The 2017 whitetail deer antler measuring sessions conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) produced 186 new South Carolina state-record-book bucks. Of this number 172 were scored as typical racks and 14 as non-typical. A minimum size for entry in the state record book is a 125 Boone & Crockett score for typical and 145 for non-typical antlers.
Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project Supervisor for SCDNR, says he felt that overall the 2016 hunting season, which produced the bulk of the antlers scored, was a good year for producing big bucks.
“(Considering) the flood, unusually warm weather and the bumper acorn crop in 2016, I think South Carolina hunters did very well harvesting big bucks,” Ruth said.
“We had a new number one all-time non-typical buck that scored 217 7/8 inches, taken by Danny Dillard in Edgefield County last October,” he said. “This broke the old record that had stood since 1971. The biggest typical set of antlers scored was a 157 6/8-inch Greenville County buck taken by Claude Robertson in November.”
Ruth said the top three counties in terms of record book bucks for this year’s scoring (Score Year 2017) were led by Aiken County with 15, followed by Orangeburg with 12 and Abbeville with 10. For All-Time records the number one county remains Orangeburg with 498 in the record books, followed by Aiken County with 486 and Fairfield County with 280.
YOUTH HUNTER TAKES McCORMICK COUNTY RECORD NONTYPICAL
When 12-year-old Justin Hodges of McCormick County headed to the deer stand with his dad Jason on November 11, 2016, neither had any idea of the excitement that was in store that evening.
By the time they got to the processor, a crowd had gathered waiting to see Justin’s big buck, a buck scored as a 181 1/8 inch non-typical. The buck had a total of 19 points, with a 10-point mainframe and nine stickers. Hodges’ buck was the second largest non-typical of the year — only the new state record was larger. It is the highest scoring buck ever taken in McCormick County.
The elder Hodges explained that the stand they hunted was a box blind about 10 feet high that’s been in use for 20 years. It overlooks a long distance, about 400 yards, over a 20-foot-wide old road bed. Deer typically funneled across that road to get to an area that includes a food plot between two ponds.
Justin said that they left the house around four o’clock that afternoon and were in the box stand by 4:30.
“It was pretty quiet for about 45 minutes, then a spike crossed the opening, but we decided to pass on him,” Justin Hodges said. “Then about 15 minutes before dark we saw four does cross the opening, going from left to right. My hope was that a big buck may be following.”
“Sure enough about 10 minutes later, with only about five minutes of light left, I saw a big buck walk out exactly where the does had crossed, about 100 yards out,” the younger Hodges said. “I could see it was big and I already had the gun up and ready. I was using my dad’s gun because my scope had a problem with the crosshairs that had caused me to miss earlier in season. But when I pulled the trigger nothing happened. I had not pushed the safety off — but that did give me a little time to calm down, and when I shot, the big buck fell where he stood.”
Justin Hodges says that he and his dad had a bit of history with that buck. They’d seen trail camera photos of it in February, but no pictures since then. But while he and his dad were checking their hunting area out a week before rifle season, they drove up on the big buck bedding down in a briar thicket.
“He was only about 30 yards away. The deer jumped up and left, but we could tell it was the same buck we’d seen before on the photos,” he said.
When they approached the buck after he’d shot, however, they didn’t know it was that same huge buck that Justin had shot until they nearly got to it.
“When we got close and saw the antlers, we knew it was the same big buck we’d seen before,” he said. “We were just astonished.”
They immediately posted it on facebook, the elder Hodges said.
“My nephew called me and said it looked bigger that the 154-inch buck he’d killed in Kansas,” he said. “So we went by his house and it made that 154-inch buck look small. That’s when we realized how big the rack was. By the time we got to the processor, word had spread and there were a couple dozen people there waiting to see the buck — one had driven 30 miles.
“Justin may not realize how big this buck really is until he’s about 40 years old and not killed a bigger one.”
The buck weighed 198 pounds and was taken with a Remington 7mm magnum.
CALHOUN COUNTY GIVES UP HUGE TYPCIAL
It pays to play the wind when hunting big bucks.
Andy White of Lexington was hunting his favorite tract of land in Calhoun County on December 30. He had some trail camera photos of a big-bodied 10-point buck, but because a strong southwest wind did not favor hunting a stand in the area where the photos were taken, he was instead hunting about a half-mile away.
“I’m a big believer in playing the wind and although the photos I’d seen of this buck were all in an area about a half-mile away, I decided to hunt a cutover area,” White said. “I was hunted from a climbing stand and got about 25 feet up over about a 3-year-old cut-down and could see really well. I’d climbed up about 4 o’clock and had only been up for 30 minutes when I saw a couple of does — but they were being chased by wild dogs, and I figured that was the end of my hunt.”
