"During the 2010 deer season, based on our surveys, it is estimated that a total of 116,755 bucks and 105,894 does were taken, for a statewide total of 222,649 deer harvested," Ruth said. "This figure represents a 3.9-percent decrease from the 2009 harvest of 231,703 deer. It is also 30.5 percent below the record harvest established in 2002 when hunters harvested 319,902 deer."
Ruth said that after many years of rapidly increasing population and harvest during the 1970s and 1980s, the deer population in South Carolina was relatively stable between 1995 and 2002. Since 2002, however, the population has trended down, with 2010 being no exception. The overall reduction in harvest seen since 2002 can likely be attributable to different factors, including habitat change.
"Although timber-management activities stimulated significant growth in South Carolina's deer population in the 1970s and 1980s, considerable acreage is currently in even-aged pine stands that are greater than 10 years old," Ruth said. "This is a situation that does not support deer densities at the same level as younger stands in which food and cover is more available."
Ruth added another variable into the likely reason for lower harvest numbers.
"Coyotes are a recent addition to the landscape and are another piece of the puzzle," he said. "SCDNR is currently 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. If these findings even moderately represent a statewide situation, this 'new mortality factor' is clearly involved in the reduction in deer numbers. This is especially true when combined with extremely liberal deer harvests that have been the norm in South Carolina. The study is currently in the process of determining if coyote control leads to increased fawn survival on the area."
Ruth said South Carolina hunters killed approximately 10.5 deer per square mile statewide.
"Although the deer population in the state has declined in recent years, this harvest rate is considered good in comparison with most other states," Ruth said.
In terms of total harvest, the top five counties in 2010 were Orangeburg, Williamsburg, Colleton, Bamberg, Laurens and Florence. Those counties accounted for more than 47,000 deer harvested, about 20 percent of the statewide harvest.
Ruth said that real comparisons can be made between various counties if a harvest-per-unit-area is established, and one measure is the number of deer taken per square mile. In that regard, Bamberg County led all South Carolina counties with 27.2 deer taken per square mile, followed by Allendale (17.3), Orangeburg (17.1), Anderson (16.9) and Spartanburg (15.4).
"Overall hunting success in 2010 was 70.4 percent, which should be considered extraordinary," Ruth said. "Success rates for resident hunters were highest in Marion, Williamsburg, Barnwell, Clarendon, and Sumter counties."
Ruth said that for determination of hunting success in 2010 only those individuals that actually hunted deer were included in the analysis. Similarly, he defined success as harvesting at least one deer.