Hunters took fewer deer in 2021 than the previous year, a decrease biologists attribute to a smaller number of hunters. Fewer coyotes were also killed incidental to deer hunting last year, and there was a slight drop in the number of wild hogs taken.
Hunters surveyed by Department of Natural Resources for the 2021 deer harvest reported a decrease of 12% in the statewide harvest last season. The numbers included an estimated 95,351 bucks and 79,218 does, or a total of 174,569 deer.
That’s down from an estimated 197,893 deer taken in 2020, according to Charles Ruth, Big Game Program coordinator.
The decline can be attributed to a decrease in hunter numbers, Ruth said, with hunter numbers dropping about 13% in 2021 to coincide closely with the 12% decline in deer harvest.
“Explaining why deer hunter numbers were down in 2021 is more difficult,” Ruth said.
Hunter numbers had increased about 6% during 2020, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the notion that people had more time and flexibility to hunt. On the other hand, by the fall of 2021 things were returning to normal and people may have opted for non-hunting activities that may not have been possible during the pandemic.
Between 2002 and 2015, the statewide deer population trended down, with the overall reduction in harvest attributable to a number of likely factors, including habitat change, several years of drought, two decades of aggressive antlerless deer harvest, and the complete colonization of the state by coyotes and their propensity to prey on fawns.
Although the harvest is lower now compared with its peak some years ago, South Carolina still ranks near the top among Southeastern states in harvest per unit area.
Although the harvest in 2021 decreased, the state’s deer harvest has generally been increasing since 2016. That’s due possibly to less dense coyote populations that occurs naturally following colonization.
Top counties for harvest in 2021 included Anderson, Spartanburg and Saluda in the Piedmont, and Bamberg, Hampton and Orangeburg in the coastal plain, with each of these counties exhibiting impressive harvest rates of more than 10 deer per square mile.
The rest of the 2021 deer harvest survey by the numbers:
Deer harvest by method: 145,416 deer taken by centerfire rifles; 13,093 deer taken by shotguns; 9,601 deer taken by bows; 6,460 deer harvested by muzzleloaders, crossbows and handguns.
Coyotes and wild hogs: 16,298 coyotes taken incidental to deer hunting, a 14% decrease from 2020. That continues a seemingly declining trend in recent years what seems to be a declining trend in coyote numbers; 27,964 wild hogs killed by deer hunters statewide, virtually the same (28,043) as 2020.
Participation and success: 115,862 South Carolina residents deer hunted in 2021; 13,729 nonresidents deer hunted in the state in 2021; 69% success rate reported by hunters; 8 million days of overall hunting effort, a significant number that points not only to the availability and popularity of deer as a game species, but to the obvious economic benefits related to this important natural resource. About $200 million in direct retail sales is related to deer hunting in South Carolina annually.
The complete 2021 S.C. Deer Harvest Report can be viewed here.