Wildlife - 2006 Deer Harvest Report
The white-tailed deer is the most popular, sought after, economically important, and controversial game animal in South Carolina. The 2006 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 2006, (2) the harvest of deer in the constituent counties of the state, (3) hunting effort related to deer, (4) resident and nonresident 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 million acres) because there was no legal requirement 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 2006 Deer Hunter Survey represents a near random mail survey that involved a single mail-out. The questionnaire for the 2006 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 2006. 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 Bryan Kyzer for his overall cooperation as Licensing Coordinator and Vanessa Calhoun, Chereice Dowdy, Tiffany Green, Marilyn Jumper, Lori Harrelson, Angela Hoyle, and Andrea Seigler 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 (1,076). Therefore, the actual attempted sample was 23,924 representing 15.6 percent of the entire population (153,547) of license holders. A total of 6,039 completed surveys were returned yielding a 25.2 percent response rate and 4.0 percent sampling rate on the entire licensee population. Response rates for resident hunters was less (24.7 percent) than for nonresidents (27.9 percent).
During the 2006 deer season it is estimated that a total of 115,917 bucks and 105,403 does where harvested for a statewide total of 221,320 deer (Table 1). This figure represents a 9.3 percent decrease in harvest from 2005 (244,045) and a 30 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) 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 in which food and cover is more available. (2) Although deer hunter numbers in South Carolina have been relatively stable over time, the number of licensees that indicated that they hunted deer in 2006 decreased by 9.5 percent compared to 2005. This may be related to the dramatic increase in fuel costs since the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast Region during the fall of 2005. Interestingly, the deer harvest in 2006 decreased by virtually the same amount (9.3%) as the number of hunters.
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 2006 was 10.5 deer per square mile over the entire state (Table 2). Although the deer harvest has been down each of the last 4 years, this harvest rate should be considered extraordinary in comparison with other states. The top 5 counties for harvest per unit area were Bamberg (20.0 deer/mile²), Union (18.3 deer/mile²) Hampton (17.5 deer/mile²), Allendale (16.7 deer/mile²), and Chester (15.4 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 2006 were Orangeburg, Williamsburg, Colleton, Hampton, and Fairfield.
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/mi²) 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 2006 season it is estimated that 4,522 bucks and 3,961 does were harvested for a total deer harvest on Wildlife Management Areas of 8,438 (Table 4). This figure represents an increase of approximately 3.2 percent from 2005. 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 17,338 hunters 126,570 days to harvest that number of deer on WMAs in South Carolina in 2006.
Even though all individuals receiving a survey were licensed to hunt deer, only 87.8 percent actually hunted deer. For residents, 86.6 percent of sampled licensees hunted deer and for nonresidents 97.6 percent hunted deer. Extrapolating to the respective licensee populations yields 117,285 residents (Table 5) and 17,680 nonresidents (Table 6) for a total of 134,965 deer hunters statewide during 2006. This figure is a 9.5 percent decrease from the 141,307 hunters in 2005. Counties with the highest estimates for individual hunters include Orangeburg, Fairfield, Laurens, Williamsburg, and Newberry for resident hunters (Table 5) and Hampton, Chester, Allendale, Fairfield and Union for nonresidents (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 2006 was 74.2 percent, which should be considered extraordinary. Success rates for residents were slightly higher (74.6%, Table 5) than for nonresidents (70.9%, Table 6). Estimates for resident and nonresident success rates for all counties are presented in Tables 5 and 6. Success rates for resident hunters were highest in Williamsburg, Lancaster, Clarendon, Orangeburg, and Bamberg. Non-residents experienced the highest success in Lexington, Florence, Dorchester, Union, and Clarendon counties. However, only Union county had appreciable numbers of nonresident 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 15.7 days afield for a total of 1,845,688 days deer hunting and nonresidents averaged 12.6 days for a total of 223,257 days (Table 7). These figures are virtually identical to figures from 2005. Total effort expended deer hunting in South Carolina during 2006 was estimated at 2,068,945 days (Table 7), down approximately 0.5 percent from 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 2006 were the same as in 2005; Orangeburg, Colleton, Fairfield, Williamsburg, and Hampton counties (Table 7). Resident hunters expended the most hunting effort in Orangeburg, Williamsburg, Colleton, Fairfield, and Clarendon counties. Non-residents hunted the most in Hampton, Chester, Fairfield, Jasper, and Allendale counties and these 5 counties totaled 47 percent of all the nonresident deer hunting effort that took place in South Carolina in 2006.
