Hunters, processors say peak of the rut is near

Heath Gunther shot this 14-point non-typical last week.

If you see a doe walk out over the next week or so, you might want to wait a few moments before pulling the trigger. There’s a chance a buck of a lifetime might be following close behind.

That’s exactly what happened to Heath Gunther, a 24-year-old James Islander, while hunting last Tuesday evening at a property south of Charleston.

Gunther was hunting solo, since his regular hunting partner, his grandfather Thomas McFadden, was out of town.

“It was the first time since opening day that I was hunting with my rifle,” the avid bowhunter said. “And thank goodness I did.”

Seconds after a doe appeared about 75 yards from his stand, a big buck sporting a wide, non-typical rack stepped out behind her.

Gunther hit the bruiser with a round from his .270 Winchester Short Magnum; the buck ran a few feet and piled up in a ditch.

“I didn’t realize how big he really was until I pulled all the moss and vines off his rack.”

The 154-pound buck was obviously rutting, Gunther said. “His neck was swollen and his tarsal glands were stinking really bad.”

Gunther’s story serves as a classic example of why Lowcountry deer hunters will move heaven and earth to sit in a treestand in late October.

The rut usually peaks about now, and big bucks throughout coastal counties should be throwing caution to the wind as they chase does.

Michael Cordray, owner of Cordray’s Venison Processing at 6708 County Line Road near Ravenel, said he and his crew have been working a lot of deer so far this season.

The rut, he said, seems to have started a bit early, and “has already peaked in some places but is still building in others.”

“I was curious if it would be a longer rut or if it would slack off then start back up again. I’m a little bit baffled, to be honest, and curious to see what happens.”

Like many other local venison processors and hunters, Cordray thinks that after “a good cold snap, it will be a full-bore.”

Trey Hoffman, co-owner of Palmetto Processing off U.S. Highway 17A between Moncks Corner and Summerville, said he thinks we’re a week away from the peak of the rut.

“They’re chasing does and everything, but I don’t think it’s really happened yet.”

Hoffman said they’re having an average season so far, with slightly fewer deer but more bucks coming in.

“We had 23 deer the other night, and only one or two were does.”

Leo Martin, owner of Big Buck Horn Deer Processing on North Fraser Street outside Georgetown, said their processing orders are a little up.

He’s noticed a trend of bigger-bodied deer, especially from the Kingstree area.

“Seems like they’ve got a little more fat on them. They must be feeding them well,” he said with a laugh.

Reach Matt Winter, manager of niche content and design and editor of Tideline magazine, at (843) 937-5568 or