South Carolina's 2007 Deer Forecast -- Part 2: Our Trophy Bucks

Where are the biggest bucks in South Carolina? Here's what the harvest data shows. (November 2007)

Photo by Ralph Hensley.

The hunter was on a quest for a big buck. He'd seen a glimpse of the big-racked 10-pointer early in the season, but a glimpse was all he got. The brief momentary look did not afford time to take a shot, but it did tell the hunter there was a trophy buck worth waiting for in his hunting area.

His patience was rewarded later in October when the massive 10-pointer stepped out of a thicket into full view while trailing a doe. The hunter was ready and the .30/06 slammed the buck to the ground with a single shot.

It's prime deer-hunting time in South Carolina right now. From the mountains to the Coastal Plain, deer are in or nearing the "rut" stage of the deer-hunting season. That means hunters will likely see more deer and have the opportunity to harvest nice bucks during the next few weeks.

The key to a hunter taking that trophy will be that hunter's specific hunting location. Being in the right tree stand or ground blind in the right block of woods is important. But being in the right portion of the state is also crucial when targeting big bucks, because some parts of the state are more apt to have big bucks than are other parts of the state. Hunting where trophy bucks are consistently produced can certainly stack the odds in your favor.

One excellent method to learn where big bucks are being consistently taken is to study the information provided by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Each year, the SCDNR Wildlife Section personnel make a concerted effort to score deer racks throughout the state. It is highlighted by a major scoring session during the Palmetto Sportsmen's Classic in Columbia. According to Charles Ruth, SCDNR Deer/Turkey Project supervisor, the 2007 scoring session was a big success.

"We scored a lot of big racks this year," Ruth said. "Of the 454 sets of antlers scored at the 11 scheduled sessions during the spring of 2007, 168 sets of antlers met the minimum score for entry on the state records list. This included 164 sets of typical and four non-typical racks."

According to Ruth, of the antlers scored, 133 were taken during the 2005 or 2006 hunting seasons.

"Racks must score a minimum of 125 points typical or 145 points non-typical to qualify for the South Carolina state records list," Ruth said. "Records are based on the Boone and Crockett scoring system in two categories, typical and non-typical."

Ruth said that currently there are 4,820 sets of antlers included on the antler records list. This significant amount of data produces a picture of where big bucks have consistently come from in South Carolina over time.

"For the 2007 scoring session, the top typical buck was a 163 7/8-point buck taken by Charles Owen last November in Anderson County," Ruth said. "This deer is a new Anderson County typical record and it will qualify for the Boone and Crockett Club's Three Year Awards Period list."

Ruth added that the second-highest-scoring typical, also a new county record, was a 156 6/8-inch Jasper County buck taken by Brett Dubois in November.

Note that both of these record-book typical bucks were harvested during November.

Netting 164 0/8 points, the top non-typical buck was taken by Shawn Simmons in Orangeburg County in December of 2005. At 162 4/8 points, the No. 2 non-typical among the 2007 entries was taken by Wayne Sharpe in Barnwell County last September.

"South Carolina's deer herd is in good condition," Ruth said. "After a long period of rapid expansion, the herd stabilized in the mid-1990s. Our statewide population estimates right now put the deer herd at about 725,000 animals with a harvest of 221,320 deer during the 2006 hunting season."

We'll take a detailed look at the data from the South Carolina Deer Antler Records 2007 and learn where big bucks are consistently taken in the state. Plus, this data goes back a long way historically, so we'll look at recent areas of high yield for big bucks as well as the long-term big-rack-producing counties.

Ruth said that the lists contain the records for typical and non-typical antlers that were documented during the spring 2007 scoring session only. Although most of these records represent deer harvested during the fall 2006 hunting season, there are some trophies that were taken in previous years and were not officially scored until 2007. There are also lists of typical and non-typicals taken during the hunting year of 2006. Separate rankings are presented for the score year (2007) 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.

By looking at the above data, hunters will be able to draw some conclusions as to where big bucks are being taken in each sector of the state.

Ruth noted that while the traditionally top areas are still basically producing big bucks, 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; thus, there's plenty of historical data to track big-buck harvest patterns. However, it is the more recent trends that we will also be examining to see where big bucks were taken based on the 2007 scoring sessions.

We've already identified the two top bucks in both the typical and non-typical categories for score year 2007. Let's look at some additional bucks and where they were taken.

We'll finish the top 10 typical bucks first. The third largest scored in 2007 was taken by Ronnie Bailey in November of 2005 in Greenville County. Bailey's buck scored 153.6 points. The fourth biggest buck was taken by Dale Bange in November of 2006 with a score of 152.4 points.

The No. 5 typical buck scored in 2007 belonged to Thomas H. Younts with a big Richland County buck taken in August of 2006. This buck scored 148.2 points. No. 6 belonged to Richard Sherman with a Marlboro County buck that scored 148. This buck was harvested in October of 2005. The sev

enth best buck scored was 146 points and this buck was taken by Brian Rucker in Lexington County.

No. 8 belonged to William L. Martin who took a 144.4-point buck out of Union County in October of 2000. The ninth largest typical scored in 2007 was taken by Curtis Ward who took at 143.6-point buck from Williamsburg County in October 2006.

Rounding out the top 10 list, there was a tie between James Bessant and Allen W. Stanfield who both took bucks that scored 143.4 B&C points. The Bessant buck was taken in October in Horry County and the Stanfield buck was taken in October in Colleton County.

