South Carolina's 2009 Deer Outlook Part 1: Where To Get Your Deer

South Carolina's 2009 Deer Outlook Part 1: Where To Get Your Deer

If you're looking for ideas to make your deer season more successful, here's some data you should consider. (October 2009)

There's good news for South Carolina deer hunters: Based on the data from the 2008 deer hunter survey by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), there was an increase in the overall deer harvest in South Carolina for the second straight year.

According to Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project supervisor for the SCDNR, the 2008 harvest was up 3.9 percent in 2008 compared with the 2007 harvest. In addition, the 2007 harvest was up by 7.5 percent more than the 2006 harvest. That totals a deer harvest increase of 11.4 percent over the past two seasons.

"During the 2008 deer season, it is estimated that a total of 131,346 bucks and 117,432 does were harvested for a statewide total of 248,778 deer," Ruth said. "This is up from the 2007 harvest of 239,193 deer. However, this is still 22.3 percent below the record harvest established in 2002 of 319,902 deer."

Ruth said based on land use trends in recent years, the overall deer herd right now is fairly stable at around 800,000 animals. He said at the peak population a few years ago, South Carolina had around one million deer.

"Nothing major has changed in the overall deer habitat in the past year," Ruth said. "The biggest reason for the decline in numbers of deer in the population and fewer being harvested is long-term habitat change. Right now there is considerable acreage in even-aged pine stands that are greater than 10 years old. That's simply a situation that does not support deer densities at the same level as younger stands in which food and cover is more available.

"I continue to expect an ebb and flow for the deer population and harvest on an annual basis -- that's quite normal," Ruth said. "I believe the reason for the slight increase in harvest in the 2008 season is similar to what occurred with the 2007 harvest being up over 2006. It's likely related to the fact that there was a slight increase in the number of hunters and man-days of hunting effort compared to the previous year, rather than a significant increase in deer numbers.

"I'm glad to see an increase over the previous season and figure the 2009 season should be close to the same harvest wise," Ruth said.

He said there are no big negative issues with the deer herd right now. With the habitat available, he thinks the population and harvest are about right.

In fact, any variation in harvest rates -- up or down -- in the upcoming season will likely not be caused by significant changes in deer numbers, but rather other factors that can affect hunting.

Weather can always play a significant role in the deer harvest as an external factor not related to herd or habitat conditions, Ruth noted. The weather can have a noticeable effect on hunter man-days, and that factor alone could cause the harvest to slightly move up or down from the 2008 harvest.

With the outlook for the 2009 season being about the same as in the most recent years, deer hunters can examine the harvest results from last season to help them select the top places to target deer during the 2009 season. While a lot of the places where the deer harvest is annually large remain consistent, for the upcoming season, there are some new places to consider as well.

According to Ruth, other variables play into an individual hunter's success. One is familiarity with the area being hunted, the time and effort spent scouting and learning deer patterns on the land, the planting and quality of food plots on the property and finally the overall skill and dedication of the hunter.

But the historical harvest of deer is an excellent way for a hunter figure out how to be in the right place at the right time. As the deer herd patterns change with habitat changes, the county-by-county harvest rates provide an even closer inspection of the deer habitat and harvest trends.

The top counties are in the top echelon for specific reasons. Typically, two of the most important reasons a county will consistently produce high rates of hunter success are 1) the deer population in the county is high and 2) the habitat is excellent for sustaining that deer population and providing hunters good places to hunt.

There are two major ways to view the deer harvest. They are harvest per unit of hunting area and total harvest by county. The most scientific is the harvest per unit area.

"Harvest per unit area standardizes the harvest among counties regardless of the size of individual counties," Ruth said. "One measure of the harvest rate is the number of deer taken per square mile, with 640 acres equaling one square mile. When considering the estimated deer habitat that is available in South Carolina, the deer harvest rate in 2008 was 11.6 deer per square mile over the entire state. Although the deer population in the state has moderated in recent years, this harvest rate should be considered extraordinary in comparison with many other states."

Ruth said that the total deer harvest by county is not comparable among counties because of the great difference in land size among the counties. A very large county may produce more deer than a much smaller county, but that doesn't mean the density of the deer population is higher in the large county. But many hunters still like to see the overall harvest when planning their season, so we will include that in this outlook as well.

