South Carolina's Deer Outlook -- Part 2: Our Trophy Bucks

Did you get your trophy in 2005? Here are the top areas of the state in big-buck production. (Nov 2006)

Based on a lot of information I've received from deer hunters across the state, the deer-hunting season in 2005 can be characterized as the year of the trophy for many hunters across the Palmetto State. And according to Charles Ruth, Deep Project Supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), 2005 was a really good year for hunters seeking trophy deer. Ruth bases that on the number and quality of deer observed at the 2006 antler scoring sessions across the state.

In fact, on a personal level, several of my hunting buddies harvested the biggest racked bucks of their lives during the 2005 season. So, according to them, it certainly was a great hunting season for trophy deer. And it has many hunters already fired up for the 2006 hunting season.

But there are other important facts to consider in addition to remembering last year's hunting success. The information we glean from the SCDNR report from its antler scoring sessions can help us all better plan where we want to hunt if we're seeking trophy whitetails in South Carolina.

According to Ruth, the information from the 2006 scoring sessions by the SCDNR revealed 136 new state record book bucks. In addition, there were two potential Boone and Crockett (B&C) records scored in 2006. "Of the 463 sets of antlers scored at the 10 scheduled sessions, 136 met the minimum score for entry on the state records list. The 136 racks included 132 sets of typical and four non-typical racks. Of the antlers scored, 121 were taken in 2004 or 2005 hunting seasons," Ruth said.

Overall, based on the total annual deer harvest and the number of deer making the state record book, Ruth believes the deer herd is in good shape and has the potential to continue to produce trophy animals at a good rate.

"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," Ruth said.

"Statewide population estimates put the deer herd at about 750,000 animals and the estimated harvest has been in the neighborhood of 250,000 each of the last few years. Although the statewide deer harvest 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," Ruth added.

Ruth also noted that just because a deer doesn't make the state record book doesn't mean it's not a trophy. To make the state record book requires a minimum B&C score of 125 for typical and 145 points for non-typical antlers. With a quarter million deer harvested, as noted above, only a few sets of antlers each year make the state record book. But there are many big bucks taken that are the buck of a lifetime for many hunters each year, Ruth noted.

"The South Carolina Deer Antler Records 2006 is based on activities conducted during the 2006 score year. This publication contains a number of separate lists," Ruth said.

"The first two lists contain the records for typical and non-typical antlers that were documented during the spring 2006 scoring session only. Although most of these records represent deer harvested during the fall 2005 hunting season, there are some records that were taken in previous years and were not officially scored until 2006. Separate rankings are presented for the score year (2006) and for all time."

Another list provides information related to the all-time production of antler records by county. The list is broken down by typical and non-typical and provides the rank for each county based on total number of historic entries, as well as the county's rank based on the number of entries in relationship to the size for the county in square miles.

We'll take a look at the top county rankings and also where the largest individual deer were harvested in 2005. We'll add to that the all-time historical data and you'll be able to draw some straightforward conclusion as to where big bucks are being taken in your sector of the state. They may even be in your own back yard . . . in a manner of speaking.

Another point of good news is that big deer come from a number of different areas around the state. Ruth noted that while the traditional top areas are still basically producing big bucks, nowadays there are big bucks being taken throughout the state.

"Looking at the data from a historical perspective is certainly one good way to forecast the best odds of finding big bucks. By looking at the information for recent years as well as the long-term perspective, hunters can see which areas are producing best for the long haul," Ruth said.

Ruth's data goes back to 1974 and good records have been kept since that time. However, it is the more recent trends that we will also be examining to see where big bucks were taken in 2005.

Ruth also discussed some of the top deer racks scored during the 2006 scoring session.

"The top typical buck scored in 2006 was a 162 3/8-point buck found dead (road kill) on the Savannah River Site last October in Aiken County," Ruth said. "This deer is a new Aiken County typical record and it will qualify for the Boone and Crockett Club's Three-Year Awards period list. The second-highest scoring typical was a 153 5/8-inch Chesterfield County buck taken by James Barefoot last December. Manning Lusk's 187 4/8-point McCormick County buck, taken in December of 2004, was tops among non-typical deer. Lusk's buck is the new non-typical record for McCormick County, the new No. 4 all-time non-typical in South Carolina and it will also qualify for the Boone and Crockett Clubs Three-Year Awards period list. At 152 1/8 points, the No. 2 non-typical among this year's entries was taken by David Wannamaker in Calhoun County on Jan. 1, 2006."

We'll continue the study by seeing where the remainder of the top 10 bucks was harvested during the 2006-scoring year. Ruth has discussed the top two typical bucks already (SRS and the Barefoot bucks). The third-largest typical was a 151 2/8 Calhoun County buck taken by Marty Smoak in November 2005. In fourth was Austin Wall with a 150 6/8-point buck taken from Kershaw County in December 2005. Then we're back to Aiken County for a 150 5/8 buck taken by Troy Fox. This buck was taken in October of 2003.

Joseph D. Hendrix had the sixth largest buck scored, a 149 2/8 buck taken in Chesterfield County in November of 2005. The seventh largest was a 147 5/8 Calhoun County buck taken by William Dowd in November of 2004. Spartanburg County racked up the No. 8 buck with a 146 2/8 rack taken by Scott Blackwell in October of 2004.

