The T&D Region and specifically Orangeburg County has long led the state in the number of deer entered in the state record book.
A closer look at the records shows we also have the highest number of people deer hunting and spend the most days in the field hunting compared to the rest of the state.
Maybe we kill more and bigger deer than the rest of the state because we spend more time at it than other counties or maybe we spend more time at it because of all the big deer we have.
Either way, as deer-hunting season begins locally on Aug. 15, Orangeburg and the surrounding counties of Calhoun and Bamberg again lead the way in number of new entries into the state record book, as well as number of deer shot.
In the 1950s, any hunter who shot a deer had a good chance of getting his picture in the paper and anyone who shot a deer every year was probably famous locally, as either a great hunter or a poacher.
When I became old enough to tag along with my grandfather, as he hunted deer every Saturday from the first day of the season on Aug. 15 until the last day on Jan. 1, shooting a doe was considered a cardinal sin. It just wasn’t done. If you did so by accident, getting kicked out of the club and a call from the game warden wasn’t an unreasonable expectation.
Most of the old timers I hunted with remembered the days of one deer being killed every other Saturday and were convinced that if we started shooting does, it was a matter of time before we went back to those days. Seeing 20 or more does on a dog drive didn’t convince them and neither did the biologists from the state when they started the doe tag program.
It’s a far cry from those days of old. There are few hunters today who think it’s a bad idea to shoot a certain number of does or that it’s not good for the overall health of the herd. In fact, you are more likely to hear someone complain about not shooting enough does than hear someone say they don’t shoot does because we won’t have any deer if we kill all the does.
According to Dr. Charles Ruth, the S.C. Department of Natural Resource’s Deer and Wild Turkey Program coordinator, South Carolina’s deer population expanded rapidly in the 1980s and early 1990s and it peaked in the late 1990s at about 1 million animals.
However, since 2002, the population has trended down with current figures being about 750,000 deer, a 25 percent decline from peak figures 10 years ago. The reduction can likely be attributed to factors including habitat change. Although timber-management activities stimulated significant growth in South Carolina’s deer population beginning in the 1970s, considerable acreage is currently in even-aged pine stands that are greater than 10 years old, a situation that does not support deer densities at the same level as younger stands in which food and cover are more available.
One of the factors that those hunters of old didn’t have to contend with was the introduction of coyotes into the state’s ecosystem. When asked about the effect the rapidly growing coyote population was having on the deer population given the results of an ongoing study being conducted at the Savannah River Site, Ruth, explained:
“Relative to the SRS study, it is difficult to say what impact coyotes are having across the state. We have done a good job documenting it on the study, but you have to be careful not to extend the exact findings of the study everywhere. What I tell people not to get bogged down in the details of the study but to recognize that we now have coyotes everywhere, and though they may be operating at different levels across the state, the important message is that their activities are new and represent a change from the past.
“That being the case, we likely need to change how we treat deer from a hunting standpoint. It is like managing your money. Historically we earned a high interest rate on our investment (deer recruitment) and now that coyotes are getting their cut (fawn predation), we can’t spend as much money (kill deer) as we did in the past.”
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 601 sets of antlers scored this spring, 257 met the minimum score for entry on the state records list, including 246 sets of typical and 11 non-typical racks. There were also two new entries into the Boone and Crockett record books.
According to Ruth, the number of successful entries into the record list this year is the highest in 15 years. Although all of the records were not taken during the 2011 season, 209 were taken during the 2010 or 2011 seasons.
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.
The top typical buck was a 169-2/8-inch buck taken by David Elrod in Pickens County and qualifies for the Boone and Crockett Club’s All Time Records List, as well as number five all time in our record book. Number two for the year, a 153-6/8 monster, was entered by Gayle Shuler and was taken in Calhoun County.
The top scoring non-typical buck was found dead in Berkeley county by Jennifer Mixon and Allen Mole. The 187-7/8 deer was good enough to be the number four all time non-typical deer in South Carolina.
Aiken County was this year’s top producer of state record entries with 23. Other top counties included Orangeburg (19), Anderson (14), Kershaw (11) and Calhoun (10). These results come as no surprise as the counties have historically produced good numbers of record entries.
As far as all-time leaders at the county level, Orangeburg remains at the top with 428 sets of antlers on the list. Rounding out the top five counties are Aiken 387, Fairfield 250, Colleton 239 and Anderson with 222 entries.
While coyotes and changing timber and habitat practices have certainly affected the deer population, South Carolina and The T&D Region still have a very healthy population. Comparing the number of deer killed per square mile allows larger and smaller counties to be looked at equally. The region leads the state in that as well, with Bamberg County coming in at number one with 24.1 deer killed per square mile. Calhoun is number 3 with 17.3 deer per square mile and Orangeburg is number 4 with 16.6.
Three out of the top four counties as far as number of deer killed is good news, but to make it even better is the fact that Orangeburg and Calhoun counties also were number two and five in number of deer added to the record books. It is hard to beat the combination of a lot of deer as well as plenty of big deer.
For more information on the state of South Carolina’s deer herd or any questions relating to deer and deer hunting go to dnr.sc.gov/hunting or contact Charles Ruth at SCDNR Deer Project, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202-0167. E-mail: RuthC@dnr.sc.gov.
Wes Murphy can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com