Charles Ruth will be putting in a lot of time this month as the S.C. Department of Natural Resources holds antler-scoring sessions for hunters who want to know how big their buck is and how it ranks against other deer.
SCDNR will hold seven antler-scoring sessions across the state, then cap off March with three days of scoring at the Palmetto Sportsmen Classic in Columbia. In addition, SCDNR will score deer by appointment at offices across the state.
In short, there’s no reason that any hunter in South Carolina can’t have someone put a tape measure on a nice buck and see where it winds up.
Ruth, the biologist who heads up SCDNR’s deer and wild-turkey programs, said the labor-intensive program to score deer pays off for the agency in terms of giving it a really good look at where the most trophy bucks are being killed so he can ask, “Why?” with some expectation of getting a good answer.
Since the program came into being in 1974, SCDNR personnel have measured 6,389 sets of antlers that qualified for the all-time South Carolina record book by scoring either 125 typical points or 145 non-typical points according to the Boone and Crockett Club’s scoring system. In 2014, SCDNR staffers put their tape measures on 569 sets of antlers, of with 222 — almost 40 percent — qualified for the record book.
Some patterns emerge in the data Ruth gets to look at. He sees which counties and areas of the state are consistently producing the most trophy bucks, which gives him an idea of where the best habitat and best deer densities might be.
“It says something about habitat and from a deer density standpoint, but it’s still letting a matter of letting those bucks live,” Ruth said. “It doesn’t tell the story of whether anybody is doing a better job in one part of the state than other parts.
“These deer have to get to 3 ½ years, most probably older than 3 ½, to score better than 125. Habitat and deer-density play a part, but they still have to slip through for an extra year or two.”
The scoring sessions is a big undertaking. Ruth said he’ll have 40 to 50 people working 6- and 8-hour shifts throughout the Palmetto Sportsmen Classic the last weekend of March.
“At some of the other locations, we’ll probably have four to six people there scoring and doing paperwork, and we’ll score deer here; I scored one today,” he said. “We just have to know they’re coming. It’s several weeks worth of manpower, a lot of work.”
Ruth has noticed a change in recent years. A higher percentage of deer brought to scoring sessions are making the book.
“As hunters have learned more and they know little better what it takes to make the record book, the percentage goes up,” he said. “In past, people didn’t know; now most are familiar with scoring system.”
For a complete summary of the program, visit http://dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/deer/alltime.html.