The number of record deer antlers was down slightly during the scoring sessions held throughout the state earlier this year, but that doesn't mean South Carolina's deer herd is in trouble, said Charles Ruth, Deer Project Supervisor for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
During the scoring sessions, 222 new records, including one Boone and Crockett qualifier, were added to the state record list. There are now 6,147 typical and 242 non-typical in the state record book. To qualify for the record book, typical (symmetrical) antlers must score at least 125 points on the Boone and Crockett Club scoring system, which measures mass and symmetry. Non-typical racks must score at least 145 points.
According to DNR, the top typical buck scored this year totaled 1627/8 and was taken by Gary Walls in Orangeburg County in December 2009. Walls' buck also qualified for Boone and Crockett Club's Three Year Awards Period List and is No. 18 in the South Carolina records list.
The top non-typical deer scored 1671/2 and was taken in Oconee County last December.
"When we say (down slightly), we're comparing with probably our best two years, 2012 and 2013, that we've had in 15 years. It was down a little, but down from our all-time records. Our antler record situation the last five to seven years has been really good," Ruth said.
"By and large, in most parts of the state where there were lots and lots of deer in the late '90s, we're not carrying as many deer, and typically having fewer deer means better quality. I think that's where we are in many parts of the state. The quality is showing up. We're harvesting nice deer and they're ending up in our records list."
Ruth said South Carolina's deer population went through 25 years of growth "where even hunters got to the point of what are we going to do with all these deer?"
But the population has decreased about 25 percent in recent years because of three things - hunters embracing the harvest of does; changes in habitat; and coyotes, which have a direct impact on fawn survival.
"That's not to say we don't have certain areas where there are lots and lots of deer, and we're still getting lots of agricultural complaints. But the big picture is we've got fewer deer," Ruth said.
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, according to Ruth. Statewide population estimates put the deer herd at about 750,000 animals with an estimated harvest of approximately 225,000 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's deer season opens Friday on private lands in much of the lower part of the state, including Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties. The season ends Jan. 1.