South Carolina's 2010 Deer Forecast -- Part 2

South Carolina's 2010 Deer Forecast -- Part 2

Which counties are most likely to produce trophy bucks in South Carolina? Here's what harvest records show.

Almost any successful trophy deer hunter will tell you that planning, hard work and a good strategy are the keys to successful trophy deer hunting. This is true anywhere, but particularly in South Carolina, where heavy vegetation often gives big bucks a home-field advantage. While big bucks are occasionally taken by hunters who accidentally happen to be in the right place at the right time, hunters who consistently score on big-antlered bucks have a well developed plan of attack.

With the maturation of the deer herd in South Carolina and the recent emphasis on Quality Deer Management, more hunters are now focused on taking trophy bucks instead of simply shooting the first deer with antlers they see. Because of this, the number of trophy animals being taken remains high, according to Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project Supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, (SCDNR).

Ruth acknowledges that using data gleaned from the annual scoring of trophy animals taken in South Carolina is one method of tracking the best places to locate and hunt for trophy deer.

"There are certain counties around the state that seem to annually produce more trophy bucks," Ruth said. "In addition, within each of these counties, and likely in many other counties as well, there will be hotspots where the forage and other habitat conditions are excellent and have the potential to enable bucks to develop into trophy animals. These localized hotspots are likely to be found anywhere in the state. But focusing on the known data of where big bucks are historically harvested and where they have been most frequently harvested in recent years, does give a hunter a step in the right direction. It takes a lot of knowledge, work and skill to harvest a trophy buck but first you've got to be able to focus your hunting efforts in areas where these animals exist."

Perhaps the best information around to help hunters focus on trophy buck areas comes from the annual scoring data compiled by SCDNR at locations across the state.

According to Ruth, the most recent round of white-tailed deer antler scoring conducted by the SCDNR revealed 213 new state record book bucks, including 3 that qualified for the Boone and Crockett Three-Year Awards Period list.

"Each spring S.C. Department of Natural Resources 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" Ruth said. "Of the 552 sets of antlers scored at the 12 scheduled sessions this spring, 213 met the minimum score for entry on the state records list including 201 sets of typical and 12 non-typical racks."

According to Ruth, 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 harvested during the 2009 season, 175 were taken during the 2008 or 2009 season. Antler 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.

Ruth said that the annual report generated from the scoring sessions also names the specific hunter taking the animal. The report also lists the exact score and the county where harvested. This is specific information hunters can employ to help them zero in on the big buck areas close to where they live.

We'll take a look at the top bucks harvested during the 2009 scoring session. While some of the bucks scored at the 2010 sessions were harvested in 2008 or other years, or found during the 2009 season, to ensure you get the latest information to help you plan your hunt strategy, we'll list only those harvested in the 2009 season. This will also give you the specific month the buck was harvested. We'll also look at all-time historical records.

We'll also break down the results for both typical and non-typical antlers.

The top typical buck was a 165 7/8 inch buck taken by Tommy John Blanton in Saluda County last November. According to Ruth, Blanton's buck qualifies for the Boone and Crockett Club's Three Year Awards Period List.

The second highest scoring typical was a 162 4/8 inch Calhoun County buck taken by David Wise in September. Ruth said that Wise's buck will also qualify for the Boone and Crockett Club's Three Year Awards Period List.

The number three buck taken in 2009 was a 157 3/8 buck taken by Ray Freeman in Anderson County. Freeman's buck was taken in November. At number four is a 156 6/8 buck taken by Rick Smith in Aiken County, also during November.

The number five buck harvested was a 150 5/8 buck taken by Eric R. Blanton. Blanton's buck was taken from Horry County in October of 2009. Close behind, in the number six position for typical bucks was a 150 2/8 buck harvested by Michael B. Rodgers. Rodger's buck was taken from Kershaw County in September.

In the seventh spot for 2009 was Larry O'Brien's Orangeburg buck that scored 149 4/8. O'Brien's buck was taken in November. In the eighth position was a 149 0/8 buck taken from Oconee County by Tony Hudson. Hudson took this big upstate buck in December.

The number nine buck for the 2009 season was harvested by Donnie Fulmer. The 146 3/8 buck was taken from Calhoun County in November. Rounding out the top ten with a 145 6/8 buck was Mike L. Pagoota. This buck was taken from Chesterfield County in November.

Of the next 10 top-scoring typical bucks harvested in 2009, four came from Aiken County. The following counties each had one buck in the second ten list: Richland; Orangeburg, Kershaw, Fairfield, Oconee and Greenville counties.

There were 10 non-typical bucks that were harvested in 2009 that made the state record book.

