‘Knock on wood’: Why this year’s weather is shaping up good for SC deer season

For four straight years, tropical systems have had South Carolina’s coastline and coastal plain in the cross hairs in September or October, right when the much-anticipated whitetail deer hunting season was ramping up.

It started in 2015 when an incredible rain event, in retrospect widely dubbed a 1,000-year rain, dumped upwards of 20 inches on the coastal plain and the midlands from Oct. 1-5.

The following year, Hurricane Matthew swept across the coastline of Horry and Georgetown counties on October 8, 2016, producing a substantial storm surge and dropping copious amounts of rain.

In 2017, it was Tropical Storm Irma moving northeastward over the inland areas, producing another significant flooding event.

The worst event came a little over a year ago, in mid-September of 2018, when Hurricane Florence camped out over eastern North Carolina before drifting southwestward over the South Carolina coastal plain. The result was the worst flooding in recorded history on the Waccamaw River, which crested at 21.2 feet in Conway on Sept. 26, 2018, nearly double the flood stage level of 11 feet.

After Matthew and Florence, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources temporarily closed hunting within the Pee Dee and Waccamaw river drainage systems for all game species, stating the flooding created the potential for exploitation of game species deprived of normal escape routes and confined to small areas of high ground.

With November on the horizon and the peak of hurricane season in the rear-view mirror, it looks like the coastal plain just may not have to endure a major flooding event in the autumn and early winter of 2019.

“We’ve been fortunate, knock on wood,” Jay Cantrell, wildlife biologist and Assistant Big Program Coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said earlier this week. “It looks like we may dodge a major hurricane like we have had in the last few years that have been a hindrance to the deer harvest. So far, so good this year.”

That is music to the ears of South Carolina’s deer hunters, who have only had to deal with a warmer-than-normal early autumn in the woods.

In retrospect, Cantrell feels the flooding and closures of the past four years may be having a positive impact on the 2019 hunting season.

“None of it has been detrimental to deer populations,” said Cantrell. “The positive thing in a year like this is there have been some deer that have gotten a pass the last few years. The hunting pressure’s been lower, and that’s maybe a positive thing. There may be some more mature bucks out there.”

After a hot, dry start to the season, prospects are looking up for deer hunters as the peak of the rut, typically from mid-October to mid-November, arrives.

“From reports, (the season) had kind of a slow start based on the weather stayed so hot so long,” said Cantrell. “The word we’re getting from hunters and processors is things have really picked up in the last week or so.

“You’ve got the rut plus some cooler weather, some rain,” said Cantrell. “We’ve heard from a lot of processors they are maxed out, the hunters are having some good success. It seems to be a good year. It’s not one of those cases where there’s a boom crop of acorns — there are some out there of course but not so many that it’s hindering deer movement.

“I anticipate things will be good the next few weeks.”

Fall Brawl

The area did have a brush with a tropical system last weekend when the remnants of Tropical Storm Nestor blew by.

The storm packed a surprisingly strong punch with a stiff southerly wind blowing up rough seas and effectively scattering king mackerel that had been found in good numbers close to the beach.

In this weekend’s Fall Brawl King Classic at Ocean Isle Fishing Center, it will be a battle to find the kings after Nestor churned up the near-shore waters.

“Fishing since the tropical storm deal last weekend, has been different,” said Capt. Brant McMullan of the OIFC on Thursday. “We haven’t found them. The bait has been good from the Apache Pier south and the water clarity and color looks good down there. That should be a productive area.”

The conditions aren’t so good off the south-facing beaches, though. McMullan estimated winds reached 40 mph, with 10-foot waves crashing on the south-facing shorelines.

“The Cape Fear area, the water’s still pretty dirty,” said McMullan. “But we have stable weather, so that’s subject to change. There hasn’t been a lot of fishing done (since the storm).

“The good thing about the tournament is everybody will try to figure it out together.”

Boats competing in the tournament can fish one of two days, Saturday or Sunday, Captain’s Choice. The public is invited to check out the weigh-in at the OIFC Saturday and Sunday afternoon. For more information, visit www.OIFC.com.

Inshore Slam

The Inshore Slam & Festival will be held next Saturday, Nov. 2, out of Cricket Cove Marina in Little River.

Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters is staging the event, with the Captain’s Meeting Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. at the marina with fishing starting the next morning at 7:30 a.m. The weigh-in deadline is 4 p.m. Boat entry fee is $100.

For more information, visit www.captainsmileyinshoreslam.com.