Antler Scoring Sessions Reveal Many New Records

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The most recent round of white-tailed deer antler scoring conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources revealed 180 new records including one potential Boone and Crockett record.

Each spring S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 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 430 sets of antlers scored at the nine scheduled sessions this spring, 180 met the minimum score for entry on the state records list, the most in more than five years. The 180 racks included 172 sets of typical and eight non-typical racks. Of the antlers scored, 147 were taken in 2003 or 2004. 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.

Although the total deer harvest in South Carolina has been down the last two 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. The top typical buck taken in 2004 scored 149 6/8 points and was harvested by Clifford Rickett in Oconee County last November. The second highest score, also taken in November, was a 148 1/8 inch Orangeburg County buck taken William Jones. Delton Roe's 187 4/8 point Anderson County buck, taken in October 2004, was tops among non-typical deer. Not only will this buck will qualify for the Boone and Crockett Club's Three Year Awards Period List, it is currently tied for fourth on the State All-time Non-typical List. The number two non-typical was taken by Jeff Dennis in Colleton County in October 2004, 154 5/8 points. 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, according to Charles Ruth, DNR Deer Project supervisor. Statewide population estimates put the deer herd at about 800,000 animals, and the estimated harvest has been between 250,000 and 300,000 deer each of the last eight years.

Aiken County was this years' top producer of State Record entries with 21. Other top counties included Orangeburg with 11, Kershaw with 10, Lexington with 8, and Anderson with 7 entries. These results come as no surprise, which is particularly the case with Aiken, Anderson and Orangeburg 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. 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.

"If hunters want to continue to have good numbers of large-antlered bucks," Ruth said, "the harvest of female deer must continue to be emphasized in order to keep deer numbers from becoming too high. Over the last 10 years, most hunters have realized the importance of harvesting doe deer. These hunters should be commended and encouraged to continue this trend."

As far as all-time leaders at the county level, Orangeburg County remains at the top with 309 sets of antlers on the lists. Rounding out the top five counties Orangeburg is followed by Aiken 257, Fairfield 223, Colleton 197 and Abbeville and Williamsburg tied with 169 entries.

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 5,500 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 five 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 1,000 bucks harvested makes the State Book.

Currently 4,488 sets of antlers (4,328 typical and 160 non-typical) are included on the South Carolina antler records list. Results of DNR's Antler Records Program for 2005 will soon be available on the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.sc.us/wild/deer/img/DeerAntlerRecords05.pdf. For more information, call the DNR Columbia office at (803) 734-3886.