Andy Stanley took the No. 9 B&C buck in September of 2003 in Colleton County that scored an even 148 B&C.

Finishing the top 10 was a 144 7/8 buck taken by Jason Fogle in Orangeburg County in December 2005.

There were only four non-typical bucks scored that made the record book in 2006. The Lusk and Wannamaker bucks discussed earlier were Nos. 1 and 2 in the non-typical list. The third was a 159 1/8 Orangeburg County non-typical taken by Sanford Blocker in October of 2005. The fourth non-typical was a 152 7/8 Spartanburg buck taken by Jamie Tillman in November 2004.

To continue the analysis of looking at individual bucks harvested, let's examine the counties where the top 10 bucks of all time were taken from each of the typical and non-typical categories. In the typical, there were no repeat counties. Beginning with the No. 1 buck through No. 10 of all time, the counties producing the bucks, in order, are Pickens, Calhoun, Williamsburg, Marion, Hampton, Laurens, Sumter, Saluda, Newberry and Greenwood.

For the non-typical list, we do have repeats. This can be a significant tidbit of information for trophy hunters. Beginning with No. 1 of all-time non-typicals, the country ranking is Beaufort, Edgefield, McCormick, McCormick, Lexington, Anderson, Anderson, Orangeburg, Chesterfield and Marlboro. Both McCormick and Anderson counties account for two each in this list.

Now let's look at the top counties for score year 2006 in terms of producing the most trophy bucks for the scoring sessions. Ruth has some specific comments about the first five.

"For score year 2006, Orangeburg County produced the most state-record entries with 12. Other top counties include Calhoun with 11, Aiken with 10, Chesterfield with eight and Anderson with seven entries. These results come as no surprise, particularly in the case of Aiken, Anderson and Orangeburg, as these counties have historically produced good numbers of record entries," Ruth said.

Another highly useful way of studying the data Ruth has collected is to consider the all-time historical rankings of the counties. For the 2006 information, Ruth has broken it into two distinct rankings. The first is the simple total number of deer harvested in each county. The second ranking is the rank per square mile of county size. This is the most revealing in terms of really comparing one county with another. We'll take a look at both lists.

The No. 1 trophy-producing county in terms of numbers of deer since the data has been compiled is Orangeburg County with a whopping 334 bucks that made the state book. There were 324 typical and 10 non-typical included in this listing. In second is Aiken County with a total of 268 racks, 263 of which were typical and five non-typical. In third was Fairfield County with a total of 227 bucks on the record list. Of these, 221 were typical and six non-typical.

The fourth spot all time belongs to Colleton County with 204 bucks, with a breakdown of 192 typical and 12 non-typical racks. Fifth is Williamsburg with a total of 172 racks, 170 of which were typical and two non-typical. In sixth place is Abbeville with 171 total record-book bucks; 162 of these were typical and nine were non-typical. Seventh place belongs to Anderson County with 169 total record-book bucks. Of this total, 165 were typical and four were non-typical.

In the eighth slot is Allendale County with 167 racks making the list. Of these, 158 are typical and nine are non-typical. In ninth place is Kershaw County with 160 deer in the records list, with 155 being typical and five being non-typical bucks.

The 10th-place county is Barnwell with an all-time tally of 148 record-book bucks. There were 146 typical and two non-typical deer taken in this county.

In the rank per square mile of land category, there are seven of the above counties that make this list. This can be a very revealing bit of information. The order changes somewhat, but you'll recognize most of the names from other lists already noted in this feature.

In first place in this category is Allendale County. Allendale was eighth in the total record book list. Second is Anderson County. Anderson County was seventh on the total number list. Third was Abbeville, which was in fifth place in the totals list. Fourth place belongs to Orangeburg County, which is No. 1 on the total number record book list. The fifth slot is Bamberg County, which is also a respectable 15th place on the total numbers list. In sixth place is Fairfield County, which was ranked third on the total number list. In seventh is Calhoun County, which ranked 17th on the total numbers list. Eighth place belongs to Aiken County, which is a strong No. 2 on the total number list.

In ninth place is Barnwell County, which was No. 10 on the total number list. And finally, No. 10 in this category is Hampton County. Hampton County was No. 11 on the total record-book bucks list.

Ruth summarized the antler scoring data with some interesting thoughts.

"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," he said. "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. To continue to have good numbers of large-antlered bucks, the harvest of female deer must continue to be emphasized in many areas in order to keep deer numbers from becoming too high. Over the last 10 years, most hunters have realized the importance of harvesting doe deer. These hunters should be commended and encouraged to continue this trend where needed."

Many counties were noted in the above information and odds are excellent that some of these trophy-rich areas are close to you. Ruth also emphasized that a trophy buck can be harvested from any county in the state. Large tracts of private land can even be managed to enhance your odds of big-buck success. If management principles designed to improve the size of bucks and the health of the herd are observed and supplemented with good nutrition for antler growth, hunters can do much to have better deer on the land they hunt.

Use the above information to help you plan where to get your big bucks for the 2006 hunting season.

Find more about South Carolina fishing and hunting at: SCgameandfish.com

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