South Carolina's Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Where To Get Your Deer

South Carolina's Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Where To Get Your Deer

Here's a region-by-region forecast of the best places for productive deer hunting in South Carolina.

For the first time since 2002, South Carolina deer hunters in 2007 recorded an increase in the overall deer harvest in South Carolina. While the deer hunting in recent years in the Palmetto State has been excellent by most standards, this upward turn on the numbers should have hunters smiling. It breeds hope and confidence that the 2008 season will be another excellent year in terms of seeing and harvesting deer.

According to Charles Ruth, Deer Project supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the 2007 harvest was up by 7.5 percent statewide. Ruth said that during the 2007 hunting season, based on deer harvest survey results, a total of 239,193 deer were harvested. This is up from the 2006 harvest of 221,320.

Ruth said the increased harvest is a good sign, but it does not necessarily mean deer numbers are up in a big way.

"Certainly a larger harvest is a positive thing for hunters to consider," Ruth said. "But we expect the annual deer harvest to kind of ebb and flow based on the existing habitat conditions in the state. The slight increase in harvest in 2007 is likely related to the fact that there was a slight increase in number of hunters and man-days of hunting effort compared to 2006, rather than to a significant increase in deer numbers.

"Plus the late freeze we had in 2007 did seem to have an impact on the white oak mast crop," he said. "White oaks pollinate and produce fruit the same year. That, in conjunction with the drought last year, may have made the deer move more in search of food. Thus, deer may have been seen more often because of these factors as well.

"This is still 25 percent below the record harvest established in 2002 of 319,902 deer," Ruth said. "The reduction in harvest since 2002 can likely be attributable to one main factor: 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. 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."

What does this mean for the 2008 deer-hunting season?

Ruth noted that every season has certain variables; however, the overall deer herd condition is good based on the existing habitat.

"There are no real negative issues with the deer herd right now," Ruth said. "As described, the habitat we have influences the total number of deer, which right now, statewide, is about 800,000 animals. That's about where we should be.

"Another thing to consider is the late freeze in 2007 may have an impact on red-oak mast production this season," he said. "Red oaks, which comprise the majority of oaks in the Coastal Plain, pollinate one year and bear fruit the next. If the red oaks were trying to pollinate when the freeze occurred, we could see an influence in red oak mast crop production this fall."

Ruth noted that two factors that always play a big role in how many deer are seen and harvested are weather and food. He said if the weather is poor for hunters in terms of being able to effectively hunt and food sources are abundant, fewer deer would likely be seen and harvested.

But he said the opposite could also be true. Great weather for hunting means more hunters in the woods looking for deer. Less available food supplies typically mean more deer movement seeking food, thus more deer seen and perhaps harvested.

"Overall, I am pleased with the harvest results of the 2007 season," Ruth said. "When considering the estimated deer habitat that is available in South Carolina, the deer harvest rate in 2007 was 11.2 deer per square mile over the entire state. This number is up from a 10.5 deer per square mile harvest rate for 2006. But even the 10.5 number from 2006 was extraordinary in terms of comparison to other Southern states."

Ruth said the buck and doe harvest breakdown represents a good split for the 2007 season as well.

"Based on the results from our annual survey, there were an estimated total of 124,522 bucks and 114,671 does harvested in the 2007 season," Ruth said.

This represents a harvest increase of 8,605 bucks and an increase of 9,268 does in the 2007 season over the 2006 season. Ruth said that the doe and buck harvest continues to be close to a 50/50 ratio, which is what he feels is healthy for our state and existing deer herd.

Ruth said he is confident that, barring much poor weather for hunting, hunters in 2008 should harvest close to what was taken in 2007.

"I expect we'll be plus or minus 5 to 7 percent either way," Ruth said. "It will have a lot to do with weather and hunter participation. Gas prices could even be a reason for less hunter participation if gas prices are real high. But from strictly a deer herd perspective, we should be pretty consistent."

BEST PLACES TO HUNT
Searching for the absolute best places to harvest deer in 2008 can be based on several things. One is the local knowledge that hunters have of the area they hunt. It can also be greatly influenced by the effort they put into preparation in terms of planting food plots, stand site selection and scouting. And, as Charles Ruth noted, the skill level of the hunter is also a crucial factor in hunter success.

