For Brice West, a deer hunter for most of his 23 years, Oct. 11 signals a red-letter date on the calendar.
Beginning Tuesday, West can exchange his crossbow for a rifle, as most of the Upstate enters the gun-hunting portion of the deer season. It is especially significant in Anderson County, one of the best places in South Carolina to harvest a deer.
And West, a Belton resdent, anticipates an exceptional hunting season.
"In an area where, in most years I see one or two large bucks, this year I've seen seven or eight," said West, who typically does most of his hunting with a bow, "I've come across a ton of acorns in the last couple weeks, and that's a good sign that plenty of deer are around. I think it's going to be a good year."
The years for finding deer are typically good in Anderson County, where both the deer herd per square mile and the average size of deer has been larger than the rest of the state.
Last year, hunters harvested a white-tailed deer for every 35 acres of land, the highest figure in the state and well above the average of a deer for every 81 acres. By contrast, a deer was harvested for every 84 acres in Greenville County, every 118 acres in Pickens County, and every 162 acres of Oconee County.
While deer harvest has been on a downward trend statewide in recent recent years, Anderson's numbers are on the rise. The state had a 4 percent decrease in deer harvest a year ago, but Anderson County had a 31.8-percent increase.
The county's 219,068 largely rural acres are laced with plenty of the kinds of trees that are magnets for white-tailed deer.
"The food supply is great here. We have a lot of oak trees and persimmon trees," said Grady's Great Outdoors associate Chris Goodwin, who talks to hunters on a daily basis. "So you're going to have a lot more deer, and larger deer, than in the Lowcountry, where you have all those pine trees."
Anderson County's landscape is also more attractive to white-tailed deer than the mountains of Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties, said wildlife biologist Charles Ruth, coordinator of the deer program for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
"The combination of habitat and deer density is obviously very good in Anderson," said Ruth, noting that the county annually ranks high in the size of deer harvested. Last year, the state's largest deer was harvested in Anderson County.All time, three of the state's 12 largest deer (measured by antler size), and five of the 25 largest, were killed in Anderson County.
"This would point to (Anderson) hunters perhaps being a little more selective as it relates to buck harvest," Ruth said. "Or, it could once again be a function of habitat in that bucks have a good mix of foraging and escape cover.
"I'm not sure what the exact mix is," Ruth said, "but there is no doubt that Anderson County is hard to beat in South Carolina."
The harvest of white-tailed deer numbered 6,183 in Anderson last year. Only three counties, all in the Lowcountry with larger land mass, ranked higher.
Ruth said Anderson County's deer population is still in the “increasing mode” compared to many other counties in the state, which partly explains why the county also ranks high in the number of deer-vehicle collisions.
Anderson had 86 of those in 2015, one fewer than a year earlier. It has averaged 93 a year over the last five years, eighth-highest in the state. Thirty-two deer-vehicle collisions were reported in Pickens County last year; Oconee County had 15.
Statewide, the number of deer-vehicle collisions has declined in each of the last four years, falling from 2,484 in 2012 to 2,278 in 2015.
In an effort to maintain a stable deer population and reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions, South Carolina has one of the nation's longest gun-hunting deer seasons. It annually begins Oct. 11 and ends Dec. 31.
The state's 2015 deer harvest was hurt by Hurricane Joaquin and other heavy rainfall, Ruth said. That could make for more record-sized deer this winter.
"The decrease in harvest in 2015 was largely a result of poor hunting conditions and not fewer deer. That being the case, there was likely carryover of deer," Ruth said.
According to DNR estimates, about 730,000 white-tailed deer reside in the state. About 200,000 are harvested each year.