The 2011 deer harvest in South Carolina may have not made a big jump, but sometimes even a small step can be good. Overall, there was a slight increase in harvest in the 2011 season and the prospects for the 2012 season are also good.

According to Charles Ruth, deer and turkey project supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the harvest figures are encouraging and are representative of a stable deer population across the state.

"During the 2011 season, based on our survey methodology, we estimate that a total of 120,407 bucks and 106,051 does were harvested, for a statewide total of 226,458 deer harvested," Ruth said. "This figure represents a 1.2-percent increase from 2010 when 222,649 deer were harvested, but is 29.3 percent below the record harvest established in 2002 when 319,902 deer were taken.

 

Dramatic changes in habitat have led to the decline since 2002, but the good news is, the herd seems to have stabilized."

 

Ruth said survey results are based on hunter responses from the mail surveys, and they give a good representation of deer actually harvested in South Carolina.

"The actual attempted sample was 24,331 requests to hunters, representing 14.8 percent of the entire population of 164,698 license holders," he said. "A total of 6,750 completed surveys were returned, yielding a 27.7-percent response rate and 4.1-percent sampling rate on the entire licensee population."

Ruth said overall, most of the areas of the state produced consistent hunting based on recent years' harvest records. He said there are some areas that provide the best hunting in terms of numbers of deer harvested.

"Comparisons can be made between deer harvests from the various counties in South Carolina if a harvest-per-unit-area is established," Ruth said. "Harvest-per-unit-area standardizes the harvest among counties regardless of the size of individual counties, and that's what we do in terms of analyzing the data. One measure of harvest rate is the number of deer taken per square mile. When considering the estimated deer habitat that is available in South Carolina, the deer harvest rate in 2011 was 10.6 deer per square mile over the entire state. Although the deer population in the state has declined in recent years, this harvest rate is good in comparison with most other states.

"The top-5 counties for harvest-per-unit-area were led by Bamberg County with 24.1 deer harvested per square mile, considerably better than the rest of the state. Following, in order, were Union County with 18.6, Calhoun County with 17.3, Orangeburg County with 16.6 and Anderson County with 16.2."

Ruth said that total deer harvest by county is not comparable because counties vary significantly in size, but it is data for which SCDNR is frequently asked.

"It has become customary to rank the counties based on number of deer harvested," he said. "The top-5 counties during 2011 for simple total harvest without regard to the size of the county were Orangeburg, Williamsburg, Colleton, Laurens, and Hampton."

Ruth said that overall, there are no major problems with the deer herd, and given reasonable weather and at least an average mast crop this year, he forecasts a similar season in 2012.

"The deer herd has stabilized at a point below our record high in 2002, but consistent with the deer habitat we currently have in South Carolina," he said. "The overall number of deer in South Carolina is good based on the habitat, and the state is producing some quality deer as well."