Where can you bag a bragging-sized buck in South Carolina? Here's what the harvest data suggests. (November 2008)
Taking a trophy buck requires the maximum from a deer hunter, even the dedicated, patient type. Most have developed a specific recipe for success on big antlered bucks.
Deer hunters who regularly harvest big bucks will tell you there is a basic combination of factors necessary for a successful big-buck hunt. One is planning. First, you need to plan your hunt in the general area where you know the habitat has big bucks and will support big bucks. Then, you formulate a plan to specifically target the area where a big buck is living.
Another key ingredient to the big-buck recipe is your basic hunting strategy and skill. The use and consideration of wind, scents and terrain to your advantage is crucial.
And most big-buck experts add that a sprinkling of luck blended in seems to be a key ingredient. Joe Kelly, one of the top big-buck hunters in the Palmetto State, has a great quote about getting lucky on big bucks.
"Killing big bucks consistently does sometimes require a little luck," Kelly said. "But I have learned through a lifetime of hunting and guiding that the harder I work, the luckier I get."
Luck and hard work are two ingredients you'll have to supply as individuals. However, South Carolina Game & Fish magazine has done a great deal to help you with the planning portion in terms of where big bucks are generally found.
When reviewing the data from where big bucks are harvested in the state, there are certain patterns that become obvious if you are truly seeking a big buck. We'll explore the data generated by the 2008 Score Year's whitetail deer rankings from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Deer and Turkey Project Supervisor Charles Ruth and his team have scored deer in all areas of the state and have complied the data from deer harvests in 2007, as well as all-time data. This information can certainly help you locate big-buck hotspots near you.According to Ruth, there were 205 new entries into the records list this year. He said that is the highest number of entries in 15 years.
Ruth said that each spring, SCDNR 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.
"Of the 558 sets of antlers scored at the 15 scheduled sessions this spring, 205 met the minimum score for entry on the state records list," Ruth said. "Specifically, this includes 196 sets of typical and nine sets of non-typical racks. Although all of the records were not taken during the 2007 season, 169 were taken during the 2006 or 2007 season. Racks must score a minimum of 125 points typical or 145 points non-typical to qualify for the South Carolina state record 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."
The report generates not only the score of the bucks that make the state record list, but also names the hunters harvesting the bucks and the specific county where each deer was taken. This is specific information that hunters can use to zero in on where some of the biggest bucks in the state are being taken.
Ruth said that the report contains the records for typical and non-typical antlers that were documented during the 2008 scoring session. Although most of these records represent deer harvested during the fall 2007 hunting season, there are some records that were taken in previous years and were not officially scored until 2007. There are also lists of typical and non-typical deer taken during the hunting year of 2007. Separate rankings are presented for the score year (2008) and for all-time. 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 notes that the data in the report reveals that big bucks are being killed in a number of different areas around the state. While the traditionally top areas are still producing big bucks, over time other areas of South Carolina have begun to produce big bucks as well.
"Looking at the data from a historical perspective is certainly one good way to forecast the best odds of finding big bucks," he said. "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."
He also adds that like numbers of deer, big bucks can be found almost anywhere in the state. There can be local hotspots that have all the ingredients to grow a few big deer. However, on a big picture consideration, this data can depict counties, or groups of counties, where big bucks are consistently taken.
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 2008 scoring sessions.
According to the report, the top-scoring typical was a 156 1/8-inch buck taken by Thomas Smith last November in Chesterfield County. Ruth said this deer is a new Chesterfield County typical record. The second-highest scoring typical was a 155 1/8-inch Oconee County buck taken by Terry Rochester in December. Oconee County's highest scoring typical (161 1/8) was a "found" rack, making Rochester's buck a new county record for a hunter-killed deer.
The third slot belonged to a 151 5/8 buck taken by Randy Hancock from Chesterfield County. This buck was also taken in December. The No. 4 typical from the 2007 hunt year was yet another Chesterfield County buck taken in November. The buck scored 151 3/8 and was harvested by Claude Bubba Powers. The final buck to make the top five for the 2007 hunt year was a 150 6/8-inch buck taken by Paul McGuffin in Kershaw County in November.
The next five bucks on the list were taken in the following counties, beginning with No. 6 and going through No. 10. The counties are Anderson, Spartanburg, Hampton, Calhoun and Colleton.
One fact is very evident from this first sampling of data. Three of the top four typical bucks harvested in South Carolina in 2007 were taken from Chesterfield County.
Beyond this, another important factor in harvesting big bucks is timing. Of these top 10 bucks harvested in 2007, nine were
taken in November and December. Six of the nine were taken in November. The remaining buck was taken in mid-October.
Looking at the non-typical bucks scored at the 2008 session adds more details.
