Rut Reporter Eric Bruce has been writing about hunting and fishing for newspapers and magazines for 25 years and hunts deer all over the South, including near his Georgia home. States covered: AR, LA, MS, AL, GA, SC, FL.

While most of the South is just about fixin’ to start their deer seasons, South Carolina’s had been underway for nearly a month now. The season started in parts of the state on August 15 and some deer have already been harvested. I asked SC State Biologist Charles Ruth why the season starts so early in South Carolina. “Politics and tradition,” he replied. “It’s a crossover from colonial times that has never changed. It’s not a DNR thing.”

Ruth estimated that the SC deer herd is around 725,000 whitetails which is trending downward. “The South Carolina deer herd peaked in the mid to late 90’s and reached stabililty in 2000. There has been a downward trend since 2002,” the biologist said. “There are 25% fewer deer since the peak, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

In the 2010 season, hunters bagged 222,649 deer compared to 231,000 in 2009, which is 4% less. Of those, 16,699 were archery kills.

Ruth cites more educated hunters in the field now who realize that you cannot have a lot of deer and a lot of good deer. Too many deer means that there is not enough food and good habitat to go around and the size and quality of the deer can suffer. Less deer means more food for bucks to grow bigger.

Speaking of bigger bucks, the Palmetto State had two giant bucks taken last season. In Anderson County, a hunter bagged a buck scoring 172 0/8 Boone and Crockett points and Allendale County produced a 160 5/8 inch monster. Ruth recommends Anderson, Aiken, and Orangeburg counties as best bets for big bucks.

The counties that have produced the highest harvest include Spartanburg, Allendale, Bamberg, and Orangeburg. Hotspots are areas that may be somewhat behind in the deer herd expansion and have numerous cases of damage to agriculture. Those counties are Clarendon, Bamberg, and Williamsburg.

The outlook for SC deer in 2011 is good, although there may be slightly fewer deer this season than last. But that can also mean that there are more and bigger bucks in the oak and palmetto woodlands. One thing is for sure, there are fewer deer now than there were on August 14 because some hunters have already scored.