Every year hunters kill many trophy deer across South Carolina from the Lowcountry to the Upstate, but most are only considered trophies to the hunters that harvested them.
But a few exceptional deer meet the “mounted-over-the-fireplace” designation. The 2005 deer season produced quite a few trophy bucks across the state and four have qualified for South Carolina Sportsman’s Deer of the Year designation for 2005. To qualify a whitetail must be harvested during 2005, within the state, and killed by fair chase rules (still or dog hunting; no high-fence bucks). South Carolina trophy bucks come from all regions of the state. However, certain counties produce more trophy bucks than other portions of the state. Orangeburg, Aiken, Hampton, Fairfield, Colleton, Abbeville, Kershaw, Lexington, Anderson, and Williamsburg Counties are considered the top counties in South Carolina for large-antlered white-tailed deer with Orangeburg providing the most record deer. The past season produced several quality bucks from across the state with many in the 120-class Boone and Crockett designation. However, only a few bucks were harvested in the 130s and above. The midlands and low country produced the most quality bucks this year. Chuck Elmore bagged an impressive 144 B&C class eight-pointer Oct. 18 while hunting at private land in Hampton County. Matt Didelot of Charleston bagged a 147-B&C class, 21-inch inside spread 14-point trophy wrapped in velvet while hunting private property Aug. 20 in Orangeburg County. Mike Lea bagged a massive 22-inch spread 10-pointer Oct. 15 while hunting at Piedmont Hunt Club, Inc. leased lands in Fairfield County. Phil Werner, also of Charleston, bowshot a Pope and Young eight-point buck with an 18-inch spread at public hunting grounds near the Francis Marion National Forest in Berkeley County. The B&C scores are unofficial because the deer were scored during the 60-day drying period. With the exception of Didelot’s pre-rut monster, early to mid-October during the full moon was an exceptionally hot period for big bucks during 2005. Most likely, all of the Deer of the Year will be entries into the state record books or the White-tailed Deer Antler Records Program managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Only one out of 1,000 white-tailed deer bucks qualifies for the S.C. Antler Records program (minimum 125 Boone and Crockett) according to SCDNR. From 1974-2004, 4,488 sets of antlers have entered the state-record list. The top-100 deer killed in the state range from Edwin Kennerly’s 152 4/8 buck from Calhoun County (No. 100th) to William C. Wyatt’s 176 0/8 buck from Pickens County (No. 1). Bigger bucks in S.C.’s future? The South Carolina Division of Natural Resources’ White-tailed Deer Antler Records Program, started in 1974, will continue to provide crucial management information to deer managers and hunters. During the last 30 years, SCDNR biologists have deduced deer density is proportional to deer size. Generally, counties with high deer densities, such as the coastal region, aren’t producing the quality deer of the lesser-populated counties in the piedmont and mountain regions. Large antlered bucks must receive adequate nutrition and protection. During the past decade, hunters have initiated trophy deer management objectives into harvesting plans that include population-density control, nutrient supplements and selective harvests. Hunters and land managers can control doe numbers to prevent over-population and habitat destruction. As long as SCDNR biologists continue to implement sound management programs and hunters continue to follow these objectives, the state should continue to produce quality white-tailed deer. If so, one day it’s possible William C. Wyatt’s 176-inches Boone-and-Crockett state record from Pickens County will be eclipsed. — JEFF BURLESON Tar Heel scores Big at Oak Grove By JEFF BURLESON During the week of October 15-18, Chuck Elmore of Waxhaw, N.C., was hunting with the Rhodes family at their 4,000-acre family farm, Oak Grove Plantation, in Hampton County. As he awoke on the cool and crisp morning of October 18, anticipation of the days hunt fueled his hunger for a trophy buck. Elmore slipped quietly into his stand way before daylight, figuring to stay until late morning. It would prove to be a fortuitous day to be afield as the weather and lunar periods favored hunters. At approximately 7:30 a.m., a couple of does appeared 150 yards away and walked through the cypress bay and across the grassy field in one of the shallow creeks. “I heard something splashing in the water on my left side,” said Elmore as he was glassing the does across the tall grass. “I eased around to my left side, and it was only a doe splashing in the water.” He