After a slight upswing in the 2011 deer harvest, South Carolina hunters didn't do quite as well during the 2012 season, according to data recently released by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

"During the 2012 deer season, based on responses from our annual survey of deer hunters, we estimate that a total of 116,673 bucks and 101,181 does were harvested for a statewide total of 217,854 deer," said biologist Charles Ruth of SCDNR. "This figure represents a 3.8-percent decrease in harvest from 2011 … and is 31.9-percent below the record harvest established in 2002.   "After many years of rapidly increasing during the 1970s and 1980s, the deer population in South Carolina exhibited relative stability between 1995 and 2002. Since 2002, however, the population has trended down. It has not gone down every year, but the overall reduction in harvest seen since 2002 can likely be attributable to a number of factors, including habitat change being a major component."  

Ruth said that although timber-management activities stimulated significant growth in South Carolina's deer population in the 1970s and 1980s, considerable timber acreage is currently in even-aged pine stands that are more than 10 years old. Ruth said this creates a situation that does not support deer densities at the same level as younger stands in which food and cover is more available.


"As is always the case, not all counties have equal percentages of deer harvest," Ruth said. "Some counties and even regions of the state annually produce lots of deer, but some new areas appear every year in terms of producing quality hunting.


"With the 2012 harvest data, 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. One measure of harvest rate we like to use 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 2012 was 10.4 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."


Ruth said the top-deer producing counties were led again by Bamberg County at 19.2 deer per square mile, down 20.4 percent in overall harvest from 2011, but still enough to lead the state. The remainder of the top 10 counties were, in order: Anderson (16.5), Union (15.6), Greenwood (15.5), Abbeville (14.8), Spartanburg (14.8), Newberry (14.7), Allendale (14.5), Chester (14.4) and Orangeburg (13.9).


"While some counties had overall harvest decreases, there were a good number of counties that had significant harvest increases" Ruth said.


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


"It has become customary to rank the counties based on number of deer harvested," he said. "The top 10 counties during 2012 for simple total harvest without regard to the size of the county were Orangeburg (10,992), Williamsburg (8.962), Colleton (7,918), Newberry (7,277), Fairfield (7,264), Chester (6,747), Union (6,273), Hampton (6,218), Spartanburg (6,147) and Laurens (6,013).


"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."