One For The Record Books

Upstate Outdoors
August 04, 2017 - 11:13 am

In order to qualify for the South Carolina White-tailed Deer Antler Records Program, a deer’s antlers must score a minimum of 125 points under the typical classification or a minimum of 145 points under the non-typical classification.

 For the purposes of scoring antlers, the SCDNR’s antler scoring system is the same as that utilized by both the Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young Clubs which are nationally recognized as organizations that record exceptional North American big game taken with firearms or archery equipment. The scoring system is based primarily on antler size and symmetry and includes measurements of the main beams, greatest inside spread of the beams, circumference measurements at certain designated locations, and the number and length of the points.

To qualify for the list of all-time record book deer for South Carolina is a distinction among deer hunters. It may come as no surprise that several names are mentioned more than once and one of those names is Don Houck from Allendale County.

For Houck, killing a record book buck is no luck circumstance. In fact the hunter estimates that he has killed nearly 20 deer that would qualify over the years but has let just as many walk. In fact, he has a reputation for putting other hunters in his deer club, especially ones who have never killed a big deer, on trophy bucks. He admits he gets more enjoyment from another hunter’s trophy than adding another one to his own credit.

“In my experience, you have three key ingredients to consistently harvesting trophy deer,” he said. “You have to have good food sources to feed your deer, you also have to have good genetics in your deer herd, and you have to let the smaller bucks walk.”

When he speaks of food sources, Houck suggests that having excellent nutrition during the spring months, when deer are growing their antlers, is important, but having a balanced diet to feed deer year round is critical. 

“We plant a mix of clover, sorghum, wheat, and rye—pretty much everything you’ll find in a quality deer management mix,” he said. “We have some sandy soil in places around South Carolina so using a mix helps keep something available for deer to eat year round.”

As for the genetics of their herd, Houck said he and his fellow club members have had to work with the existing herd for many years to build it into a trophy buck factory. 

“You can’t import deer into South Carolina. It has taken a long time to weed out the undesirable deer, which leaves you with better quality deer—that’s the basis of quality deer management,” he said.

Most deer managers speak of adequate doe harvest to balance their herd but according to Houck, coyotes take care of most of the thinning of does.

 “We’ve killed over 100 coyotes on our land and surrounding properties,” he said. “Our buck to doe ratio is right around one buck per every two does, that’s just about unheard of. I read in a study conducted by the University of Georgia that 80 - 85 % of fawns are killed each spring and that most of that fawn loss is due to coyotes. We’ve definitely seen a decrease in our overall deer population so we have eased up on our doe harvest because of so much natural mortality.”

Letting young bucks walk is a challenge for most deer clubs that want to establish quality deer management practices but Houck said it’s not as difficult these days in his club, especially in light of the state’s efforts at establishing limits on buck harvest with the new tagging system. 

“When a new member comes out during the late summer and sees what we have walking on our property, they want to wait until they can get on a big one,” he said. “As a club, we instituted a 110 point minimum rule and we only let a member shoot two bucks a season.”

As we begin making preparations for the 2017 deer season in South Carolina, three things to remember - good year round food sources, good genetics, and letting bucks grow to their ultimate size – and you might be one of the names listed in next year’s South Carolina record book.

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Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week’s guest will be Brandon Cobb, Forrest Wood Cup competitor from Greenwood, SC. Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Good nutrition, good genetics, and letting bucks age before harvest are three primary factors to growing record size deer in South Carolina. Courtesy Don Houck.

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