With the 2017 deer season soon opening in all parts of the state, South Carolina's deer population is healthy, and the season outlook is good. Hunters are reminded that beginning this season, all harvested deer in South Carolina must be tagged at the point of kill.
Although the deer harvest has trended down the last few years, hunter success and deer harvest rates remain good. Top counties for harvest in 2016 included Anderson, Spartanburg, Calhoun, Hampton and York with each of these counties exhibiting harvest rates in excess of 12 deer per square mile. Very few areas in the United States consistently yield comparable harvest figures.
On the other hand, top counties for quality deer in 2016 included Aiken and Orangeburg in the coastal plain and Abbeville and Pickens counties in the piedmont. These results come as no surprise as these counties have historically produced good numbers of record entries.
As it relates specifically to the decrease in harvest during the 2016 deer season it should be noted that hunting conditions in South Carolina were poor during the fall of 2016. This began the first week in October with hurricane Matthew. The magnitude of this event forced a flood-related temporary season closure for all game species in a number of coastal counties. Although these closures only lasted 5 to 10 days, the aftermath of Matthew created access and other problems for deer hunters. The deer harvest in a number of coastal counties affected by the storm was down more than 25 percent, which dramatically affected statewide totals. Additionally, hunting was negatively affected across the state by unseasonably warm temperatures and what many called a record acorn crop, both of which negatively affected daytime movements by deer. Recall that deer hunters faced similar poor hunting conditions in 2015 as a result of the 1,000-year flood spawned by Hurricane Joaquin.
Provided we experience normal weather and seasonal temperatures, the outlook for the 2017 deer season is very good. This is based on the simple fact that the decrease in harvest in 2015 and 2016 was largely a result of poor hunting conditions and not a dramatic change in deer numbers.
That being the case there was likely carryover of deer that would have otherwise been harvested if conditions would have been better last year. This is particularly the case with respect to antlered bucks because residual bucks from last year will be a year older and likely have better body weights and antler development.
Hunters should not be overly concerned if the deer population is down to some degree. Most hunters, to their credit, recognize the fact that having fewer deer leads to better quality deer. Results of SCDNR's antler records program indicate that this may indeed be the case as the last five years have seen over 1,000 bucks successfully entered into the state records program.