Bluffton Packet

Cows have horns, but deer grow antlers — and a way of life in South Carolina Lowcountry

A 4-point high-rack buck caught off guard gives a look of surprise.
A 4-point high-rack buck caught off guard gives a look of surprise.

When you read this article concerning deer antlers, the season for harvesting deer will have been going full throttle for a couple of weeks in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

The official state regulation guide, the “South Carolina Hunting & Fishing” magazine offered by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources through its unique partnership with J. F. Griffin Publishing, states that South Carolina has four Game Zones concerning private lands, each with rules and regulations.

For Zone 3, which includes Beaufort, Jasper, Charleston and Colleton counties, the hunting season runs from Aug. 15 to Jan. 1. Legal hunting time for deer is one hour before official sunrise until one hour after official sunset.

While a lot of deer hunters are after the venison on a hunt to cook up a tasty meal, the majority of these hunters are simply after the bucks with a nice rack of antlers for bragging rights. An antlered deer is defined as a deer with antlers 2 inches or more above the hairline. Anything below that measurement is called a “button buck.”

The statewide limit on antlered deer for South Carolina residents is two per day and a total of five for the full hunting season. Plus, a hunter is required to have tags for these antlered deer. These tags are valid for the entire deer season if the hunter maintains an active license/big game permit. In any case, two of these bucks must have at least 4 points on one antler, or a 12-inch inside spread.

Hunters enrolled in a Deer Quota Program have different rules and limitations. This varies because daily limits depend on acreage, with the defined limit being on the property, not the person hunting it.

Deer tags are not available over the counter at point of sale vendors such as Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc. But they are available over the counter at any SCDNR office. Tags may be requested after July 1 by phone at 1-866-714-3611 or online at: www.dnr.sc.gov/purchase. However, tags will not be mailed until early August, so when ordering allow seven to 10 days for tags to arrive in the mail.

When driving down country roads flanked by big fields and barns, two chances to one if you look really close to the side of that barn you will spot some deer antlers nailed up, “Not brag — just fact.”

In comparison to some farm animals such as sheep, goats and cattle that have horns, deer grow antlers. And these antlers are deciduous, meaning they shed and regrow a set each year, just as deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall and put forth new ones come spring.

Rarely are two sets of antlers exactly alike, and each one tends to tell a story about the buck that grew them.

During the cold winter months between January and February, the shortened daylight hours causes the testosterone level in bucks to drop to its lowest point in the annual cycle and these impressive antlers that helped define their status during the breeding season unceremoniously drop off.

During this time a walk through the woods may yield a set of antlers to be found among fallen leaves and collected.

Come spring, bucks will start growing new antlers that will be covered in velvet, a covering of blood vessels and protein that sustain the antlers as they grow. But that will be rubbed off most likely by Labor Day, exposing beautiful, hardened antlers of various patterns in shades of tan and brown.

Antlers can be used for ornamental purposes, ranging from creating bases for lamps, bookends, tie-backs for curtains, and jewelry.

My granddaughter Cheryl has confiscated some of her dad’s deer antler tips to use in her line of Psalm 91 jewelry. Not everyone can sport one of these lovely necklaces adorning their choice of dress for the day, so consider yourself special if you’re lucky enough to wear one. Chances are you may be able to find one at Bluffton’s Mameem & Maudie’s, where Cheryl had some on display.

Growing up with a dad and brothers who were deer hunters, and then with a husband and raising three sons, seeing a mounted antlered deer head fresh from the taxidermist, and plenty of antlers mounted on plaques hanging around, has become “old-school.”

If you don’t have any hunters in your life providing antlers, plan an antler hunt with a walk in the woods come February.

Happy hunting! (No pun intended.)

Jean Tanner may be reached at jstmeema@hargray.com.

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