Netting 172 4/8 inches and a new county record, the top-scoring non-typical buck was taken by Michael Purgason in Chester County last October. The No. 2 non-typical among the year's entries scored 164 7/8 and was taken by James Cook in Edgefield County last October. The No. 3 buck was the only one on the non-typical list not harvested in 2007: This buck was taken in November of 2000, according to the report. The hunter was John D. Smith and the official score was 163 5/8.
The fourth-place buck scored 156 3/8 and was taken by Darrell Taylor in Kershaw County in December. Next was a 152 7/8 buck taken in November by James Billy Hudson in Lee County.
In sixth place on the non-typical list was a 152 2/8 buck harvested by Jimmy J. Morrison in Barnwell County during November. Joey Prosser took a 151 0/8 buck in Orangeburg County in late December for the No. 7 buck. At No. 8 is Sam Craver with an Allendale County buck that scored 150 4/8 and was taken in December.
The final rack to make the non-typical list at this scoring session was a 145 6/8 score on an Orangeburg buck taken by John R. Dantzler in October.
While there is a good dispersion in the kill counties here, two of these nine record-book bucks came from Orangeburg County, a historically good producer of big bucks. As for timing, there were three each harvested in October, November and December.
It's no secret that the rut is a great time to plan a hunt for a big buck. Reviewing this data certainly supports that. While some big bucks are taken very early in the season, of these top 19, the harvesting of big bucks and the rut do seem to have a connection, based on this data. Of the top 10 typical and all nine non-typical bucks that made the state record book, none were taken in the early portion of the season, four were harvested in October, nine in November and six in December.
If you can hunt every day, this information may not matter that much. But if your major effort to take a big buck has to be partly driven by when you can get time to hunt, this month-of-kill data should be eye-opening and a key to your planning.
Next, we'll look at the overall number of deer making the state record book on a county-by-county basis. First, we'll examine score year 2008, then the all-time data.
Orangeburg County was the 2008 Score Year's top producer of state-record entries with 21. There were 19 typical and two non-typicals in this list. In a close second with 20 record-book bucks (all typical) was Aiken County. There was a big drop to Anderson County, the No. 3 county, with 11 state record book bucks. All of these bucks were in the typical category. The fourth place county was Pickens with 10, all of which were of the typical category. Rounding out the top five was Greenville County with nine record-book bucks. All nine of these bucks were in the typical category.
At sixth was Kershaw County with eight bucks, and at seventh was Dorchester County with seven. There were five counties tied for the next spot, each with six record-book entries in 2008 Score Year. These include Bamberg, Calhoun, Colleton, Hampton and Lee counties.
According to Ruth, these results come as no surprise, as these counties have historically produced good numbers of record entries.
"Although some of the top counties have relatively high deer populations, some of these counties have more moderate numbers," 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.
"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 less deer than we did 10 years ago is good, and this is supported by the high number of record entries this year."
As far as all-time leaders at the county level, Orangeburg County remains at the top with 362 sets of antlers on the list. In second place is Aiken County with 300 and Fairfield County is next with 230. The fourth spot belongs to Colleton County with 216 record-book bucks, and Anderson County is fifth with 189 all-time entries.
The second five include Williamsburg County in sixth with 182 entries. Abbeville County is in seventh place with a total of 178 bucks, and Kershaw is very close in eighth place with 177. The final two spots in the top 10 are Allendale County in ninth with 173, and in the No. 10 spot for all-time is Barnwell County with 161 record-book bucks.
Overall, Ruth was very positive about the number of big bucks harvested in 2007 and the overall results from Score Year 2008.
"South Carolina's deer herd is in good condition," Ruth said. "It appears that after many years of rapid population growth, the herd stabilized in the mid-1990s. Statewide population estimates put the deer herd currently 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. This would make sense because fewer deer in the population would benefit from increased nutrition."
Ruth acknowledges that making the Boone and Crockett record book is a goal of many whitetail deer hunters. He also said 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 6,500 white-tailed deer records listed by Boone and Crockett, which includes entries dating to the 1800s," Ruth said. "Similarly, the harvest of deer in the United States in recent years has been about 5 million per year. Essentially, the average hunter stands a better chance of being struck by lightning than harvesting one of these record deer no matter where they hunt. As for the South Carolina Antler Records List, about one in every 700 bucks harvested makes the state book. Currently, 5,037 sets of antlers, 4,857 typical and 180 non-typical, are included on the South Carolina antler records list."
Ruth said that the prospects for taking big bucks in the 2008 season should be good, based on recent trends of big deer being harvested in South Carolina and the overall condition of the deer herd.
"Based on trends over the past several years, the outlook is good," Ruth said.
If you combine the right ingredients into your big-buck effort, you have a good recipe for taking a trophy buck. Plan where and when to hunt, then stir in hard work and patience and just maybe you'll get "lucky."