Resident hunters who were successful at harvesting at least one deer averaged nearly 3 times as many days (21.3 days) afield as unsuccessful residents (7.9 days) (Table 7). Similarly, successful nonresidents (15.5 days) averaged about 2 times the days afield when compared with unsuccessful nonresidents (7.1 days).
The amount of effort required to harvest a deer varied between residents and nonresidents and by the county hunted. On the average it took less time for nonresidents to harvest a deer (7.34 days, Table 6) compared to residents (9.66 days, Table 5). This may be due to the fact that many nonresidents 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 nonresidents. Counties requiring the least effort to harvest a deer included Beaufort, Hampton, Jasper, McCormick, and Clarendon for resident hunters (Table 5). On the other hand, nonresidents spent less time to harvest a deer in Berkeley, Williamsburg, Lexington, Georgetown, and Charleston and Darlington (tie) counties (Table 6), however, none of these counties exhibited what should be considered a high level of nonresident hunting activity.
All areas of South Carolina have long and liberal firearms seasons and the majority (78.9%) 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 nonresidents in their use of multiple weapons and significantly more residents use archery equipment (23.0%) and shotguns (32.9%) than nonresidents (15.6% archery and 12.6% shotguns) (Table 10). This finding has been consistent the last few years and two points can likely be made. 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 nonresidents. The weapons utilization data supports this contention.
On the other hand, nonresidents (22.0%) used muzzleloaders more frequently than residents (14.5%). 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 nonresidents 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 nonresidents a comparatively easy method of harvesting deer during the special season. This finding has been consistent the last few years.
Unlike weapons utilization, weapons preference is the single weapon that a hunter prefers. Obviously, a majority (78.9%) 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. Shotguns are preferred significantly more by residents (9.0%) than nonresidents (2.4%) and muzzleloaders are preferred more by nonresidents (3.7%) than by residents (1.3%) (Table 12). The explanation of this situation is likely similar to that for weapons utilization in that, (1) residents do most of the dog hunting in the state and tend to use shotguns, and (2) nonresidents use Muzzleloaders to take advantage of a special season that is not available as early in their home state.
The 2006 Deer Hunter Survey asked participants two opinion questions. The first question asked participants to compare the number of deer in the area they hunt most often with the number of deer in past years. Participants were given 3 choices; increasing, about the same, or decreasing. About half (52.8%) 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 (28.1%) believed that the deer population was decreasing than increasing (19.1%). Significantly more residents (19.7%) than nonresidents (15.2%) indicated that the population was increasing. On a scale of 1 to 3 with 1 being increasing, 2 being neutral, and 3 being decreasing, the overall mean rating of 2.08 suggests that hunters viewed the deer population as slightly decreasing. The opinion among hunters that the deer population is decreasing has been consistent the last few years. Harvest data and population reconstruction modeling supports this opinion.
The second question asked participants how they would rate the management of deer in South Carolina. Participants were given 5 choices; poor, fair, good, very good, or excellent. The most common response (39.5%) was that deer management in South Carolina was good which is a neutral rating. However, there were major differences in the perception of deer management based on residency. Significantly more resident hunters rated deer management as poor (10.1%) or fair (23.0%) compared to nonresidents (7.1% and 16.1%), whereas, significantly more nonresidents rated deer management as very good (28.4%) or excellent (11.3%) compared to residents (20.8% and 6.1%). The overall mean rating was significantly different with residents (mean = 2.89) rating deer management slightly negative and nonresidents (mean = 3.21) rating deer management slightly positive.
