Wildlife - 2019 Deer Record Information
Thank you to South Carolina deer hunters. This publication and all aspects of the Statewide White-tailed Deer Research and Management Project are made financially possible through hunters’ participation in antlerless deer tag programs.
Acknowledgment is due to Gerald Moore, South Carolina’s first Deer Project supervisor who managed the Antler Records Program between 1974 and 1984, and to Derrell Shipes, who directed the program between 1984 and 1995, a period during which intense editing and review of these records was conducted. Clerical support has been provided by many dedicated staff, including Barbara Hicks, Roberta Cothran, Natasha Williams, Meredith Elliott, Jessica Shealy and currently Patty Castine. Thanks also to the numerous Regional Wildlife Section personnel for their efforts.
Introduction and Background
The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is the premier big game species in the United States and annually, millions of sportsmen take to the woods in pursuit of the deer with a flag-like tail. Curiously, white-tailed deer hold some fascination for most people regardless of whether or not they actually hunt deer. This fascination may stem from the importance of deer in the development of our country or maybe it is due to the animals’ shy nature and overall beauty. In either case, humans are always impressed to catch a glimpse of a white-tailed deer.
White-tailed deer are members of the cervid family which is represented in the United States by four genera; Cervus (elk), Alces (moose), Odocoileus (mule deer and white-tailed deer), and Rangifer (caribou). In the modern form, white-tailed deer originated in America perhaps 8-12 million years ago and currently the species’ range extends from southern Canada through the United States and Mexico and into northern South America. In pre-Columbian times it is estimated that there were approximately 30 million white-tailed deer in the United States and although deer numbers had declined a great deal by 1800 there was still an abundance of deer. However, during the period 1800-1900 heavy commercial exploitation of deer for meat and hides coupled with habitat destruction, poor land use practices, and an ever increasing human population caused deer numbers to plummet to around 500,000 by the turn of the 20th century. Thanks to legislation in the early 1900's that provided protection for wildlife and funding for wildlife management, white-tailed deer numbers have again increased to over 20 million nationwide. Deer hunting represents a significant recreational as well as financial resource in many states.
History of White-tailed Deer in South Carolina
In pre-Columbian times much of South Carolina’s landscape was composed of mature hardwood and longleaf pine forest habitats. Deer were statewide in distribution but their overall densities could best be described as moderate. These moderate densities resulted from the lack of optimum habitat diversity for deer that was associated with historic, mature forests. Also, predators like the cougar, red wolf and American Indian helped to keep deer numbers regulated. Higher deer densities occurred in areas where disturbance created early stages of ecological succession. These disturbed areas provided an abundance of new, succulent growth close to the forest floor and within reach of browsing deer. Deer became locally abundant in areas where disturbance opened the forest canopy and allowed sunlight to penetrate and stimulate new growth. Natural disturbances that opened the forest canopy included lightning fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes. The impact of a storm like Hurricane Hugo on pre-Columbian forests would have created an immense area suitable for an abundance of deer. Similarly, the native American Indians understood this relationship and used fire frequently to create habitat suitable for larger numbers of deer.
The coming of the colonists had little immediate negative impacts on white-tailed deer. Although firearms facilitated the harvest of greater numbers of deer, clearing of land for small communities and farms created habitats that allowed for increased numbers of deer. Overall, during the early colonial period there was a general equilibrium between the colonists’ (and Indians’) use of deer and the benefits that deer populations received. However, by the 1800's the value associated with deer, improvements in firearms, extensive agriculture, and unrestricted market hunting began to severely limit deer and herds declined drastically in South Carolina. Domestic use of deer hides was great and in addition, annual exports of deer hides from Charleston approached 150,000 during the mid-to-late 1700's. The terms “buck’, “doe”, and “skin” persist to this day as monetary references reflecting the historic value of deer in our heritage.
The early 1900's marked the low point for deer in South Carolina as it did across the country. However, due to public concern for conservation things began to change in a positive direction for deer. The Lacy Act was passed by Congress in 1900 placing regulations on the interstate trafficking of wildlife and, in 1923, South Carolina passed the buck law which prohibited the harvest of female deer. In 1937, Congress passed a sweeping piece of legislation called the Wildlife Restoration Act or Pittman-Robertson Act. This act, named for the senator and congressman who sponsored it, authorized the setting apart of a tax on sporting arms and ammunition to be used in cooperation with states in wildlife restoration projects.