Reviewing this historical harvest of deer is another great way to find a way to put the cross hairs on more deer this season. To help with this, we reviewed and consolidated data compiled by Ruth and the SCDNR regarding deer harvest success. We can look at the statewide harvest figures for 2007 broken down into county-by-county rankings. Those numbers will directly help you determine where you can focus your hunting effort this season to enhance your odds of success.

Ruth said that looking at the top counties in terms of harvest could sometimes be a bit misleading.

"There is quality deer hunting in just about county in the state," Ruth said. "Even in the counties that are not at the top of the harvest list, there will be isolated spots of exceptionally good hunting in many instances. Often a hunter will have to seek these local areas out. But some areas of the state do tend to ha

ve the right habitat on a broad scale where the deer numbers are simply higher."

The 2007 harvest data is broken down by the SCDNR into several categories. According to Ruth, the best way to compare the hunting between counties is through the harvest-per-unit-area method. (Typically, this translates into the number of hunter-killed deer per square mile of habitat.)

"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 is the number of deer taken per square mile. This is simply figured as 640 acres equals one square mile."

The top 10 counties in South Carolina for the 2007 harvest by unit area are prime places to target your 2008 deer-hunting effort. The No. 1 county in 2007 is the same top county as in 2006 -- Bamberg -- with a harvest rate of 21 deer per square mile. This is up from the state-leading harvest rate of 20 deer per square mile in 2006. There were 3,565 bucks and 2,875 does harvested for a total of 6,441 deer from Bamberg County.

The No. 2 county in 2007 is also a repeat No. 2 from 2006: Union County. Union County had a harvest rate of 18.1 deer per square mile in 2007, slightly down from the rate of 19.7 in 2006. There were 3,511 bucks and 3,778 does harvested in 2007 for a total harvest of 7,289 deer. Overall, there was a 1.5 percent decrease in total harvest in Union County.

The No. 3 county, Spartanburg, had a harvest rate of 17 deer per square mile in 2007. This represents a huge jump from 2006, when Spartanburg County recorded a respectable but much lower 13 deer per square mile harvest rate. There were 3,634 bucks and 3,437 does harvested in 2007 for a total of 7,071 deer. This represents a significant 31.4 increase from 2006, making this county a prime place to consider for 2008.

Placing No. 4 in the county standings was Allendale County with a deer per square mile harvest rate of 16. This is down slightly from the 2006 harvest rate of 16.7 and represents an overall decrease in harvest of 3.8 percent. The total number of bucks harvested was 3,123, and there were 2,299 does harvested for a total of 5,422 deer.

SOUTH CAROLINA'S TOP 10
COUNTIES FOR DEER
by Total Harvest
COUNTYBUCKSDOESTOTAL HARVEST
1. Orangeburg6,1165,05111,167
2. Williamsburg4,9155,26410,179
3. Colleton4,9074,5429,449
4. Fairfield4,7694,2729,041
5. Newberry3,8714,0567,927
6. Laurens3,9923,8307,821
7. Union3,5113,7787,289
8. Hampton3,5933,5897,182
9. Spartanburg3,6343,4377,071
10. Bamberg3,5652,8756,441
SOUTH CAROLINA'S TOP 10
COUNTIES FOR DEER
by Deer Harvested Per Unit of Habitat
COUNTYAcres/DeerDeer/Square Miles
1. Bamberg30.521.0
2. Union35.418.1
3. Spartanburg37.617.0
4. Allendale39.926.0
5. Newberry40.116.0
6. Laurens40.615.7
7. Calhoun41.615.4
8. Fairfield42.515.0
9. Lancaster44.014.5
10. Cherokee44.214.5

Finishing at No. 5 was Newberry County, with a harvest rate of 16 deer p

er square mile. While deer per square mile rate was the same as Allendale County, the difference in ranking placement was based on the acres per deer harvested, which gave a slight edge to Allendale County. On the other hand, the 2006 harvest rate per square mile in Newberry County was only 11.1 -- which means that the 2007 figure represents a whopping 43.5 percent harvest increase. This significant harvest rate should place this county high on the "must-hunt" list. If you live anywhere near this county, it's worth checking out for 2008. In addition, there were 3,871 bucks and 4,056 does harvested in 2007 for a total of 7,927 deer.

