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I just saw the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' release on last year’s deer season and specifically on trophy deer per county and state. I’ll save the big surprise for later.

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Only about one in 800 bucks taken per year in South Carolina will make the trophy record book, which requires 125 inches of antlers as a minimum. This year 242 sets of antlers met the required minimum. Of these, 10 were non-typical, which require a higher threshold of 145 inches.

The largest set of antlers was a 160-2/8 inch monster taken in Fairfield County, which is apparently making a comeback after being the best trophy county for years before the clear-cutting of much of the hardwood depressed deer numbers and size in the early 1970s. The next best bucks were 154-inch deer taken in McCormick and Aiken counties.

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I quote the news release here because I think it’s important: "The purpose of the Antler Records Program is two-fold. First, because of the great 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 provides DNR 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.”

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Now Ta da!!!!!!!! As far as all-time leaders at the county level, although Orangeburg County (521 records) had topped the list for over 20 years, Aiken County took the lead in 2019 with a total of 529 records. Aiken was the top producer this year with 21, followed by Horry and Laurens with 13 entries each. Orangeburg had 11.

Does anyone out there really believe Myrtle Beach has more deer than Orangeburg County? If so I have some beachfront property I would like to sell you in Aiken County.

Do you know what all of these top-producing counties have that Orangeburg no longer has? The DNR GOES TO THOSE COUNTIES TO MAKE IT CONVIENT FOR THE RESIDENTS TO SCORE THEIR RACKS.

If you live in Orangeburg County, you have to take off from work and drive to DNR headquarters in Columbia and hope there will be someone there to score your rack. That makes sense  -- after all Aiken County is 8 miles farther away from Columbia than Orangeburg -- right?

If any of you get online and just look at the deer brought in to The Great Outdoors taxidermy in Bowman, one would realize that more trophy deer are in John’s shop at any given time than Aiken County records per year. I used to be a little bitter about this but you know what? This may be a blessing in the long run. Let Floridians and out-of-state hunters start flocking to Aiken County to rent up land and hunt.

Let property leases double and triple there. Let local land owners in Aiken deal with strangers crossing property lines and verbally harassing local property owners. Things usually work out for the best if you don’t fight them. This could be all right.

Once again Orangeburg County might be that hidden jewel that no one talks about. In my old age that would be okay with me. Maybe it’s time for someone else to be the hunted.

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Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.

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