By Pat Robertson
Aug. 15, 2003, opening day of deer season in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The weather, typically for mid-August, was very hot and muggy, snakes were out and the heavy air was filled with mosquitoes.
But it was opening day. And Randy Hoffman has promised to take his 8-year-old son, Buck, deer hunting on some land he and a buddy had leased in Calhoun County. Buck was armed with the Remington .260-caliber rifle that Hoffman had gotten a gunsmith to customize for him. Hoffman did not have a gun.
“I told Buck he could take his rifle and if we saw a deer, I’d let him shoot it,” Hoffman said. But things don’t always go as planned.
Hoffman and his partner in the lease flipped a coin to see who would take which stand.
“We didn’t have a clue which was the best stand, so I went to the farthest one away,” Hoffman said.
He and Buck climbed into the stand about 6:15 p.m. and settled in to wait for deer. They didn’t wait long. In less than half an hour, several does came out and fed for about 15 minutes, then disappeared back into the woods.
“About 10 after 7, bucks started coming out in single file,” Hoffman recalled. “The first four were all 8-points, all decent bucks.”
Hoffman was debating whether to let Buck select one of the deer and shoot when he caught a glimpse of movement back in the trees. Another buck was standing just inside the tree line, hesitating before coming into the open. Hoffman could see just a little bit of the deer’s antlers, just enough to tell him they should wait.
Buck, however, had the rifle up and was getting ready to shoot.
“Wait,” Hoffman whispered. “Wait. Wait. Wait.”
“I don’t know how many times I said, ‘Wait’ before the buck walked out,” he said. “Then I saw his rack and it was mind-boggling. I knew it was really special, bigger than anything I had ever seen.”
Turning to Buck, Hoffman said, “Son, don’t you want to let me shoot that deer?”
Buck didn’t hesitate. “OK,” he said, handing over the rifle.
Hoffman shouldered the little rifle and waited until the huge buck stepped out into plain view about 130 yards away, then squeezed off a round.
All the deer ran off, including the big buck. Hoffman and Buck waited until dark, and then climbed down from the stand. They met the other hunter and trailed the buck until they found it.
Hoffman, who has other deer in the South Carolina deer records list, called Charles Ruth, the DNR’s deer project leader. The buck’s massive 11-point antlers were in velvet, he explained, and he did not want to remove the velvet unless there was a good chance it would be a new state record.
Ruth did a preliminary score on the “green” antlers and estimated they would score over 180 points, but would lose some points once the antlers dried for the required 60 days and the velvet was removed.
After the rack was dried out and stripped of velvet, Ruth officially scored it under the Boone and Crockett scoring system. The huge rack scored 185 points gross, but with necessary deductions, it received a 173 7/8 official net score, making it the No. 2 all-time typical rack ever taken in South Carolina.
The top South Carolina buck, taken by William Wyatt in Pickens Country in 1994, scored 176 0/8 points.
“The main beams were the most impressive thing about the Hoffman antlers, each of which were in excess of 27 inches,” Ruth said. “When you deal with this scoring system, that gets your attention.”
He added, however, that the antlers had everything necessary for a top Boone and Crockett score – spread, tine length and mass, in addition to the tremendous main beams.
The left antler stretched 27 4/8 inches and the right antler was only 1/8 inch shorter. The rack had five points on one side and six on the other, ranging from 3 inches to over 12 inches long. It had a 20 3/8-inch inside spread and a 10 2/8-inch tip-to-tip spread. The beams had a 4 1/2-inch circumference at the base.
“Since it met the Boone and Crockett minimum score of 170, the Hoffman deer, if accepted, is a candidate for the Boone and Crockett all-time records book,” said Ruth, who estimated the buck was 4 1/2 years old. “It looks massive without the velvet – and it was just tremendously massive with the velvet.”
While the Hoffman buck was undeniably the most impressive buck placed on the state’s records list in 2003, it certainly was not the only outstanding deer to make the list, Ruth said.
“We measured some really big deer during the past year,” he said, “including at least six new county records. I can say with some certainty that has never happened before, not to that extent, at least not in the recent past. We now have more than 4,000 sets of antlers in the program and you don’t see that many records being broken in a single year or two.”
Among the latest records is a huge non-typical taken by Mark Huntington in Anderson County in 2002. “It is a pretty non-typical rack with more than 40 inches of non-typical points,” Ruth said.
And Hugh Gaskins of Williamsburg County, who holds a number of South Carolina deer records, scored another top record with a 7×7 non-typical he took with a bow last October that scored 170 5/8 – “the same score as his other Boone and Crockett buck,” Ruth noted.
“We got mixed reports on the 2003 hunting season,” Ruth said. “Probably more negative calls than positive ones. I think that is related to the fact we finally came out of the drought and a lot of rainfall in the spring and summer created an abundance of natural foods, which impacted the movement of the deer. In addition, we had above-average daytime temperatures in October and November, which further suppresses daytime deer movement,” Ruth said.
“But with all these record bucks being scored, I’d have to say the big message to deer hunters is that the ‘good old days’ are now.”
Hoffman, a well-known retriever trainer who manages Beaver Creek Kennels near St. Matthews, did not fire another shot after Aug. 15, spending his hunting time taking Buck hunting for the youngster’s first deer.
On one trip to the woods, Buck, who turned 9 in late September, had a shot at an 8-point buck and missed – twice. But in late November, he finally got his deer.
“I have a stand down behind the house. Eight deer came out and one of them was a 4-point. I let him shoot and he got it. He was tickled to death,” Hoffman said. “It doesn’t matter how big the deer is to him. He just likes to go hunting and see deer.”
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