turned his attention to the does passing through the tall grass out in front of him. Almost immediately, he heard more splashing in the creek and he thought it might be a buck trailing the previous doe. He turned and noticed it was just the doe’s fawn trying to catch up with mother. “Just another doe,” Elmore said to himself as he turned back to the group of does traveling through the tall grass in front of him. A few minutes later at 8 a.m. the splashing began again in the creek to his left. Elmore glanced over his left shoulder and saw a huge 8-point buck trailing the earlier does. “I new it was a shooter and I never looked at the rack again,” he said. “The doe, fawn, and the huge buck were traveling toward my stand.” Elmore had a frontal shot, but since the deer were coming toward him, he felt as if he should wait until the buck turned broadside or at least offered a quartering view. “The track they were on would take them directly under my stand and they would smell me and bolt for sure,” he said. “I knew that I had to take a shot the first chance I could get.” At 40 yards the buck turned slightly, giving Elmore a decent shot. At the crack of the .243-caliber rifle, the buck bolted under the stand and swung around out in front at 30 yards and stopped giving Elmore a rear-facing view and a second chance. The second shot placed in the center of his back dropped the buck. “I could see the buck was down for the count,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to get my hands on my trophy.” Elmore said he was thankful his son, Carson, let him use his .243 rifle because Elmore’s .270 wasn’t holding a good pattern. As Elmore approached the deer, he was pleased to notice the long G2 tines and heavy mass carried all the way to the tips of the antlers. The eight-point buck weighed 200 pounds and total 144 typical Boone-and-Crockett inches. Elmore, who has spent the last 5 years hunting at Oak Grove, said he appreciated the work the Rhodes family has put into their land to manage whitetails. “They have done a tremendous job, and it shows what sound management can do,” he siad. “I’ve been lucky enough the last five years to hunt with the Rhodes family in Hampton County on what I believe to be the finest whitetail hunting destination in the state.” Didelot learns never to turn down a hunt By JEFF BURLESON On a sweltering Aug. 20, Matt Didelot of Charleston broke away from his job at the docks of Patriot Point. Jason Russell, one of Didelot’s Citadel pals, coaxed him into a tree stand at Russell’s 4,000-acre family farm near Holly Hill in Orangeburg County. The Russell family manages the farm for timber, agriculture, and trophy whitetails. Didelot always has been interested in hunting, especially deer hunting, but hadn’t been able to invest a lot of his time in the woods while at the Citadel. In fact, he’d never pulled the trigger on a deer. But Russell and Andy Phillips, former Citadel roommate and college friends, have been die-hard deer hunters for years and encouraged Didelot to hit the woods whenever possible. Didelot and his two friends arrived at the property just before 5 p.m. for an afternoon hunt. Didelot climbed into his tree stand at approximately 5:15 p.m. to set for the afternoon overlooking a peanut field. The 20th was a typical August day with the mercury bubbling out the top of the thermometer at 90-plus degrees. Just after settling in the stand, Didelot wondered to himself, “Why are we here? It’s so hot.” It seemed more like fishing weather than deer hunting weather, but the peanut field he was overlooking would be a prime location to spot a trophy whitetail. At nearly 7 p.m., seven does entered the field 175 to 200 yards from Didelot and meandered across it, digging at protein-rich peanuts. “Seeing the does passed the time and reassured me I wasn’t wasting my time,” Didelot said. As he watched the does cross the field, something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. Four “shooter” bucks, covered in velvet, entered the field 50 yards from his stand but were moving away from him. “Bucks harvested at the Russell farm had to have at least eight points and beyond the ears to be considered a ‘shooter,'” he said. “These bucks were beyond shooters; they were real trophies.” The four bucks skirted the edge of the field, away from his stand. He pulled up his gun’s scope to count points and saw each buck was a good candidate to be mounted over his fireplace. “One of the four bucks turned and appeared to have a wide rack and probably the best of the four, but he was rear-faced and didn’t present me with the best shot,” Didelot said. The last thing he wanted to do was to take a poor shot, perhaps wound a deer and return home empty handed. In fact, any one of the