October 23, 2011
In case there was any doubt, "South Carolina is definitely all about numbers," said Charles Ruth, statewide deer and wild turkey program coordinator. Roughly 31 percent of its 725,000 deer were harvested last year, aided by a whopping three months of firearms season – four and a half months in some parts of the state. And in some areas firearms season starts in August!
"Deer limits are set by politics and tradition," Ruth noted. "The result has been that very few bucks make it to older age classes. That's not to say we don't kill some pretty decent bucks here. But we're hard on 'em, let's just put it that way."
But he senses a change in the wind. Hunters want better-quality deer, he said, so now it's up to the state legislature to get with the program. "The problem is in our state, we don't make the rules here," he said. "We have to go through the legislative process."
Deer Population: 725,000
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $530 million
Bamberg, Allendale and Union counties.
Counties that border the Savannah River drainage – notably Aiken and Anderson – plus Orangeburg County.
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
Ruth: "I'd probably say a 4. We definitely have the opportunity. We have extraordinarily high success, a long season and liberal bags. But if you're talking about opportunity to harvest mature males, I would re-rank us."
Status 5 Years From Now
"I'll stick with a 4," Ruth said. "I think we have room for some improvement, but biologically our deer are in good shape, other than age structure."
Fixing that age structure means getting the legislature to sign on to changing bag limits and seasons that go back to colonial times. Ruth's agency has already made some recommendations to that effect, and he said that the "vast majority" of hunters "want to see less pressure on bucks and have us be a little more conservative."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
No surprise here, it's deer management. "The most important thing would be to get some type of reasonable limit on antlered deer and an enforcement tool related to that," he said.
He also mentioned the role "coyotes seem to be having in the Southeast. I think we just need to watch that and make some adjustments."
Any Doom and Gloom?
To the question of whether he can foresee any areas of his state having a large population decline or crash at some point, Ruth said, "Barring some catastrophic unforeseen disease, I would say no. We're going to have deer everywhere we have them now, in varying numbers."