When Danny Dillard of Easley, S.C., strolled into ACE Hardware in Seneca, S.C., on March 2 with his latest set of trophy antlers in tow, Richard Morton reached for the tape.
Not of the measuring variety, but rather of the masking variety.
“There were so many points we had to tape them up just to make sure we didn’t miss one or recount one,” said Morton, a biologist with S.C. Department of Natural Resources. “It was interesting.”
Things got even more interesting when Morton announced the final tally for Dillard’s buck: 217 7/8 Boone and Crocket points, a score that made Dillard’s deer the top non-typical buck ever killed in South Carolina, breaking a record that had stood since 1971. It is set to become the eighth non-typical Palmetto State buck to qualify for the Boone and Crockett all-time record book.
Dillard suspected he had a potential record-book qualifier but was stunned when he heard that he’d shattered the state record.
“I’ve learned to let the experts do the measuring on ’em,” said Dillard, 57. “I was just in shock; I’m still in shock. And just thankful.”
Dillard also was stunned last Oct. 13 when he bagged the buck of a lifetime while hunting for the first time on a small tract of private property in Edgefield County. He had heard about a big buck in the area three years earlier, but the buck had disappeared after some heavy timber cutting nearby.
“Some neighbors (to the property) had started seeing a big deer back in 2013, but then for most of 2014 and 2015, nobody saw him, nobody had a trail-cam picture of him,” Dillard said. “We were wondering if he’d been killed or just died of old age.”
But when the landowner spooked “the biggest buck he’d ever seen” while checking his fence line one evening, Dillard’s hopes were rekindled. He scouted the area early last hunting season and determined that plenty of deer were using a few trails that crossed a logging road near a logging deck and a fence line that was littered with white oak acorns.
Dillard cleared a tight shooting lane alongside the road and on the afternoon of Oct. 13 settled in with his back against a large pine tree on the edge of the road. Just before dusk, seven deer emerged from the thickets, crossing the road one by one.
Deer No. 8 made Dillard’s jaw drop.
“When he stepped out, I already had my rifle up,” Dillard said. “I told myself, ‘That’s him.’ ”
Dillard squeezed the trigger on his Remington .270, making a true shot at 130 yards. The buck ran up the other side of the road into a cutover and dropped 50 yards into the brush.
After waiting for 15 minutes or so, Dillard made his way to his kill.
“It was getting dark, and I had no idea what I was looking at,” Dillard said. “The first thing I noticed on him was his huge brow tines. Then I walked around in front of him to pick his head up and shined my flashlight on the front of his rack and saw that he had all these big kickers coming off the main beam and that’s when I started freaking out a little bit.
“Every time I started counting points, I’d lose count and have to start over. I think I started over 12 times, and every time I’d come up with a different number.”
The final count was 30 points – 16 on the rack’s right side, 14 on the left. The inside spread of the antlers came in at 22 7/8 inches.
The buck weighed an estimated 215 pounds and was aged at 7½ years by biologists at Auburn University.
“I’m not any smarter than the rest of the hunters out there,” Dillard said. “I can’t explain it, but I do believe that I’ve been blessed.”
Dillard is no stranger to trophy bucks. He has placed five typical bucks in the top 100 on the state’s all-time typical record book, including three in the top 16. A 171-inch buck he bagged in 2013 in Anderson County ranks No. 3 all-time.
But they all take a back seat to his latest buck, which might be best described as “not your typical non-typical.”
“He sure isn’t,” Dillard said. “I’ve never seen anything like this one.”