four would have been a trophy for him, since this would be the first buck he’d had a serious chance to shoot. However, one of the four was an eight-pointer and standing broadside, so Didelot decided to take a shot before they scurried back into cover. “I took a deep breath and started to squeeze the trigger on the broad-sided deer when the bigger one with the wider spread, 22 ½ inches to be exact, and 14 points, turned broadside too,” he said. “I moved my crosshairs over behind the 14-pointer’s shoulder, and he dropped at the sound of the rifle.” After hearing Didelot shoot, Russell and Phillips met him at the peanut field to see what he had shot and were overjoyed when they saw the massive 189-pound bruiser lying in the field. “Didelot’s was the second-biggest buck ever taken off the farm,” Russell said. With the velvet intact, the buck unofficially totaled 147 B&C inches. The rack would definitely make the “official record book” for South Carolina (125 B&C or greater) if he were to scrape off the velvet. But Didelot said he could care less about the score. “It’s just a big, beautiful rack,” he said, “I will have it on the wall to show off, and that’s good enough for me. Being that big and being in velvet is what makes it special.” Cordrays, in nearby Ravenel, processed the deer, and it was the winner of the 2005 Record Buck Contest. Parnell’s Taxidermy in Summerville prepared the mount of the buck, which is hanging above Didelot’s fireplace in his Charleston home. The incident motivated Didelot as a hunter and prioritized his spare time to be in the woods during future deer seasons. CWD not present in S.C. By Jeff Burleson South Carolina, like most of the Southeast, dodged bullets from chronic wasting disease during 2005. After the most in-depth surveillance effort for CWD in South Carolina was conducted, no evidence of the disease was detected. Biologists sampled 500 deer statewide with the help of a federal grant and the cooperation of hunters, landowners and deer processors. None of the southeastern states, including S.C., has reported or diagnosed the potentially devastating disease. However, 13 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces have reported CWD. Charles Ruth, the deer project leader for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said CWD is a fatal, neurological, transmissible disease that affects deer and elk. The disease causes the brain to degenerate, just like the infamous “mad cow disease” in cattle. “CWD attacks the central nervous system of the deer or elk and presents symptoms including extreme weight loss, excessive salivation and urination, odd behavior and poor coordination,” Ruth said. “The disease in deer or elk is infectious, communicable and always fatal, but cannot be transmitted to humans through these animals. “CWD has a prolonged incubation period (up to five years), and no current test exists to detect the disease in live animals. Diagnosis requires examination of the brain or lymph nodes.” It’s believed CWD is transferred from animal-to-animal through direct and indirect contact. Since 1998, DNR has coordinated with the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, which is part of the University of Georgia’s School of Veterinary Medicine, to conduct surveillance for CWD in South Carolina. This surveillance includes diagnostic analysis of target or profile animals that exhibit CWD-like symptoms. During 2004, thanks in part to a grant available to all states through the U.S Department of Agriculture, SCDNR’s surveillance effort was increased to include active surveillance where samples are taken from otherwise healthy hunter-killed deer sampled at deer processors or hunting clubs. CWD is recognized at the state and federal level. The federal governments’ involvement in the issue demonstrates the disease is a problem of national significance. South Carolina shouldn’t have a problem with CWD in the future for two reasons, Ruth said. First, the closest area with diagnosed CWD is northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, placing South Carolina geographically far from any known CWD. Second, there is evidence movements of deer/elk for commercial purposes may have played a role in the current CWD situation, and SCDNR historically has had a strict policy preventing importation of deer and elk for commercial purposes. In addition, noncommercial importation from S.C. hunters from other states is limited with heavy restrictions. S.C. sportsmen hunting at other states are reminded to restrict importation of certain animal parts with nervous tissue attached, including portions of the spinal column, unclean head and skull with tissue attached, non-boned meat, and unclean upper canine teeth. Since CWD potentially can