These results are not terribly surprising and may be more related to the typical perceptions of resident versus nonresident hunters than to the actual management of deer. On one hand, "deer management" in terms of season structure and bag limits is very appealing to nonresidents because more opportunity exists in South Carolina than in most other states. It is no secret that there has been a tremendous influx of nonresident deer hunters into South Carolina. The desire on the part of nonresidents to hunt in South Carolina is purely an artifact of liberal seasons/bag limits (opportunity) and has little to do with deer management. On the other hand, residents often express their concerns about the availability of land, the cost to hunt, and the impact on deer brought about by nonresidents (competition). Residents often perceive that nonresidents exploit the liberal seasons/bag limits which has an effect on their ability to manage deer. Many residents also believe that nonresidents get more than they pay for in terms of license fees based on the liberal nature of South Carolina's seasons/bag limits. Finally, there has been significant interest among many resident hunters in making changes that would effect deer management. Points for discussion have included uniform limits on bucks, tagging programs to provide for enforcement of limits, etc. Although the department is studying various options, nothing has been done related to these points of interest. That being the case, resident hunters may be disgruntled over the lack of action by the department, resulting in the slightly negative rating of deer management in the state.
There is increasing concern in South Carolina, as well as other states, over the recruitment of young hunters. Many states have noted a decline in hunter numbers in recent years with lack of recruitment and an aging hunter population likely being the cause. Although hunter numbers in South Carolina continue to remain relatively stable, this stability is in the face of a dramatically increasing human population. Therefore, the percentage of hunters in the population is decreasing in South Carolina.
Youth hunters, those under 16 years of age, are not required to have a hunting license in South Carolina. That being the case, youth hunters are not available to participate in a licensee based survey like the 2006 Deer Hunter Survey. For the same reason, data related to youth hunters has never been readily available to DNR. Based on past survey research, the average age of deer hunters in South Carolina is relatively old (mean age = 45 years). If significant numbers of youths are not being recruited, then the "aging-out" of hunters will inevitably lead to a decline in hunter numbers.
In an effort to quantify the participation of youths in deer hunting in South Carolina, the 2006 Deer Hunter Survey asked participants to indicate the number of youth deer hunters in their household and whether they killed any deer in 2006. Results indicate that approximately 20 percent of respondents' had one or more youth deer hunters in their household. Extrapolating to the licensee population indicates that approximately 40,000 youth hunters participated in the 2006 deer season. Success rates among young deer hunters were low (9.7%) and it is suspected that this is related to their entry-level status and the likelihood that they accompanied their adult mentor on only a few outings. As survey results consistently indicate, it requires significant effort for hunters to exhibit high success rates (see Hunter Success and Hunter Effort). It is unclear if this level of participation by youths is sufficient to maintain or increase deer hunter numbers in South Carolina. Additional research will be required.
The 2006 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 2006 an estimated 26,843 wild hogs were harvested by deer hunters in South Carolina (Table 15), a 15.8 percent increase from 2005 (23,166 hogs). Evidence of the presence of hogs in 42 of 46 counties was made by hunter harvest activities (38 of 46 counties in 2005). Statewide, approximately 1.22 hogs/mile2 were harvested and the top 5 counties for wild hog harvest per unit area were Sumter (4.51 hogs mile²), Allendale (4.29 hogs/mile²), Calhoun (4.27 hogs/mile²), Richland (4.03 hogs/mile²), and Darlington (3.80 hogs/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. Although a popular notion among hunters is that DNR released coyotes, the agency has never released coyotes in South Carolina. The occurrence of coyotes in the state is more recent than hogs 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 documented 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 major threat to the deer population in South Carolina because they have not decimated deer in other Southeastern states. 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. In any event, DNR is currently participating in a multi-year study with researches at the Savannah River Site in Aiken County concerning the impact that coyotes may be having on deer. Specifically, the objective of this study is to determine potential impacts on deer fawn survival and recruitment.
Coyotes are not protected animals in South Carolina and hunters are allowed to harvest them throughout the year during daylight hours. During 2006 it is estimated that approximately 20,194 coyotes were harvested by deer hunters in South Carolina (Table 15), an increase of less than 1 percent from 2005 (20,159 coyotes). As in past years, there was evidence of coyotes being harvested in all counties. This was the second year in a row the coyote harvest by deer hunters did not increase substantially 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 (2.97 coyotes/mile²), Saluda (2.64 coyotes/mile²), Edgefield (2.27 coyotes/mile²), McCormick (2.21 coyotes/mile²), and Chester (1.82 coyotes/mile²).
The following section is not related to the 2006 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 2006 was 1,466 (Table 16). 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 725,000 deer, a level comparable with the mid 1980's.
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