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July 29, 2008

State antler records up this year

The most recent round of white-tailed deer antler scoring conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources revealed 228 new records, the most entries in many years.

Each spring S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Section personnel make a concerted effort to score deer racks throughout the state, with a major scoring session during the Palmetto Sportsmen’s Classic in Columbia. Of the 558 sets of antlers scored at the 15 scheduled sessions this spring, 228 met the minimum score for entry on the state records list including 219 sets of typical and 9 non-typical racks. According to Charles Ruth, Deer/Turkey Project supervisor for DNR, the number of successful entries into the records list this year is the highest number of entries in 15 years.  Although all of the records were not taken during the 2007 season, 176 were taken during the 2006 or 2007 season. Racks must score a minimum of 125 points typical or 145 points non-typical to qualify for the South Carolina state records list. Records are based on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system, which measures the mass and symmetry of deer antlers in two categories—typical and non-typical.

The top typical buck was a 156 1/8 point buck taken by Thomas Smith last November in Chesterfield County.  This deer is a new Chesterfield County typical record.  The second highest scoring typical was a 155 1/8 inch Oconee County buck taken by Terry Rochester in December.  Oconee County’s highest scoring typical (161 1/8) was "found" making Rochester’s buck a new county record for hunter killed deer.  Netting 172 4/8 points and a new county record, the top scoring non-typical buck was taken by Michael Purgason in Chester County last October.  The number two non-typical among this year's entries scored 164 7/8 and was taken by James Cook in Edgefield County last October. 

South Carolina’s deer herd is in good condition, and it appears that after many years of rapid population growth the herd stabilized in the mid-1990s, according to Ruth. Statewide population estimates put the deer herd at about 750,000 animals with an estimated harvest of approximately 225,000 each of the last few years. Although the total deer harvest in South Carolina has been down the last few years, indications from the antler records program are that deer quality remains good.
This would make sense because fewer deer in the population would benefit from increased nutrition.
Aiken County was this years’ top producer of State Record entries with 22.  Other top counties included Orangeburg (21), Anderson (13), Pickens (12), and Greenville (11).  These results come as no surprise as these counties have historically produced good numbers of record entries.

Although some of the top counties have relatively high deer populations, some of these counties have more moderate numbers. It is important that hunters and land managers understand how the density of deer in an area affects the quality of the animals. Areas with fewer deer typically have better quality animals because natural food availability and nutritional quality is higher. Good nutrition is important in producing good antlers, but deer reproduction, recruitment and survival are also directly tied to nutrition.

"South Carolina deer hunters deserve a lot of credit for their role in deer management, particularly as it relates to female deer harvest," Ruth said.  Over the last 10 years, most hunters have realized the importance of harvesting doe deer and what was once a rapidly increasing deer population is now stable to decreasing in most areas.  All things considered, having less deer than we did 10 years ago is good and this is supported by the high number of record entries this year. 

As far as all-time leaders at the county level, Orangeburg County remains at the top with 362 sets of antlers on the list. Rounding out the top five counties Orangeburg is followed by Aiken 300, Fairfield 230, Colleton 216, and Anderson with 189 entries.

South Carolina hunters should recognize that harvesting potential Boone and Crockett bucks is not a common occurrence anywhere in the country. This is particularly evident if you consider that there are only about 6,500 white-tailed deer records listed by Boone and Crockett, which includes entries dating to the 1800s. Similarly, the harvest of deer in the United States in recent years has been about 5 million per year. Essentially, the average hunter stands a better chance of being struck by lightning than harvesting one of these record deer no matter where they hunt. As for the South Carolina Antler Records List, about one in every 700 bucks harvested makes the State Book.

Currently 5,038 sets of antlers (4,858 typical and 180 non-typical) are included on the South Carolina antler records list.  Results of DNR’s Antler Records Program for 2008 is now available.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina's natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state's natural resources and its people.

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