be transferred from indirect contact, these banned animal parts never should enter the state from potentially infected areas in the North. In the past, South Carolina has been criticized for the ban on commercial importing of cervids, or deer and elk. However, since the CWD outbreak, more states are beginning to fall in line with the state to prevent the spread of CWD. SCDNR plans to continue CWD surveillance at some level for the foreseeable future, Ruth said. “There is simply too much at stake not to make every effort to protect the state’s white-tailed deer resource and the deer hunting tradition,” Ruth said. “Not only are white-tailed deer the designated state game animal, but the economics associated with deer hunting in South Carolina are very important with more than $200 million in annual retail sales being generated at the local level.” States such as Michigan that have discovered wild deer with CWD traits have tried to eradicate all whitetails within miles of the infected animals, potentially costing millions in hunter income and devastating healthy deer herds. QDM works for Lea buck By JEFF BURLESON Seasoned hunter Mike Lea bagged his biggest buck at Piedmont Hunt Club, Inc. during October. At 22 inches wide and 188 pounds, Lea’s 10-point buck is the largest deer the club has taken in more than a decade. Organized in 1986, Piedmont Hunt Club, Inc., is successful hunt club, excelling in quality deer and turkey management. The club has more than 15,000 acres in Fairfield, Kershaw and Richland counties with maintained openings, food plots, mineral licks, and stands. Lea, a family man, usually takes one or both of his children, ages four and six, with him. The proud father said he enjoys having his children with him, but they limit his stand choices to large, enclosed box stands overlooking food plots or power lines. However, the evening of Oct. 15 was going to be different — his children were preoccupied, giving Lea the opportunity to hunt a more remote location. He arrived at the club at 2 p.m., intending to enjoy an extended afternoon hunt at a newly-established stand location. The new stand was situated near a heavily-traveled corridor at a hardwood bottom with two nearby creeks. After a half-mile slow walk to the stand, Lea climbed into his stand at 3 p.m. The stand was placed where he could see approximately 50 yards in every direction along a travel corridor adjacent to mature hardwoods, thick cutover, young pine plantation and the two creeks. There was a gentle breeze with occasional gusts. The stand was tightly secured to the tree and during stronger gusts, it created a creaking noise across the bottom. He knew this spot was going to be a problem for his afternoon hunt and began to think of alternative stand locations. Every time the wind would blow, making the stand creak, his confidence level dropped. Finally, he climbed down and headed to another nearby location. On his way out, less than 30 yards from the stand, he saw a fresh scrape with a couple of large fresh deer tracks. “At this point, my confidence level revived, and I was convinced that deer would come to feed this afternoon,“ said Lea. So he climbed back into the stand after adjusting the main strap, which stopped the creaking noises. After several hours listening to noisy woodpeckers and squirrels, Lea decided to start rattling. He would rattle at 6, 6:30 and at 7 p.m. with 2- to 3-minute intervals to interest any pre-rut bucks in the area. At 6:30 p.m., the sun was barely touching the tips of the planted pines at the adjacent ridge top, and the wind had ceased for the evening. His first rattling sequence had been unsuccessful. “The woods were getting quiet; it was time to rattle again,” Lea said. After rattling again, he heard a couple of faint crackles across the creek in the thick brush. A few minutes later, peering into the heavy cover, he could make out the silhouette of a big deer moving laterally in front of his stand. Lea lifted his binoculars and glimpsed antlers as the deer passed in the heavy cover. “It looked like a small cow,” he said. “There was no question that this was a mature buck.