Enquirer Herald

Brad Harvey: Deer numbers continuing to dwindle

Brad Harvey
Brad Harvey

As we close out what has been a rather noneventful turkey season for me, those of us who love hunting are preparing ourselves for the long wait until we can slip back into the woods again come fall, when deer season arrives.

Let’s hope that what we have to look forward to will be a better season in 2015 than we are now learning that 2014 was.

The word has just dropped that the overall deer harvest last season was down a whopping 9 percent, with 202,952 deer taken, compared with 225,806 the year before.

I realize that it would be easy to chalk that decrease up to a one-year anomaly, but I’m afraid this continues a trend that began following the record harvest of 2002 when around 320,000 deer were taken by Palmetto state hunters.

Think about that a second.

These numbers show that deer hunters in South Carolina are now harvesting almost 40 percent fewer animals than we were just a dozen years ago.

Of those harvested in 2014, 109,446 were bucks while 93,506 were does. According to our state’s biologists, the drop in overall number of deer roaming the woods is attributed to two major factors.

The first, and probably the biggest, is overall habitat change. It seems that the mindset in our state has become, “I don’t care if it’s no bigger than a postage stamp, let’s put six houses on it.”

It was timber production that initiated the growth in our deer population to begin with. But these days those stands of trees that were planted 30 and 40 years ago are either grown to a point that they limit the sunlight that hits the forest floor and stimulates the growth of browse that the deer rely on for food or they’re being cut and replaced with homes instead.

Still, the other factor is the one many hunters are most familiar with, and it’s the only one where we can actually help out a bit.

The explosion of the coyote population has now been proven by studies to have a significant negative impact on the survival of deer fawns each year.

So much so, in fact, that one such study undertaken at the Savannah River Site found that 70 percent of fawns born don’t survive, and 80 percent of those are because they’re becoming meals for coyotes.

It’s impossible for the state to control them but, through laws and hunting regulations that didn’t exist years ago, they have given us the opportunity to make some sort of difference.

That’s right. There’s plenty of reason to grab a gun and get back into the woods now without waiting for deer season.

If, like me, you’re interested in taking out as many coyotes as you possibly can, here are the basics of what you need to know to be legal about it.

▪  In South Carolina, there is no closed season for hunting coyotes on private lands during the day, but a hunting license is required.

▪  Night hunting is allowed with certain restrictions. These can be found on the DNR website: www.dnr.sc.gov.

▪  The use of electronic calls is completely legal.

▪  If you live in the county, a hunting license is not required when shooting coyotes within 100 yards of your home. If you live in town, it’s still not required, but you can bet that firing that shot will have blue lights flashing in front of your house in a matter of minutes, since most municipalities outlaw shooting within the city limits.

▪  Trapping is a viable option to help reduce coyote numbers. The season is open annually from Dec. 1 through March 1, and a trapping license is required.

▪  Those suffering losses from coyote damage can apply for a depredation permit from DNR.

▪  No license or permit is required to trap a coyote on your property within 100 yards of your home.

▪  All trapped coyotes must be destroyed and may not be relocated.

One thing is for sure. When you factor in everything that’s working against our state’s deer herd already, it’s a good thing that our legislators have finally decided to massage the state’s hunting regulations to lessen the number of deer that hunters can take.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m afraid that what they have done to this point isn’t enough, but any move in the right direction is at least a start.

Wanna be a gator getter?

If you’d like to give it a try, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources will begin accepting applications online for the 2015 Public Alligator Hunting season and the Wildlife Management Area Alligator Hunting season on May 1.

It’s just a $10 nonrefundable application fee for the public hunt and $15 for the WMA.

Selections are made via a randomized computer drawing based on a preference point system. If selected, there will then be a $100 fee for the permit and tag.

The lucky hunters will be notified sometime around mid-July. Those unsuccessful in the drawing will be given a preference point that will be taken into consideration on future drawings to increase their odds.

For more information or to apply, visit the DNR website at www.dnr.sc.gov.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.