The Velvet Touch

Upstate Outdoors
August 16, 2019 - 10:05 am

~Phillip Gentry

Believe it or not, this week-end marks the Opening Day of deer season for two of the four Game Zones in the state of South Carolina. In Game Zone 4, which occupies the eastern section of the state from Kershaw County to Horry County, bow season opened on Thursday, August 15. The Game Zone 4 rifle season will open on September 1.

In the southern most corner of the state, Game Zone 3, which covers roughly from Lexington County to the coast, rifle season opened Thursday and runs consecutively until January 1, 2020.

The next question that comes to mind for folks who are not familiar with the South Carolina Low Country’s early season opening dates is: Why?

It’s a fair question. The season dates in the Low Country are more based on tradition than anything. Dating back to the plantation days, farmers harvested their summer crops and for the most part had nothing to do until time to plant again. Back in those days, everyone who worked on the plantation got together for dog drive deer hunts. The spoils of the harvested crops drew the deer out of the swamps and hard to reach places and the plantation owner and field hand alike participated in the hunt to the sound of baying dogs. 

The opening date remains to this day because it was never changed and no state legislator, who still make and modify the game & fish laws in the state, ever dared take on tradition.

Be that as it may, another reason that Low County deer hunters give for wanting to brave the bugs and arguably one of the hottest, humid-est, and most miserable places to be during late August is the chance to harvest a buck still in velvet.  

The harvesting of does is not permitted anywhere in the state until at least September 15. This allows the does enough time to wean fawns so that they stand a better chance of surviving on their own in the event the doe is taken.

Bucks historically do not shed their velvet in South Carolina until early September. That provides hunters with a 2 – 3 week window to take a buck in velvet.

If you are not familiar with the way the antlers of cervid males (deer, elk, and moose) form and develop, a little biology lesson is in order.

Deer velvet covers the growing bone and cartilage that develops into deer antlers. The outer surface of the velvet has a  hairy, “velvet-like” appearance, hence the name. Inside, the elasticity of the covering protects the antler as it grows until it calcifies. 

 Even the largest antlers grow from small nubs on top of the buck’s head, called pedicles, to full size in three to four months. This makes deer velvet one of the fastest-growing types of biological tissue.

Contrary to popular opinion, the ultimate size and number of points produced by a buck are not a complete indicator of age, but more of nutrition, health, and body size. 

With their vegetarian diet, deer typically do not consume a lot of calcium, so the calcium in a buck’s antlers are produced by chemical reactions in the body, similar to bone production and expends large amounts of energy and nutrition to grow.

Outwardly, antlers are used for attracting mates and fending off competitors for those mates during the breeding season. Shortly after the mating season ends, whitetail bucks shed their antlers, which reduces much of the biological stress associated with growing antlers.

On a unique side note, deer velvet has been used for many years in Chinese culture as a nutritional supplement for virility, arthritis pain, osteoporosis and to combat anemia. In more recent trending, American athletes swear by antler velvet, as a supplement, to improve athletic performance and stamina as well as reduce recovery times from injuries.

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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. You can also stream the show live or on podcast at 1063word.radio.com 

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