Regardless of how the hunt ended, White said he knew this was his last hunt of the season. But it was a warm afternoon for late December, about 50 degrees, and the wind settled as the evening progressed so he decided to enjoy the opportunity to be outdoors.
“About 10 minutes before dark, I was scanning to my right in a bottom and saw a set of antlers,” he said. “Apparently the buck was bedded in the cutdown and poked his head up and I saw him. There was still a good bit of vegetative growth around him even this late in the year but I put the crosshairs of my .270 on the target and shot. I did not see any movement of the buck running. I waited a good 10 minutes until dark. I knew it was a good buck, but didn’t know it was the buck that had been working about a half mile away.”
White picked some good markers to help him find the deer in the dense cover and when he got to it, he realized from the antlers this was indeed the buck he and his hunting buddies referred to as “Big Boy.”
Big Boy is an apt name: This buck gross scored 158 and the net score was 153 7/8. According to Charles Ruth, Deer and Turkey Project Supervisor for the SCDNR, this buck was one of the largest typical racks of the 2016 season.
White said the weight of the buck when harvested was 188 pounds, but based on photos from earlier in the season the deer had dropped considerable weight during the rut.
“Based on photos, we think he lost about 15 to 20 pounds once the rut started,” White said. “Also, playing the wind right was the right thing to do, but an interesting bit of information (turned up) after we checked the trail cameras. It showed that this buck had actually made a move from where he had been to the area where I was hunting. I think cutdowns are good late-season places for deer and he’d just made a change to that area.”
Another very interesting aspect of this hunt is that White was hunting from the same tree where he’d hunted on Nov. 15, again because of wind direction. On that day he killed a buck with a 21 1/2-inch spread. He thought that buck was his trophy for the year until Big Boy.
“The buck on Nov. 15 was a really nice buck — very wide — but the antlers were not high enough to score really well,” he said. “But that stand was good to me this season.”
TROPHY BUCK WITH CROSSBOW
One look at the massive rack and huge body of a deer in the 2014 deer season prompted Spartanburg County bowhunter Mike Kossover to commit to hunting that specific buck. Kossover knew patience would be an asset but he didn’t realize it would be a three-year quest.
Kossover says it was worth the three years of effort when he finally got his shot at the 210-pound 10-point buck. The antlers measured a whopping 20 1/2-inch inside and 22 1/2 outside spread and made the state record book as a typical with a final Boone and Crockettt of 140 5/8.
“I found it’s true when you see the buck of a lifetime, you’ve got to go all in to get it,” Kossover said. “I first saw this deer in 2014 on photos from a trail camera and I got one good look at him while hunting that year, but too far for a bow shot. In 2015, I placed multiple trail cameras around my hunting area and got plenty of photos of the buck, plus three visuals while hunting. But 50 yards was as close as I got. He was elusive.”
Kossover says thanks to his trial camera photos in 2015 he determined the buck’s core area was a thick clearcut. In 2016, Kossover focused all his pre-season efforts on that area.
“During the offseason I did some serious scouting in the clearcut and found one small high spot with numerous trail crossings,” he said. “I figured the best setup for my ground blind was to use five small pines (that were) situated perfectly. I hand-cleared the minimum amount brush for a shooting lane, creating as little intrusion as possible.”
Kossover credits his hunting buddy Chuck Mulkey from Chuck’s Taxidermy in Anderson with helping him with some strategy.
“He’s taken some huge bucks and as my mentor, he helped me stay all in for this buck and stick to my plan,” Kossover said.
On opening day Kossover hunted the buck and the hunt began with a good wind direction, but once in the blind the wind changed. He opted to stay away from the core area until wind conditions were perfect, hunting outlying areas with good wind direction in hopes the buck would slip in. He passed on some nice bucks waiting for the one he’d named “Mac Daddy.”
The right wind opportunity to hunt the core area came on Sept. 18.
“At about 7 o’clock that evening, an 8-pointer entered my shooting lane and from that moment for about 40 minutes I was hyper-focused and ready to shoot the crossbow,” he said. “I felt at any moment ‘Mac Daddy’ was going to walk in. After 20 minutes the 8-pointer left and a 4-pointer slipped in. A few minutes later that deer began to act very nervous about something behind him. I saw ‘Mac Daddy’s’ antlers weaving through the dense cover and the smaller buck left. The buck slipped in to the edge of my lane and stopped behind a tree. I was able to see the antlers the entire time — it was nerve-racking. The light was fading and I had only a very short time left to shoot. He was literally one step away from a perfect shot for several minutes and one step from his right foot would put him broadside at 12 yards. Finally he took that step and I took the shot immediately.”
Kossover said the buck went no more than 50 yards after the shot. Kossover’s three-year quest for the trophy buck was over. He says it was a lesson in patience and perseverance.
“I’ve learned what being all-in for a trophy buck means, and trust me, it’s worth it,” he said.