Since there was a tie, there are 11 bucks we've considered so far. It is extremely interesting, and important, to note that of these 11 trophy bucks, five were taken in November and five were taken in October. The other buck was taken early in the season in August. Also, the top four bucks were all harvested in November.

We also checked the dates the top 25 deer scored in 2007 were taken. All of the bucks but two were taken in October and November. Focusing in a bit tighter, 19 of these top 25 bucks were harvested from Oct. 14 to Nov. 24.

Timing your major hunting effort also appears to be important to taking a trophy buck in South Carolina. If you hunt all the time and whenever you want to, it's no big deal. If you have only limited time to spend in the stand, this should be a strong consideration for your planning.

When looking at bucks harvested during the 2006 hunting season, the above-noted bucks scored in 2007 that were harvested in 2006, of course make the list. In addition, there are two others that make the top 10 2006 list. One is the 142.7-inch buck taken by Gayle Shuler. Shuler's buck was taken in November in Orangeburg County. The final buck in this category is a 142.5-inch buck taken by Bruce A. Mallick Jr. in October of 2006. This buck was also taken in Orangeburg County.

In the non-typical category, there were only four bucks scored in 2007 that scored 145 B&C points, the minimum score required to make the state records list. The No. 1 and No. 2 bucks (Simmons' and Sharpe's) have been discussed earlier.

The third non-typical to make the list was a 159-point buck taken by Randy T. McDaniel II. This buck was taken in October 2006 in York County. The remaining non-typical to make the book was taken by Jay Geddings in September 2006 in Sumter County. The Geddings buck scored 154.6.

To continue the analysis of looking at individual bucks harvested, we'll examine where the top 10 bucks of all time were taken from each of the typical and non-typical categories.

In the typical category, including the bucks taken in the 2007 scoring session, no single county produced more than one top 10 all-time buck. Beginning with the No. 1 buck through No. 10 of all time, the counties producing the monster 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. The counties that have produced non-typicals that rank in South Carolina's all-time top 10 are Beaufort, Edgefield, McCormick, Lexington, Anderson, Orangeburg, Chesterfield and Marlboro. Both McCormick and Anderson counties account for two each in this list.

Now we'll look at the top counties for score year 2007 in terms of producing the most trophy bucks for the scoring sessions. This data combines both typical and non-typical bucks scored. Ruth has some specific comments about top-producing counties.

"For score year 2007, Greenville County was the year's top producer of state record entries with 13," Ruth said. "Other top counties included Aiken, Anderson and Colleton, each with nine entries. Barnwell and Kershaw counties both had eight entries each. These results come as no surprise, particularly with Aiken and Anderson counties. These counties have historically produced good numbers of record entries."

In addition, the data shows that Richland County had a total of seven entries and Spartanburg, Orangeburg and Lancaster counties all had six entries to round out the top 10 counties.

Another highly useful way of studying the data Ruth has collected is to consider the all-time historical rankings of the counties. For the 2007 information, Ruth has data on the total number of deer harvested in each county.

The No. 1 trophy-producing county in terms of numbers of deer since the data has been compiled is Orangeburg County, with 341 bucks that have made the state record book. There were 330 typical and 11 non-typical included in this listing. In a distant second place is Aiken County with a total of 279 racks, 273 of which were typical and six non-typical. In third was Fairfield County with a total of 229 bucks on the record list. Of these, 223 were typical and six non-typical.

The fourth spot all time belongs to Colleton County with 209 bucks (197 typical and 12 non-typical racks). Fifth is a tie with Williamsburg and Anderson counties producing 178 each. Williamsburg has a total of 176 typical and two non-typical. Anderson County has 174 typical and four were non-typical. In seventh place is Abbeville with 171 total record-book bucks. Of these, 162 were typical and nine were non-typical.

In the eighth slot, there is another tie, this time between Kershaw and Allendale counties with 168 each. Allendale County has 159 typical and nine non-typical sets of antlers on the list. Kershaw County has 163 typical sets of antlers and five non-typical sets.

The 10th place county is Barnwell with an all-time tally of 156 record-book bucks. There have been 153 typical and three non-typical deer taken in this county.

Ruth said that the prospects for taking big bucks in the 2007 season seemed to be very good. He said that weather conditions and hunter effort are certainly keys to the number of deer taken overall, as well as impacting the number of trophy deer taken.

"Based on trends over the past several years, the outlook is very good," Ruth said. "The good ol' days for taking big bucks might just be right now, in one sense. One thing about the 2007 hunting season is that the late freeze this spring that impacted most of the state will most likely have a big impact on mast this season. In addition to oaks, persimmons and crabapple production may be way down in many areas. If this occurs, the deer may be moving more in search of food, which will possibly enable hunters to harvest more deer and bigger deer. The long-term impact of a significantly reduced mast crop on the deer herd or size of animals in future years is uncertain at this time. We'll need to get through this season and see what's out there before we can predict long-term impacts," Ruth said.

Ruth summarized the antler scoring data and trophy buck potential with the following.

"Although some of the top counties have relati

vely high deer populations, some of these counties have more moderate numbers of deer," Ruth said. "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. 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 several years, most hunters have realized the importance of harvesting doe deer. These hunters should be commended and encouraged to continue this trend where needed."

Moreover, you can stack the odds in your favor by analyzing the above data and plan your hunt where and when trophy bucks are most often taken. Use this data to help plan where to get your big buck for the 2007 hunting season.

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

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