Deer antlers in velvet a Lowcountry prize

Hunters are advised to handle deer antlers with care to preserve the velvet. File/Provided

If it's August then deer hunting season can't be too far away.

The opening date for hunters on private lands in Game Zones 3 and 4 in South Carolina is Aug. 15. And that early opening date provides a rare opportunity for hunters in South Carolina, one of the few places where a hunter can harvest a buck in "velvet."

Male deer shed their antlers in late winter every year and begin to grow new ones during the summer. During this growth period, the new antlers contain nerves and blood vessels and the hairy skin looks much like velvet.

The velvet stage lasts only a few weeks. Once the antlers have reached their peak in size, the blood vessels begin to dry up and the velvet itches. Deer rub their antlers against trees to scrape the velvet from their antlers.

Kenneth Cordray is a taxidermist whose family operates one of the better known deer processing facilities in Ravenel. He sees lots of early-season deer in velvet and said he probably does from 30 to 50 shoulder mounts of deer in velvet each year. But if you want one of those special trophies, you have to be careful with the deer, he cautioned.

"You have to act quick and get it under refrigeration quickly," Cordray said. "Treat that velvet with kid gloves. Be careful. Don't grab that velvet and drag the deer out of the woods. That velvet is part of the skin and it comes off so quickly."

Cordray said hunters should get the deer caped out and the meat cooled quickly, whether you are doing it yourself or taking it to a processor. He said if you need to pack the cape in ice, then you should double or triple bag it in order to keep it dry and should spread the skin out as much as possible.

"If you put that trophy in the freezer, don't let that velvet hit up against the walls of the freezer. It will get freezer burned super quick. It doesn't take the tan as well when it's freezer burned."

• A new law passed earlier this year will give hunters 17 and younger an opportunity to possibly harvest a deer in velvet. Youth Deer Hunt Days on private lands is now set the Saturday before the regular deer season opening. That means the early season Youth Deer Hunt Day for Game Zones 3 and 4, which includes Lowcountry Lands, will be held Aug. 11. For Game Zone 2 Youth Deer Hunt Day will be Sept. 8, while Game Zone 1 Youth Deer Hunt Day will be Sept. 29. Youth hunters can take one antlered deer.

Youth hunters who have not completed the hunter education program must be accompanied by an adult at least 21 years of age. Youth who have successfully completed the state hunter education program are no longer required to be accompanied by an adult on scheduled youth hunting days. Adults may guide and supervise the youth but only the youth may attempt to take a deer. Additionally, requirements for hunting licenses and tags are waived for youth on these dates.

As in the past, there also will be a Youth Deer Hunt Day on the Saturday following the close of deer season on private land and on many Wildlife Management Areas. For more information, visit dnr.sc.gov.

• Deer tags are on the way. South Carolina residents who currently have an active Annual or Three-year Hunting License and Big Game Permit, Combination License or Sportsman License that will be valid when deer season begins on Aug. 15 should automatically receive a base set of deer tags at no cost. Additionally, anyone who has ordered optional tags or requested a set of tags since June 16 is in the system and the tags for those orders are being produced.

Deer tags are not available over the counter at point of sales vendors but are available over the counter at SCDNR offices located in Charleston, Clemson, Columbia (downtown and Farmers Market), Florence, and York. Tags may also be purchased by phone at 1-866-714-3611or online. Please allow 7-10 days for tags ordered or requested online or by phone to arrive in the mail.