At No. 6 for the 2007 season was Laurens County with a harvest rate of 15.7 deer per square mile. Laurens rebounded well after having a 12.1 harvest rate in 2006. There were 3,992 bucks and 3,830 does harvested in 2007 for a total of 7,821 deer. Laurens also had a big 30.3 percent harvest increase in 2007 over 2006.

Finishing at No. 7 for 2007 was Calhoun County with a deer per square mile harvest rate of 15.4. Calhoun was also at No. 7 last year with a 14.4 deer per square mile harvest rate. Calhoun County had an overall 6 percent harvest increase in 2007 with 1,951 bucks and 2,627 does harvested for a total of 4,578 deer.

In the No. 8 position was Fairfield County with a 2007 harvest rate of 15 deer per square mile. This is up from the 13.3 harvest rate from 2006 and represents a 13.4 percent harvest increase. The total number of bucks harvested was 4,769 and the doe harvest was 4,272, for a total of 9,041 deer.

At No. 9 for 2007 is Lancaster County with a 14.5 deer per square mile harvest rate in 2007. This number is up from the 13.2 harvest rate of 2006 and represents a harvest increase of an even 10 percent from 2006. There were 2,960 bucks and 3,095 does harvested in 2007 for a total of 6,055 deer.

Rounding out the top 10 for 2007 is Cherokee County, also with a 14.5 deer per square mile harvest rate (the same as Lancaster County), up somewhat from the 2006 harvest rate figure of 12.5. Again, the acres per deer harvested numbers were slightly in favor of Lancaster County for final order of ranking. The total number of bucks harvested was 1,734 and there were 1,811 does taken for a total of 3,545 deer. This is a 15.8 percent harvest increase in 2007 over 2006.

The 2007 top 10 list did change considerably from 2006, and while there were some repeats, we'll also review the top 10 from 2006. These counties should also be considered as respectable places to hang a deer stand in 2008. Beginning at No. 1 and proceeding down the list are Bamberg, Union, Hampton, Allendale, Chester, Greenwood, Calhoun, Orangeburg, Clarendon and McCormick counties.

In terms of simple deer harvest on a county-by-county basis, the top 10 list will allow you to see which counties made both lists, another good sign of a good location to hunt.

WMA DEER HUNTING
According to Ruth, there are also some good harvest numbers for the wildlife management areas (WMA) in South Carolina.

"Deer hunting on the wildlife management areas remains popular in South Carolina with approximately 47,000 licensees having a WMA permit," Ruth said. "Wildlife management areas represent lands owned by the DNR, other state-owned lands enrolled in the WMA program, U.S. Forest Service lands enrolled in the WMA program and private and/or corporate lands that are leased by the DNR as part of the WMA program. Also, the figures for WMA harvest totals are included in, not additive to, the county and statewide totals."

Ruth said that during the 2007 season it is estimated that 4,901 bucks and 4,336 does were harvested for a total on WMAs of 9,237 deer.

"This represents an increase of approximately 8.2 percent form the 2006 season," Ruth said. "It is estimated that approximately 18,445 hunters spent 217,651 days hunting on WMAs in South Carolina in 2007."

DEER HUNTING SUCCESS & THE ANNUAL DEER SURVEY
In terms of successful deer hunting, the annual survey also has some very interesting information that should be of great use for hunters. According to Ruth, the definition of a successful hunter was a hunter who harvested at least one deer.

"Overall hunter success in 2007 was 71.6 percent, which should be considered extraordinary," Ruth said. "But also interesting is the data that shows resident hunters who were successful at harvesting at least one deer averaged twice as many days (17.8) afield as unsuccessful hunters (8.9 days)."

One final consideration should be to look at a statewide map on the attached graphic with this article and see the counties that are in the top 10 per unit area and also by total harvest. These counties are grouped into two very distinct blocks from a statewide perspective. While these are certainly not the only two regional areas where outstanding deer hunting occurs, there is a definite pattern. Study the map, factor in the harvest data above, and you'll likely draw some very interesting conclusions as to where you may want to hunt.

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