Here’s why the deer hunting season is off to a slow start in 2018

South Carolina’s white-tail deer hunting season opened on Wednesday in local Game Zone Four with archery hunting only allowed. Gun season opens on Sept. 1, lasting through Jan. 1, 2019.
South Carolina’s white-tail deer hunting season opened on Wednesday in local Game Zone Four with archery hunting only allowed. Gun season opens on Sept. 1, lasting through Jan. 1, 2019. Courtesy of S.C. Department of Natural Resources

The 2018 deer hunting season opened quietly on Wednesday across South Carolina, but there was still a buzz in the woods along the coastal plain of the Palmetto State - the buzz of swarms mosquitoes.

The typical hot and steamy weather of the Dog Days of August combined with a very rainy stretch in the last six to eight weeks, has made for wet and boggy conditions perfect for mosquito breeding.

For example, the City of Georgetown received more than 16 inches of rain in the month of July, and there has been plenty more rain in the offing thus far in August.

In local Game Zone Four, which includes Horry, Georgetown, Marion, Florence and Williamsburg counties, archery hunting is allowed only through Aug. 31 before gun season joins the fray on Sept. 1 and runs through Jan. 1, 2019.

Charles Ruth, Big Game Program Coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (S.C. DNR), doesn’t expect much hunter activity as the season gets underway.

“With all the rain you all have had on the coast, right now it’s got to be something else out there,” said Ruth. “Depending on where the property may be, you may have access issues, not to mention the insects. You’d really have to want to hunt a deer bad, giving the conditions, 95 degrees and mosquitoes.”

The new season marks the second go-round of big changes in deer regulations in South Carolina.

During the 2017 deer hunting season, South Carolina became the final state in the nation to institute a state-wide limit on the harvest of bucks, plus a first-time tagging system requiring all deer harvested to be tagged at the point of kill was put in place.

“Overall things went well last year,” said Ruth. “It’s been a lot quieter in year two from an administrative standpoint. The second cycle has been a lot smoother. The first cycle, once we got into deer season, people figured it out. The majority of our contacts, they liked it and think it’s a good thing.”

Since the turn of the century, the coyote population that has become well-established in the state has been proven to be detrimental to the overall deer population, mainly thanks to their taste for newborn fawns.

The annual Deer Hunter Survey conducted by S.C. DNR has provided good news on coyotes impact on the deer population over the last two seasons.

The survey for the 2017 season indicated over 22,400 coyotes were killed statewide by deer hunters. That figure is 27 percent lower than the number reported killed during the 2016 season.

“The incidental harvest of coyotes was off over 25 percent in 2017 and it was off the year before (2016),” said Ruth. “Either (hunters) aren’t shooting them or there’s not as many out there. That exponential population growth we had been seeing in coyotes, it’s coming back to where Mother Nature wants it to be. Plus, anecdotal information, we’re seeing more fawns than we were seeing two years ago. Now hunters are seeing more does with twin fawns.”

Ruth has been in charge of S.C. DNR’s deer project for over 23 years, and expects a typical productive deer season in 2018.

The 2017 Deer Hunter Survey indicated that 185,286 deer including 102,261 bucks and 83,025 does were harvested last season in the Palmetto State, a seven percent increase over 2016.

Ruth points out, however, a couple of weather factors that could cause a decrease in the harvest.

“We don’t ever not expect a good deer season in South Carolina,” said Ruth. “But if we have a hurricane or a few tropical systems to keep people out of the woods, or if we have unseasonable warm weather in late October and early November (during the peak of the rut), that really affects deer movement. If it’s 80 degrees in late October, and it can be, (hunters are) not going to be seeing much.”