Also important to the recovery of deer in South Carolina were widespread changes in habitat that benefited deer. Although clearing for agriculture was greatly responsible for low deer numbers by 1900, the habitat began to change for the better in the 1920's. Years of significant drought and the impact of the cotton boll weevil were devastating to farming. With this reduction in farming came a trend of people leaving farms prior to and especially after World War II. Mills began to operate in many parts of the state and a large amount of agricultural land began reverting to forest land. So at that time there were laws that offered protection for deer, funds to implement wildlife management and research, and habitat improvements all of which set the stage for the recovery of white-tailed deer in South Carolina.
Although delayed by World War II, restocking efforts began in earnest in the early 1950's. At that time, deer were virtually non-existent in the piedmont and mountains of South Carolina and there was little if any deer hunting in those areas. Fortunately, good residual populations remained in the river swamps of the coastal plain and these strongholds of deer became the source for restocking. The fact that all restocking that took place in South Carolina used native deer as stock places South Carolina in a unique position with respect to genetic integrity. The characteristics of native South Carolina deer evolved due to environmental, behavioral and genetic pressures exerted for millions of years and we are lucky to have only native deer in South Carolina. Most, if not all, other states that had restocking programs received deer from other states.
In both the central and western piedmont, where deer were rare, wildlife biologists restocked approximately 100 deer during the early to mid-1950's. Deer numbers rapidly increased and by about 1960 the first deer hunts were held in these areas. In each case, the first hunt was a 3-day buck only hunt and in each case 1 buck was harvested. In contrast, the combined deer harvest from the Central and Western Piedmont Hunt Units in recent years has been approximately 75,000 deer annually. In much of the coastal plain, deer numbers were sufficient to allow hunting even when there was no hunting in the mountains and piedmont. Today, the statewide deer population is approximately 730,000. Huntable populations exist in all 46 counties in South Carolina and the annual statewide deer harvest is approximately 190,000.
South Carolina White-tailed Deer Antler Records Program
The South Carolina White-tailed Deer Antler Records Program began in the spring of 1974 and since that time, 7,469 sets of antlers (7,167 typical and 302 non-typical) have been officially entered onto the list. Initially, measuring sessions were only conducted a few times each spring, but since 1987 antler measuring sessions have been scheduled throughout the state with approximately 12 sessions occurring annually. Each year SCDNR wildlife biologists and wildlife technicians measure approximately 500 sets of antlers. Generally, only about one-third of the antlers that are measured make the Antler Records List with the bulk of entrants falling short of the minimum scores.
The purpose of the Antler Records Program is two-fold. First, because of the increased interest in deer hunting exhibited by sportsmen, it is a way to recognize outstanding white-tailed deer taken in South Carolina. Second, it provides management information that allows SCDNR wildlife biologists to identify areas that produce quality deer. When particular areas stand out it is important to attempt to recognize the underlying characteristics that produce outstanding animals.
As deer populations have grown in South Carolina, it has become more apparent that deer herd density in a given area is related to the production of large deer. Typically, areas of the state that are known to have large numbers of deer do not produce as many large antlered deer as those areas with fewer deer. Even areas that have exceptional habitat can only support a certain number of deer before the quality of the animals begins to decline. During much of the 1980's, the statewide deer population and annual deer harvest were perhaps two-thirds of what they are today. However, a tremendous number of deer were harvested that made the records list. In fact, the period between 1982 and 1992 accounts for approximately 30 percent of all records even though the list contains records that date to the early 1900's. Over the long term, approximately one of every 800 white-tailed bucks harvested in South Carolina qualifies for the records list.
This addition of South Carolina Deer Antler Records 2019 is based on activities conducted in the score year 2019. Antlers from deer that are taken in the fall are typically measured the following spring. For example, antlers from deer taken in the fall of 2018 were measured in the score year or spring of 2019. Antlers taken in other years may also be included in this publication since they were measured in 2019.
