"That's absolutely the case - you just never know," Ruth said. "At the (Palmetto) Sportsmen's Classic the year before last, a 12-year-old kid walks in the door with a 160-inch typical."
That buck -an Allendale County giant that scored 160 5/8 inches -easily qualified for the state record book, putting young Hunter Mock in the state's all-time ledger for what could turn out to be the first of multiple times.
Indeed, expectations have increased, thanks to a flurry of big bucks being added to the state record book in recent years.
Ruth announced the schedule of antler-scoring sessions for 2013. Seven will be held across the state in March, and scoring can be done by appointment in six more locations.
Scheduled sessions are: March 1, Bath (Wilson's Taxidermy, 158 Victory Lane), 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., 803- 593-3357; March 5: Easley (Academy Sports + Outdoors, 201 Rolling Hill Circle), 2-8 p.m., 864- 850-6130; March 7: West Union (Neville Hardware, 120 S. Hwy. 11), 2-8 p.m., 864-638-2531; March 11: Taylors (Rock's Country Store, 430 Groce Meadows Rd.), 2-8 p.m., 864-895-8324; March 14: Anderson (White Jones Hardware, East Shockley Ferry Rd.), 1-7 p.m., 864-225-1406; March 22-24: Columbia (Palmetto Sportsmen's Classic, State Fairgrounds), 803-734-3886; March 27: Bonneau (Dennis Wildlife Center, 305 Black Oak Rd.), 9 a.m.-4 p.m. 843- 825-3387.
Scoring by appointment is: Clemson, SCDNR office, 311 Natural Resources Dr., by appointment only during March, 864-654-1671, ext. 16; Columbia, SCDNR office, 1000 Assembly St., by appointment only any time of year, 803-734-8738; Florence, SCDNR office, 295 S. Evander Dr., by appointment on Fridays during March, 843-661-4768; Garnett, Webb Wildlife Center, 1282 Webb Ave., by appointment only during March, 803-625-3569; Greenwood, SCDNR office, 2751 Hwy. 72 East, Abbeville, by appointment only during March, 864-223-2731; Union, SCDNR office, 124 Wildlife Drive, by appointment only during March, 864-427-5140.
Six of the top 10 non-typical bucks have been killed since 2000. Among typical sets of antlers, four of the top 10 have been scored since 2000, and each of the top six have been killed in the past 19 years.
Ruth, the SCDNR's deer-project supervisor, cites a decline and leveling off of the state's deer population over the last decade as a prime factor in the production of bigger and better bucks.
During last year's scoring sessions, a record 257 bucks - out of 601 sets of antlers scored - qualified for the state record book.
"I think hunters are figuring out more and more what it takes to make it," Ruth said. "There's probably an increasing awareness about the antler-scoring program and interest in it as well."
What it takes to make the state record book is a minimum score of 125 Boone & Crockett points for typical racks and 145 points for non-typical racks.
The antler-scoring program serves two primary purposes, Ruth said.
"The first is to recognize these outstanding deer from a resource standpoint," he said, "and the second thing is from a management standpoint, trying to determine common denominators about where these outstanding animals are coming from."
Where they are coming from tends to be rather predictable, based on historic results.
"Orangeburg, Anderson and Aiken counties are perennial favorites," Ruth said, when it comes to producing record-book bucks.
Orangeburg ranks first all-time with 428, Aiken is second with 387 and Anderson is fifth with 222.
"A lot of that has to do with deer densities being a little more moderate," Ruth said, "and Orangeburg has a lot of agriculture."
But record-book bucks remain a rarity - over the long term, approximately one out of every 824 bucks harvested in South Carolina qualifies for the record book.
Hunters who are having antlers scored must provide documentation, such as the date and county of the kill, and sign a "fair chase" statement. Antlers in velvet or those that are broken and repaired or antlers separated from the skull plate cannot be officially measured.
Also, if the lower jawbone was extracted during taxidermy or otherwise saved, it should be brought to the scoring session to help biologists determine the deer's age. An accurate weight measurement at the time of the kill also is helpful.