Overkill is underrated.
That’s been my default position when it comes to rifle calibers and ammunition for deer hunting — even here in South Carolina, where our deer aren’t exactly the corn-fed monsters you see on the Sunday morning hunting shows.
I shoot a rifle chambered for .300 Winchester Magnum cartridges. The heavy, ballistic-tipped rounds I buy deliver serious knock-down power far downrange.
Some of my buddies give me a hard time about my choice: “Man, why are you using an elk gun on these little deer?” And so on.
But I like the fact that most of the deer I shoot drop like a stone. That, to me, is important. When it comes to taking any game animal (furred, fish or fowl), I opt for most humane method possible.
So I was surprised last weekend when an expert presentation made me second-guess what I thought I knew about deer hunting.
Charles Ruth, the state’s deer and wild turkey program coordinator, presented some fascinating research findings to a group of hunt club representatives with whom I’m affiliated.
Ruth’s findings were based on a study done some years ago at an intensively managed, 4,500-acre private hunt club in coastal part of the state.
Ruth and his partners meticulously recorded the circumstances surrounding 603 shots fired at deer on the property, including the number and distance of shots, weapon used and bullet characteristics, where the deer was hit, how far it ran and whether the use of a tracking dog was necessary.
Hunters fired 603 shots to harvest 493 deer (305 antlered and 188 antlerless), for a success rate of 82 percent.
Here’s what they found when they took a closer look at the numbers:
There was no statistical difference in the effectiveness of .243, .25, .270, .284 and .30 calibers (which includes my .300 Win Mag). The “little” guns did just as well as the “cannons.”
There was no statistical difference between factory- and custom-made firearms. An expensive, “special” rifle did no better than an off-the-shelf, more affordable model.
There was no statistical difference between shooting success rate for bucks and does. This raises doubt on the effects of “buck fever,” when a shooter might shake from excitement when a buck appears.
There was, however, a significant difference between effectiveness of different bullet types. Rapidly expanding bullets led to deer running less often and not as far.
Whether or not a deer drops in place or runs some distance is, statistically, a 50-50 proposition.
In terms of shot placement, a broadside shot at the shoulder outperformed neck, lung and heart shots. Deer have a nerve bundle at the top of the shoulder, Ruth said, and a shot delivered there often knocks the deer out cold.
Using trained dogs to track and recover wounded deer dramatically increased recovery success.
To dive deeper into what Ruth found (there’s a lot of great info about the use of tracking dogs, especially), check out his study at dnr.sc.gov.
Turkey survival drops
State wildlife biologists fear that wild turkey recruitment in South Carolina decreased substantially in 2013, most likely due to record rains this summer.
Although reproduction in turkeys has been somewhat better the past few years, indicators plummeted in 2013, Ruth said in a recent DNR report.
The state’s average brood size of 3.9 poults (young turkeys) remained relatively consistent, but the total recruitment ratio — the number of young entering the population relative to the total number of hens — was down about 32 percent. This figure was driven by a high percentage of hens, 66 percent, that had no poults at all.
Both recruitment ratio and percentage of hens with no poults were the lowest since the state’s summertime turkey survey began in 1982.
The survey involves agency biologists, technicians and conservation officers, as well as volunteers from other natural resource agencies and the public. Although wild turkeys nest primarily in April and May, the survey does not take place until late summer so biologists can determine how many young turkeys actually survived.
So what does poor reproduction in 2013 mean for the spring turkey hunter in 2014?
“Spring harvest trends have followed the trends in reproduction in recent years, with harvest figures being better in 2012 and 2013 due to better reproduction,” Ruth said. “However, with reproduction way down this summer, the outlook for the 2014 spring season is not terribly encouraging.”
One positive note, Ruth said, is that the gobbler-to-hen ratio remained good, which is thought to improve hunting success.
“The bottom line,” Ruth said, “is the state’s turkey population remains about 15 percent below record levels of 10 years ago. Although the harvest has increased a little the last couple of years, we need better reproduction for several years to get the population back up.
“That is the nice thing about turkeys: Given the right conditions, they can naturally bounce back in a short period of time.”
The 2013 shrimp-baiting season closes at noon Nov. 12, and DNR officers have advised boaters not to have bait or poles with them on the water after that time.
Reports from local tackle shops have indicated spotty results throughout the season. Recent sampling by DNR’s crustacean monitoring program caught fair numbers of shrimp along the southern coast and average quantities near Charleston, according to Larry DeLancey, program supervisor. Overall size was smaller than usual, and areas around Port Royal and St. Helena Sounds seem to have produced the largest shrimp.
Licensing down this weekend
DNR is upgrading its computer systems, and license sales will be unavailable from 11 p.m. Nov. 15 through 9 a.m. Nov. 18.
License sales will not be available at any license sales vendor, internet or call center.
Which do you like more? Offshore or inshore fishing? Deer or turkey hunting? Kayaking or paddleboarding?
We’d like to know more about which outdoors activities you’re most passionate about.
To take our quick online survey, please go to tidelinemagazine.com and click on the “reader survey” button at the top-right of the page.
We’ll be giving away four one-day passes to the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition to one lucky survey respondent.
Reach Matt Winter, manager of niche content and design and editor of Tideline magazine, at 843-937-5568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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