The state’s antler measuring system is the same as that utilized by both the Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young Clubs which are recognized as the national organizations that record exceptional North American big game taken with firearms and archery equipment, respectively. The measuring system is based primarily on antler size and symmetry and includes measurements of the main beams, greatest inside spread of the beams, circumference measurements at certain designated locations, and the number and length of the points. To be counted as a point, a projection must be at least one inch long and it must be longer than it is wide at its base.
Deductions are made for points that arise abnormally from the main beams or from other points and for symmetrical differences between corresponding measurements on the right and left antlers. For non-typical antlers, abnormal points are added to the score rather than being deducted as in the typical category. A set of antlers is classified as typical or non-typical based on its general conformation, the number of abnormal points, and a determination as to whether it will rank higher in the typical or non-typical category. Current minimum scores for the South Carolina Antler Records List are 125 typical points and 145 non-typical points. All antlers must undergo a minimum 60-day drying period before they can be officially measured. If a set of antlers meets the minimum score the record is added to the list and a certificate is issued recognizing the outstanding white-tailed deer taken in South Carolina.
About the Records List
The reader will notice that this publication contains a number of separate lists. The first two lists contain the records for typical and non-typical antlers that were documented during the spring 2019 measuring sessions only. Although most of these records represent deer harvested during the fall 2019 hunting season, some records were taken in previous years and were not officially measured until 2019. Separate rankings are presented for the score year (2019) and for all-time. These rankings reflect the position of the antlers compared to the other antlers measured during the year and as compared with all historical records.
The third and fourth lists contain the top 100 records for all-time in the typical category and the top 50 records for all-time in the non-typical category. These lists reflect the upper portion of all historical entries and each set of antlers is ranked as compared with the other antlers in the category.
The final list provides information related to the all-time production of antler records by county. The list is broken down by typical and non-typical and provides the rank for each county based on total number of historic entries, as well as, the county rank based on the number of entries in relationship to the size of the county in square miles.
The South Carolina Antler Records List is continually undergoing revisions and editing. Due to the size and nature of the list mistakes are inevitable. If you become aware of mistakes associated with the records list, please contact Antler Records, P.O. Box 167 Columbia, SC 29202 in writing. Proposed corrections will be considered after reviewing the original score sheet that is on file.
Comments on Score Year 2019
The most recent round of white-tailed deer antler measuring conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources revealed 242 new records. Of the 483 sets of antlers measured this spring, 242 met the minimum score for entry on the state records list including 232 sets of typical and 10 non-typical racks. Although all of the records were not taken during the 2018 season, 198 were taken during the 2017 or 2018 season.
The top typical buck was a 160 2/8 inch buck taken by James Sims in Fairfield County in November. Sims’ buck qualifies for the Boone and Crockett Club’s Three Year Awards Period and is the new Fairfield County typical record. The second and third highest scoring typical deer in 2018 were a 154 6/8 inch McCormick County buck taken by Russell Porter in November and a 154 1/8 inch Aiken County buck taken by Mike Johnson in November. With both deer netting 162 7/8, there was a tie for the top non-typical buck between Daniel Barnhill’s November 2018 Horry County buck and a buck taken in October of 2017 in Abbeville County by Joseph Hozey.
Once again, Aiken County was this years’ top producer of State Record entries with 21 followed by Horry and Laurens with 13 entries each, Anderson County with 12, and Orangeburg with 11 entries. As far as all-time leaders at the county level, although Orangeburg County (521 records) has topped the list for over 20 years, Aiken County has now taken the lead with a total of 529 records. Rounding out the top five counties are Fairfield 298, Anderson 288, and Williamsburg with 272. On the other hand, if you account for the size of the county the top counties per unit area of harvest are Anderson, Abbeville, Aiken, Orangeburg, and Allendale.
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. South Carolina’s deer herd is in good condition, and after many years of rapid population growth the herd stabilized in the mid-1990s followed by a decreasing trend since about 2002. Statewide population estimates put the deer herd at about 730,000 animals with an estimated harvest of approximately 190,000 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.
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 14,000 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 6 million per year. Essentially, the average hunter stands a better chance of being struck by lightning than harvesting one of these record deer.
(Documents below are in PDF format.)