The much-anticipated white-tailed deer season opens Friday in much of the piedmont and coastal plain areas of South Carolina, including Horry and Georgetown counties, with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources taking what steps it can to curtail a declining trend in the state’s deer population.
It has been well-documented South Carolina’s deer population reached a peak of approximately 1 million in the early 2000’s and has been in a decline since to the current estimated population of 750,000. In addition, the number of deer harvested annually has declined over the same period from 316,000 to the current 220,000.
“If you look at the harvest trend it has been down, cumulatively about 30 percent,” Charles Ruth, S.C. DNR’s Deer and Wild Turkey Program Coordinator, said this week. “We’ve got plenty of deer in South Carolina, but we don’t want to see that population trend continue indefinitely. In most parts of the state, hunters are starting to talk about not seeing as many deer as they think they should.”
While any major changes in wildlife laws must be made by the South Carolina General Assembly, S.C. DNR does have the authority to tweak the harvest of antlerless deer.
Starting this season, hunters can only take one antlerless deer per day on either-sex days, whereas in the past the limit was two per day. Also, the number of either-sex days has been decreased by about 25 percent, to eight days in the local Game Zone 5, which includes Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.
Ruth isn’t sure how big of an impact those changes will have on the harvest. At the very least, there is a message in the changes.
“(The antlerless deer limit) has been two for easily 20 years,” said Ruth. “I’m not sure how many people have been taking advantage of [harvesting two in a day]. This may not have a huge on-the-ground impact, but it’s a message to hunters that we’ve been looking at this and we’re trying to be responsive to what we’re seeing.”
In essence, the message to hunters is that it would be wise to keep the number of does harvested at a minimum.
“We wanted to do what we could at a lower level to make some management changes in light of the harvest trends, population trends and hunter attitudes,” Ruth said. “Some hunters have even said too many does have been allowed to be harvested in the past. Beyond that we’re going to have to have law changes and that can only come from the General Assembly.”
That brings us to South Carolina’s limit on bucks, or the lack thereof. To Ruth’s knowledge, South Carolina remains the only state that doesn’t have a state-wide limit on antlered bucks.
Game Zones 1 and 2 in South Carolina’s upstate have long had limits on bucks of two per day and five per season. But the other two-thirds of the state in Game Zones 3, 4, 5 and 6 which includes the Pee Dee, Grand Strand and coastal plain have no limits on bucks.
Ruth hopes that will change during the 2015 legislative session.
“The agency has that in its priorities,” said Ruth. “We’re going to put our best foot forward in the next legislative cycle. The vast majority of hunters are for some type of limit on antlered deer and a tag system. We’re in left field with our management approach and we’re trying to become more mainstream.
“We do have language waiting in the wings in case there is interest. Our administrators are optimistic there will be interest this year in a deer management package so to speak. We’ll have to wait and see. We can make recommendations but we can’t draft legislation.”
S.C. DNR has also implemented a single statewide limit for all Wildlife Management Areas of 5 deer total for all seasons and weapons combined. This total can include no more than 2 antlered bucks.
In the past, WMA limits have varied and were additive among the various Game Zones and WMAs. Now hunters on all WMAs have the same statewide bag limit.
There are differences in the deer hunting season in local Game Zones 4 and 5.
The season doesn’t start until Sept. 1 in Game Zone 4 which includes Marion, Florence, Dillon, Marlboro, Chesterfield and Kershaw counties. Only archery hunting is allowed in Game Zone 4 from Sept. 1-14 with gun season set for Sept. 15-Jan. 1.
Archery season begins Friday and lasts through Aug. 31 in Game Zone 5, which includes Horry, Georgetown, Williamsburg, Darlington, Lee, Sumter and Clarendon counties. Gun season in Game Zone 5 is from Sept. 1-Jan. 1.
Either-sex days are Oct. 4, 11, 18; Nov. 15, 22, 29; Dec. 27 and Jan. 1 in both zones.
It has been a very rainy summer on the coastal plain, with plenty of saturated ground and high rivers.
As far as impacts from the wet weather, Ruth notes some properties that are flood prone may not be accessible temporarily and the deer are pushed to higher ground.
Also, natural food availability for deer should be high.
“Typically when there’s a lot of natural vegetation it’s positive for the deer but it may not be positive for hunters,” said Ruth. “If you’re baiting, it may not work as well for hunters as they’d like for it to.”
Since no late frosts occurred in the spring, Ruth expects the acorn crop to be average to above average.
Spanish mackerel derby
With the 4th annual event upcoming, the Seven Seas Seafood Spanish Mackerel Derby is growing.
The tournament, scheduled for Aug. 22-23 out of the Mullet Hut in Murrells Inlet, is offering a $5,000 first-place prize for the largest Spanish mackerel weighed in.
Registration is set for Aug. 22, 5 p.m. at the Mullet Hut, located on The Marshwalk, followed by the Captains Meeting at 6 p.m. Fishing will follow the next day on Aug. 23.
For more information, call 843-651-1666.