“ He exchanged his rifle for the binoculars, but he was traveling away from him in heavy cover and wondered how he could get the shot. “I had to turn him somehow,” Lea said. “I could grunt or rattle, but I didn’t want to startle him at close range.” Suddenly the buck turned and walked towards the stand and stopped in front of the creek. “My heart was about to explode from my chest,” Lea said. He repositioned his rifle to get a good look at the deer and the movement caught the big bucks attention. But it was too late. Before the buck could respond, Lea carefully placed a fatal shot. The buck flipped backward into the creek to its death. After 10 minutes, Lea went to the downed buck and was overjoyed. “I thanked him for making my hunt great as I patted his body,” he said. Lea’s only regret is his children weren’t with him during his memorable day in the hardwood bottom. Lea carries his children hunting frequently to teach them about the outdoors and to share his hunting experiences with them. “Quality deer management is starting to pay off in a big way,” he said. Lea hasn’t officially scored the deer, but rough scoring has ranked the deer as a 130s class Boone-and-Crockett buck and within the S.C. record-book category (in excess of the required 125 inches). Jim Stout Taxidermy of Blythewood will prepare the taxidermy mount of Lea’s buck. Bagging a buck the old-fashioned way By JEFF BURLESON Phillip Werner of Charleston bagged a massive eight-point buck with his bow at a South Carolina Wildlife Management Area in Berkeley County during early October. The 175-pound brute is Werner’s all-time biggest buck and considered the biggest bow kill at S.C. public land for 2005. Werner primarily hunts WMA lands east of I-95 in and around the Francis Marion National Forest. Almost exclusively a bow hunter, he prefers “true hunting” without the aid of dogs, deer driving or bait. “You can kill nice deer over bait or by dogs, but it’s not considered at trophy unless you outsmart them on their own turf,” he said. Werner selects several key areas abundant with sign and with the least human activity. “The deer hunting is easy, but learning to avoid other people (on public land) is the hard part,” he said. “You definitely have to do your homework.” Werner concentrates his hunting tactics at areas with few other hunters. Warner and his sons, Drew and Sean, spend many hours before, during and after the season scouting for trophy deer at public lands, preferring archery-only areas. He said he believes such areas are protective havens for mature deer. Werner was hunting with friend, Al Jones, the day he harvested his big buck. After an unsuccessful morning hunt filled by encounters with other hunters, Werner and Jones traveled to a new unfamiliar area. After a couple hours of scouting, they found an area of fresh rutting activity within a spot where three natural funnels converged. Werner and Jones picked up their Loc-on stands from the truck and found a couple of decent locations approximately 200 yards apart for their afternoon hunt. Just after Werner attached his stand at the tree, he started to descend the “climbing stick” when he heard a group of deer coming towards him through the hardwoods bottom, but they were snorting as if alarmed. Werner froze for a second then heard a deer grunting repeatedly and moving towards his stand. A pair of bucks, a spike and racked buck, came barreling past his location, trailing an aggravated doe within 15 yards of the tree stand. Warner’s bow was still in his truck. After the bucks passed by, he climbed down and skirted back to the truck to get his bow. With his confidence level high, he waited patiently. At 4 p.m. a doe appeared and slipped by his field of view and stopped broadside. He decided to pass on the doe in anticipation of the racked buck he had seen just a few hours earlier. At 5:30 p.m. two does walked out, and Werner realized that the buck probably wouldn’t be back. Since he needed to recharge his venison stores in his freezer, he drew his bowstring and released and arrow that passed directly over one of the doe’s back. But then, at 6:45 p.m. and just before dark, Werner saw a tail flick next to the thicket of oaks, roughly 20 yards away. “I could tell that he had a decent rack and I prepared to shoot,” he said. The deer walked towards the stand and passed behind a tree giving Werner just enough time to draw his arrow. With the buck standing broadside from him six yards away, he released a fiberglass arrow from his Fred Bear single-cam bow and it slammed through the deer’s chest. Werner shimmied down the tree and runs to his downed deer 100 yards from his shot location and called to Jones for help. If he hadn’t passed up the first doe and missed the second doe, Warner figures he probably wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to take his buck. The deer weighed 175 pounds, had an inside spread of 18 inches, and its longest tine was 11-inches long. The only imperfection in its rack was two broken brow tines. The missing tines kept Werner’s buck out of 130-inches Boone-and-Crockett level, but it likely will be eligible as a Pope-and-Young qualifier (minimum score 125 inches). “He may not the biggest buck killed for 2005, but he’s still a good deer for the Low Country,” Werner said. Freeman’s Taxidermy of Ladsen is preparing the mount for Werner’s buck.