As we slip into my favorite time of the year, the news has come down from our state’s Department of Natural Resources about the 2014 deer season, which opens in our area with archery equipment Sept. 15.
It’s expected to be a good year.
Although it’s true our overall herd size has dropped nearly 30 percent in recent years, according to Charles Ruth, South Carolina’s Deer and Turkey Project coordinator, overall hunter success and deer harvest rates remain good, and that is expected to continue.
Last year, top areas for total deer harvest included Bamberg, Union, Allendale, Spartanburg and Calhoun counties.
Each of these areas claimed harvest rates of more than 15 deer per square mile, giving them some of the highest rates of harvest in the nation.
Of course, there’s a big difference between numbers of available deer being taken and numbers of quality deer.
The best were found in Aiken, Kershaw, Orangeburg, Anderson, Fairfield and Oconee counties. None of these area’s rankings were a big surprise, as each historically has been a strong producer for our state’s record book.
Coyote study complete
Recently, DNR completed a major study along the Savannah River Site that investigated the effects coyotes are having on our state’s deer herd.
During the first three years, the efforts revealed that fawn mortality rates were running way up, at 70 percent, and coyotes were responsible for 80 percent of those deaths.
The final three years took aim at controlling the coyote population to see if it had a major effect on the overall rate of fawn survival.
During this “control” phase of the program, 474 coyotes were trapped, and researchers found a 39 percent increase in fawn survival rates.
However, given the difficulty and high cost of controlling the number of coyotes roaming our woods, it was determined the best approach would be to make adjustments in how we manage the deer herd, and this was especially true with the females.
This brings us to a bit of news that all hunters need be aware of before they hit the woods this year.
New rules for 2014
Several changes have been made to South Carolina’s deer regulations for this year, in hopes of getting a better grip on herd management.
First, the total number of “either-sex days” has been lowered, along with a drop from two to one in the number of antler-less deer that can be taken on each of those days.
Also, even when using the optional Individual Antler-less Deer Tags available for purchase from DNR which allow harvesting them outside the traditional “doe days,” hunters will be limited to one per day.
In the past, archery hunters within Game Zone 2 (our area) have had the option to take bucks or does throughout the entire season, but no more.
The choice remains available during the “primitive-weapons” seasons but disappears when the general firearms season hits, meaning doe harvest will have to take place on an allotted “either-sex day” or through use of one of the aforementioned tags.
If you hunt the grounds of any of S.C.’s Wildlife Management Areas, you’ll need to be aware of some new rules that pertain to them as well.
Starting this year, all of South Carolina’s WMAs are implementing a statewide limit of five deer total for all seasons and weapons, combined with this number including no more than two antlered deer. In years past, the limits varied from WMA to WMA.
So what does it all mean?
I’m sure there are a number of hunters who aren’t too happy to see these changes come, but obviously something had to be done.
South Carolina’s overall deer population blew up back in the 1980s and early ’90s, peaking around 1 million animals.
However, those numbers started trending downward in ’02, and the addition of coyotes isn’t the only thing to blame.
Both habitat change in the way of forest management and property development, and exceptionally high rates of deer harvest, have helped quite a bit, meaning something had to be done to get a better grip on this natural resource and assure its viability for the future.
On the bright side, fewer deer also means higher-quality deer.
With less competition for high-grade browse, the deer that are out there are getting much better nutrition throughout the year than those we encountered during the population boom, and this has been quite evident by some of the great bucks our state has produced recently.
More than 1,000 new entries have been entered in the state’s record book in just the past four years.
Did you know?
The sport of deer hunting generates approximately $200 million in retail sales for our state’s economy each year.
In comparison, NASCAR’s Darlington Raceway boasts an economic impact of $54 million annually, while a study by Tom Regan of the University of South Carolina’s Department of Sports and Entertainment Management found that a full season of Gamecock football generates a boost of $50.13 million to our state.
Let those anti-hunters chew on that for a little while!
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.