Netting 184 2/8 points, the top scoring non-typical buck was taken by Evin Coombs in Lexington County in November. Coombs' buck also netted 161 6/8 typical points qualifying it for the Boone and Crockett Club's Three Year Awards Period List in the typical category.

Reducing the statewide herd in South Carolina has, if anything, increased the number of decent bucks taken each year by hunters. Photo by Will Leschper.

The second highest scoring non-typical was a 167 1/8 buck taken by Steve McCoy in Darlington County in October. According to Ruth, McCoy's buck is a new Darlington County non-typical record.

Jeremy Joyner was in third place in the non-typical category with a 163 6/8 buck taken from Allendale County in October. In fourth place was Wesley Wells with an Orangeburg county buck that scored 158 3/8. Wells' buck was taken during September.

Jimbo Sullivan held down the number five spot with a 157 3/8 buck. Sullivan's buck was taken in Jasper County during an October hunt. In the sixth pot with a 156 2/8 buck was Michael E. Stephens. Stephens took his buck in Aiken County during November 2009.

At number seven was Kenny Padgett with a Saluda county buck that scored 153 7/8. This buck was harvested in November. At number eight on the non-typical list was David Polk with a 152 0/8 buck. Polk's buck was taken in Florence County during October.

Don Clewley buck claimed the ninth spot with a score of 147 1/8. This buck was taken during December in York County. The final non-typical taken in 2010 that made the state record book was a 146 3/8 buck harvested by Glenn Hall. Hall took the buck during November from Greenwood County.

As far as all-time leaders at the county level, Orangeburg County remains at the top with 393 sets of antlers on the list. Rounding out the top 10 counties, Orangeburg is followed by Aiken 343, Fairfield 245, Colleton 229, Anderson 203, Williamsburg 201, Kershaw 191, Abbeville 188, Allendale 199, and Barnwell with 179 entries.

If you look at the rank in terms of trophy bucks per square mile, the top 10 list is a bit different. From this perspective the top ten counties are, in order, Anderson, Abbeville, Allendale, Orangeburg, Charleston, Aiken, Bamberg, Fairfield, Barnwell and Kershaw counties.

A quick review will reveal that eight counties did make both lists; just the ranking order was changed. These eight counties are most certainly deserving of a close look if you live anywhere near any of them.

Ruth also said that while this information can help hunters target specific areas that produce big bucks, trophy animals do come from all parts of the state.

"I get asked this question a lot, which areas in the state are best for big bucks," he said. "The data in the report is extremely valuable and will help pinpoint areas of high potential. But like I've said for years, there are big bucks taken from all areas of the state of South Carolina. Just like we have good numbers of deer throughout the state, big bucks will be found throughout the state. It is worth noting that in some areas, the locations and situations where bucks can grow to extraordinary sizes may be more limited than in other areas. You can look at a state map of the top producing counties and see some very specific trends in terms of where the big bucks are being consistently taken. You can observe the trend from the recent harvest and also from the historical all-time harvest."

Areas that overlap into both groups in terms of being a top producer are certainly prime targets. We also this year broke down the top counties on a trophy per unit area basis, just as we do on regular harvest figures. Again, that takes into consideration the amount of huntable land in a given county. This, from a biological perspective, gives a more realistic look at the trophy harvest. But on properly managed land with the right habitat, you can find big bucks throughout the state.

According to Ruth, 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. 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," Ruth said. "This would make sense because fewer deer in the population would benefit from increased nutrition."

According to Ruth, Aiken County was this years' top producer of State Record entries with 26. Other top counties included Orangeburg (14), Fairfield (11), and Calhoun (9)."

There are several other counties with multiple numbers of deer making the record book as well, but these certainly stood out above the rest according to Ruth.

"These results come as no surprise as these counties have historically produced good numbers of record entries," Ruth said.

Ruth said that 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," Ruth said. "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 fewer deer than we did 10 years ago is good for producing trophy animals and this is supported by the high number of record entries this year."

Ruth added that 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 7,000 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. As for the South Carolina Antler Records List, about one in every 800 bucks harvested makes the State Book.

Ruth said that currently 5,449 sets of antlers (5,243 typical and 206 non-typical) are included on the South Carolina antler records list.

In summary, the goal of nearly every deer hunter is to harvest a trophy buck. Based on the data here, it looks like the 2010 season can certainly be an ideal time, if you can locate the right place. Invest some time in the planning process of where big deer are located. Then perform the hard work necessary to scout out and then place your stand in the right spot, or having trees prepped for climbing stands in the big buck areas.

Then play the elements and the seasonal changes of the deer from pre-rut, to rut, to post rut and late season to your advantage. Without a doubt

the deer will be changing locations as the season progresses. But with a good strategy, you can make that move with them and 2010 may be your year for taking that buck that makes the record book.

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