Currently, South Carolina has a deer population estimated at about 750,000. That’s down from 1 million deer in the mid 1990’s. While harvest figures were up slightly this past season (2010), this trend has been down, too, about a 30 percent overall decline from the record harvest established in 2002.
Some of the decline in herd numbers and harvest has been designed by the state–some of it has not.
“This decreasing trend is most likely due to a combination of habitat change related to commercial pine forests, a history of significant antlerless harvest, and, most recently, predation by coyotes,” said Charles Ruth, Deer Program Coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
He adds, “In spite of having a few less deer, which is a good thing in many areas, South Carolina’s deer population is in good shape and harvest rates and hunter success are excellent in most areas.”
Pine forest habitats have changed due to less logging, resulting in larger, older stands of trees that don’t provide the kind of brush and new growth that deer prefer. Coyotes? The DNR’s been involved in a major study with researchers at the Savannah River Site investigating the affects coyotes are having on the survival of deer fawns. Cumulative data throughout the study indicates approximately 70 percent total fawn mortality — with coyotes being responsible for approximately 80 percent of these mortalities. Now, the study is looking at what impacts coyote control may have on fawn survival rates.
“We had a very mild winter and decent rainfall in the winter and early spring,” Ruth notes. “But there are now drought conditions across much of the state, which has a negative impact on deer forage availability and quality. Not sure at this point what the effect, if any, this will have on fawn survival and body and antler quality.”
South Carolina’s top counties for mature buck production include Aiken, Orangeburg, and Calhoun in the coastal plain and Abbeville and Anderson in the piedmont.
The Southern Regional Report
It looks like this will be another strong season for southeastern deer hunters, with deer herds in good to very good condition. Deer populations are stable to slightly growing, and all states expected a strong fawn crop this year. The central south (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) saw drought expand over the region as summer went forward. However, this part of the country did receive substantial spring and early-summer rains, which generated a good deal of forage, so deer went into the summer in pretty good condition.
Top Trophy Zones
AR: Arkansas and Chicot counties.
FL: Alachua, Gadsden, and Jefferson counties.
LA: Avoyelles, Concordia, and East Feliciana parishes.
MS: Delta counties like Bolivar, Tallahatchie, and Yazoo are well represented in the record books. Outside of the Delta, Adams County has produced trophy bucks for the past 50 years, including the current state typical record, a 10-pointer killed in 2010 that netted an amazing 184 6⁄8.
OK: Osage and Coal counties. The latter is developing a reputation as a big-buck county, and that was only enhanced last year when 13-year-old Kelsey McKay shot a 200 7⁄8-inch monster non-typical. It is the largest buck ever taken in Coal, a county well represented in the state record books for both typical and non-typical whitetails.
SC: Orangeburg, Aiken, Fairfield, and Colleton counties.
TN: Cumberland and Van Buren counties, and the Tennessee sections of the U.S. Army’s Fort Campbell Military Installation.
TX: Irion, Kennedy, Maverick, Tom Green, and Webb counties.