Historic is a word that is used a little too liberally these days, but in some cases it fits.
A little less than a year ago, South Carolina was hit by an absolutely historic rain event that dropped upwards of 20 inches of rain across much of the coastal plain and midlands from Oct. 1 through Oct.5.
Some observers, including Charles Ruth, Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, have called the five-day deluge a 1,000-year rainfall and flooding event.
The rain event occurred in prime time for white-tail deer hunters in the state and played a major part in a 2015 deer harvest that was smaller than expected.
“Going into last season I thought we’d have a light increase in harvest but with the way things fell out with the flood and then warm weather and rain throughout the season we actually had a decrease in harvest,” Ruth said. “I think it made a big difference.”
Hunting was closed for a few days on the coastal plain in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but access to some normal hunting areas was restricted by high water for weeks to come.
Ruth believes that approximately 15,000 to 20,000 deer were not harvested due to the rain event and poor hunting conditions during the 2015 season.
“That sounds like a lot, but when you’re dealing with a population of 700-750,000 deer in the state,” said Ruth, his voice trailing off.
Now, the 2016 season is underway – in local Game Zone 4 archery only hunting was allowed Aug. 15-31 and gun season open from Sept. 1-Jan. 1, 2017.
Back-to-back tropical systems have dumped rain once again, and the rivers are high, the swamps full and the ground saturated on the coastal plain. More heavy rain could spell trouble.
“Provided we fall back into a more normal trend, I don’t think (the wet conditions) are going to matter at all,” Ruth said. “The deer season for practical purposes is just getting started. If we continue to get rain and for whatever reason we have an abnormally warm fall, then that’s not good.”
If the weather cooperates, Ruth feels last season’s meager harvest could make for a much better hunting season this year.
“I think that points to a potentially very good season this year, provided we have decent hunting conditions from a weather standpoint,” Ruth said. “Based on the fact there are a lot of deer that would have been harvested but weren’t, those deer are still out there. That in my mind lines up to a good forecast.”
The peak of the rut – when many a mature buck are taken – is still about a month away.
“About 80 percent of our breeding takes place October 15 to November 15 and the very peak is the last week in October and the first week in November,” Ruth said. “We carried over more animals, and from a buck standpoint, those bucks are a year older. Most hunters understand what that means. You add a year to a buck, and it’s a bigger animal from a physical standpoint and has a larger rack.”
South Carolina’s deer population has declined from about one million around the turn of the century to the current estimate of over 700,000. Many hunters like the concept of having fewer deer but more quality deer on the hunting landscape and that appears to be coming to fruition.
In the last five years over 1,000 bucks have been successfully entered into S.C. DNR’s antler records program. The chances of bagging a buck that qualifies for the program are currently better than ever.
“The last five years is as good as it’s ever been,” Ruth said. “Depending on where you are in the state, by and large most hunters are talking about having fewer deer on the landscape. You can’t have high deer numbers and high deer quality at the same time. It appears that quality has increased if you make that link to our records program. I don’t think we’ve had a five-year period where we’ve put 1,000 in the book ever.”
Gregg Holshouser: firstname.lastname@example.org