Deer hunters continued to find fewer whitetails in the woods and fields of the Palmetto State last fall, if the recent Deer Harvest Survey released by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources is any indication. The 2016 harvest was off 11 percent from 2015, down to 172,315.

Charles Ruth, the deer-project leader for SCDNR, said hunters took 99,678 bucks and 72,637 does, continuing a decline in the annual harvest dating back to 2002. 

Ruth said a big reason is habitat change in the form of an increase in old, even-age stands of timber that “do not support deer densities at the same level as younger stands in which food and cover is more available.” He said that the number of stands of timber from 16 to 30 years old has increased 104 percent over the past 15 years, while the number of stands of timber aged 0 to 15 years has dropped 34 percent.

Ruth also pointed to poor hunting conditions over the past two season as reasons for a harvest decline. Hurricane Matthew’s visit early last October caused flooding across the eastern portion of the state, causing temporary closures in several counties; the coastal harvest was off 25 percent, he said. In 2015, the huge flood spawned by Hurricane Joaquin caused many of the same problems.

In terms of total harvest, Orangeburg County was No. 1 in South Carolina with a harvest of 9,760, followed by Colleton County with 6,847, Anderson with 6,569, Spartanburg with 6,535 and Hampton with 6,377. In terms of harvest per square mile, Anderson led with 19.1 deer killed per square mile, followed by Spartanburg (15.7), Calhoun (14.0), Hampton (12.6) and York (12.4).

Hunters took 137,163 deer with rifles, 16,025 deer with shotguns,11,373 with archery equipment and 7,754 with muzzleloaders, crossbows or handguns,

In addition, the Deer Hunter Survey revealed that hunters took 28,513 coyotes in 2016, down two percent from 2015. More than 25,000 wild hogs were taken, a 25-percent decrease from 2015 with coastal flooding mortality listed as a major factor.

The Deer Harvest Survey reported hunter success at 65 percent, with hunters taking to the woods more than 2 million days in 2016.