have resulted in considerable acreage currently being in even-aged pine stands that are greater than 10 years old. This habitat type simply does not support deer densities at the same level as habitat in early stages of ecological succession. As a result, the deer population has trended down since 2000 and currently the population is estimated at about 750,000 deer, a level comparable with the mid 1980’s.
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