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July 22, 2009

State antler records remain at high level this year

The most recent round of white-tailed deer antler scoring conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources revealed 193 new records, maintaining the trend of solid numbers seen the last few 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 576 sets of antlers scored at the 15 scheduled sessions this spring, 193 met the minimum score for entry on the state records list including 180 sets of typical and 13 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 second highest number of entries in 15 years. 

Although all of the records were not taken during the 2008 season, 159 were taken during the 2007 or 2008 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.

For the second year in a row, the top typical buck was taken in Chesterfield County.  At 158 3/8 inches, John Rivers' buck, taken in September is a new Chesterfield County typical record, topping Thomas Smith's 156 1/8 point buck taken in 2007.  The second highest scoring typical was a 153 7/8 inch Japer County buck taken by Joey Webster in October.  Netting 172 6/8 points, the top scoring non-typical buck was taken by Harold Zeigler in Orangeburg in November 2007. 

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 800,000 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.
Orangeburg County was this years' top producer of State Record entries with 17.  Other top counties included Aiken (15), Williamsburg (12), and Barnwell (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 378 sets of antlers on the list. Rounding out the top five counties Orangeburg is followed by Aiken 316, Fairfield 234, Colleton 224, and Anderson with 196 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 6,700 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 5,232 sets of antlers (5,039 typical and 193 non-typical) are included on the South Carolina antler records list

South Carolina's natural resources are essential for economic development and contribute nearly $30 billion and 230,000 jobs to the state's economy. Find out why Life's Better Outdoors.


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