While a look at the "top counties" may not be as precisely accurate as looking at deer harvest per square mile data, top counties can provide some interesting information. For example, even a quick glance at the state map accompanying this article is enough to tell you that geographically, the top counties in the state are not randomly distributed across the state. They "clump up" in certain parts of the state.

But before we talk about why that is, we'll begin with the harvest per unit area numbers.

The No. 1 county in terms of harvest by unit area has been the same for the last two years running: Bamberg County. Bamberg County had a very impressive harvest rate of 20.0 deer per square mile. This actually represents a 4.6 percent decline from last year, but is the same as the state-leading harvest rate from 2006. This is perfect example of the ebb and flow of a good deer population. There's no doubt with three straight years of leading the state harvest rate by unit area that Bamberg County is a deer hotspot right now. There were 3,098 bucks and 3,046 does harvested for a total of 6,144 deer taken in this county during the 2008 season.

Union County was the No. 2 county for

2008. It was also the No. 2 county in 2007. Union County had a 19.5 deer per square mile harvest rate in 2008, up 8.0 percent from the 2007 harvest. There were 3,976 bucks and 3,895 does taken here in 2008, for a total harvest of 7,871.

The county with the third highest harvest rate by unit area in 2008 was Allendale County. Allendale, which had the fourth highest harvest rate in the 2007 season, had a 16.3 percent harvest increase in the 2008 harvest over 2007 and had an 18.7 deer per square mile harvest rate. There were 3,052 bucks and 3,256 does harvested in 2008 in this county, for a total harvest of 6,308 deer.

Hampton County fills the No. 4 spot and had a banner year, with a huge 28.7 percent harvest increase over 2007. There were 18.2 deer per square mile harvested in this county, of which 5,180 were bucks and 4,065 were does. The total harvest for 2008 was 9,245 deer.

Finishing fifth in 2008 was Abbeville County, another county with a very big "up" harvest year. Abbeville County posted a 19.5 percent increase in harvest over 2007. The harvest rate per square mile was 16.2 in 2008, well above the state average. There were 3,002 bucks and 2,639 does harvested in 2008 for a total harvest of 5,641 deer.

The sixth spot belongs to Spartanburg County; in 2007, Spartanburg was ranked third statewide. Spartanburg County had a slight 5.3 percent harvest decline in 2008 compared with 2007, but as Ruth noted, a few percentage points one way or the other is not significant in terms of reading anything into the deer herd status; Spartanburg was a good place to kill deer in the past and it's still a good place now.

For 2008, Spartanburg County recorded a 16.1 deer per square mile harvest rate. There were 3,226 bucks and 3,472 does harvested in 2008 for a total harvest of 6,697.

Laurens County finished at No. 7 in 2008, dropping from sixth place in 2007. However, the harvest in Laurens County actually increased by 1.7 percent -- Laurens County fell one spot because of the tremendous increases in other counties, not because hunting deteriorated in Laurens County. The harvest rate per square mile was 16.0 and there were 4,133 bucks and 3,818 does harvested in 2008. The total harvest was 7,951.

In eighth place in 2008 was a newcomer to the top 10, Clarendon County. Clarendon County sported a very respectable 15.4 deer per square mile harvest rate in 2008, up from a 12.2 harvest rate in 2007. Overall, Clarendon County had a whopping 26.5 percent harvest increase in 2008 over 2007. There were 3,845 bucks and 3,341 does taken for a total harvest of 7,186 in 2008.

The ninth spot in 2008 went to Newberry County, down from the No. 5 ranking in the 2007 harvest numbers. Newberry County had a 4.5 percent decline in harvest and had a 15.3 deer per square mile harvest rate in 2008. There were 3,823 bucks and 3,751 does for a total harvest of 7,574 in 2008.

Rounding out the top 10 was Anderson County, which had a 15.2 percent harvest increase in 2008 over the 2007 harvest. There were 14.6 deer per square mile harvested in Anderson County last season. There were a total of 2,641 bucks and 2,364 does taken for a total harvest of 5,005 in 2008.

For added consideration in your planning, the next 10 counties in terms of deer harvested per unit area in South Carolina during the 2008 season, in order, were: Greenwood, Colleton, Orangeburg, Charleston, Cherokee, York, Barnwell, Chester, Williamsburg and Calhoun.

Next, we'll look at straight deer harvest on a county-by-county basis. This list is not a fair comparison, but it will show where lots of deer are being harvested. Plus, if you find a place that makes both lists -- deer killed per square mile and most deer killed per county -- and that county is close to you, it's likely a good place to check out for the 2009 season.

For the 2008 harvest, the No. 1 county in the state was Colleton with 11,347 deer harvested. Colleton County was third in the 2007 harvest. The No. 1 county in 2007 was Orangeburg and this county finished second in 2008 with a total harvest of 11,287.

Williamsburg was third in total harvest with 10,618 deer harvested in 2008, down from second for the 2007 harvest. Hampton County was fourth with 9,245, up from the No. 8 position the previous season.

The fifth spot belonged to Laurens County with 7,951 deer harvested, up one spot from the 2007 placement. In sixth place for 2008 was Union County with 7,871 deer harvested, down one place from seventh in 2007. The No. 7 county last season was Newberry County with a total deer harvest of 7,574, down from the No. 5 spot in 2007. Newberry County did have a 4.5 percent drop in harvest in 2008 but had recorded a huge 43.5 percent increase the previous year. Overall, the past two seasons, the harvest is still well up in Newberry County.

In eighth place was Berkeley County with 7,422 deer harvested in 2008, up from 11th place in 2007. The ninth spot belonged to Fairfield County with 7,311 deer taken, which represents a 19.1 percent decrease from the previous season when it was the No. 4 county in total harvest.

The No. 10 spot goes to Clarendon County with 7,186 deer harvested in 2008, up from the No. 17 spot in 2007.

There's also some interesting data in the report regarding other points about deer-hunting success rates in South Carolina. This data enables hunters to see exactly which counties had the highest success rates, another factor well worth considering.

According to Ruth, deer hunter success is very high in South Carolina. For the determination of hunting success, Ruth said success was defined as harvest of at least one deer in the 2008 season.

"Overall hunting success in 2008 was 71.9 percent, which should be considered extraordinary," Ruth said. "Success rates for residents were 71.7 percent and for non-residents 73.1 percent, which are essentially the same. Success rates for resident hunters were highest in Barnwell, Fairfield, Lancaster, Richland and Lee counties. Non-resident hunters experienced the highest success in Marion, Berkeley, Calhoun, Barnwell and Bamberg counties. However, only Bamberg County had appreciable numbers of non-residents."

There's another interesting bit of information from the report regarding how you can impact your own success rate in 2008: Simply go hunting more often.

While that seems logical, the data quantifies the success rate with specific hunter effort, or man-days in the field.

According to Ruth, the data shows that resident hunters who were successful at harvesting at least one deer averaged twice as many days (16.2) afield as unsuccessful hunters' (8.3) days. Similarly, successful non-residents (16.0 days) averaged about two times the days afield when compared with unsuccessful non-residents (8.3 days).

Your weapon of choice will make a difference in your overall success, of course, but for many bowhunters, the challenge of taking a deer with a bow is a b

enefit, not a drawback, to archery. According to the data, Ruth said many South Carolina deer hunters used multiple weapons during the season to hunt deer. For instance, some hunters would occasionally bowhunt at times, while rifle hunting at other times.

The overwhelming successful weapon was the rifle with 77.2 percent of the deer harvested with the rifle. Seventy-one percent of the deer were harvested with a bow and arrow and 11.9 percent were harvested with a shotgun. But many hunters using the bow or shotgun do so because of the specific enjoyment of different aspects of the sport. Muzzleloaders, crossbows and handguns rounded out the rest of the harvest, which totaled less than 4 percent.

There is a graphic attached to this feature that depicts the top counties in the state for harvest by unit area and by total harvest. Look closely and you'll see patterns of deer harvest from a statewide perspective. Find the areas near where you hunt and focus on these for your best chance of success in 2009.

Plan your season well, hunt often and smart, and odds are great you will be in the successful deer hunter category this season.

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