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SCORING & FIELD JUDGING WHITETAIL DEER



Whitetail buck bedded in a fall wood lot.
This bedded buck would give you plenty of time to asses its antler spread and tine lengths. Although, unless you are looking for a particular buck, a quick glance a this bruiser would have most hunters putting the crosshairs on him post haste!

Whether you want to measure a set of antlers from a buck you shot or field judge what a buck’s antlers will score in on the hoof, learning exactly how to properly estimate or measure antlers should be part of your deer hunting skills.


Let me assure you measuring or estimating the score of a set of antlers on the wall or in the field isn’t as hard as you may think it is, not as long as you keep in mind some basic guidelines.


When it comes to officially scoring a set of antlers for a net measurement for possible entry into any organizations books, however, it should be noted that all such organizations require that after the “official drying out period” is over, the antlers must be measured by an “official” measurer.


There are several organizations that you can enter your trophy in including national, regional, state and even some local clubs. They include the four most well-known organizations like Boone & Crockett, (Official Scoring System for North American Big Game Trophies), Pope & Young (Official Scoring System for Bowhunting North American Big Game), the Longhunter (National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association), Buckmaster’s (Whitetail Trophy Records), and dozens of other groups across the nation and Canada as well.


The following information will give you the ability to learn how to rough score any set of deer antlers you have shot, or you may want to quickly estimate when you are actually hunting. Once you have learned the technique and have measured a few sets of antlers, you will probably become proficient enough to measure a set of antlers to within 10 of its official score consistently and be able to field judge a buck’s antlers within 30 seconds or less to within 10 to 15 points!


Let’s divide the two reasons for measuring antlers at this point. The first group is predominantly made up of trophy hunters who before pulling the trigger on a buck want to know if the antlers are large enough to make the record books or to judge if they are larger than buck’s they have already taken in the past.


For yet still others a trophy can mean taking a buck with a 16-inch-wide rack and four good tine points to a side. A buck like this will score between 110 and 120 points, providing the other measurements, such as overall length and circumference of the main beams, are within certain parameters, too. A buck like this is not large enough to make most books, but it is good enough to make a lot of hunting companions envious. Keep that in mind when you consider letting a 120 buck go. If you have never taken a 120 that may be the buck to start with! Remember, no matter what size racked buck you are looking at, whether he’s a 110- or a 170-inch class buck, you should know what to quickly look for in order to field judge him accurately.


FIELD-JUDGING WHITE-TAILED BUCKS


If you are a hunter who belongs to Group # 1 and your goal is to either take trophy-class bucks or larger antlered bucks you should learn to quickly and accurately be able to field judge a buck’s antlers on the hoof. To put a white-tailed buck in the record books, it only makes good old common sense that you know if a rack will score high enough to qualify for entry in the books before you decide to shoot the buck.


Contrary to what you think field-judging a buck’s antlers on the hoof isn’t all that difficult (what is tricky when field-judging a buck is having the buck to provide you with enough time to look his antlers for at least 30 seconds to a minute), with practice you will soon be able to add up the measurements in your mind quickly and accurately in the field.


With some basic knowledge, a lot of practice, some basic math skills and a good dose of luck almost any hunter can become a “quick-study” of field judging a buck’s antlers in the field and estimate its rough, gross score within about 10 points of any of the scoring systems including the to most used, the Boone & Crockett, Pope & Young or any of the other scoring systems I mentioned earlier.


The one down side to this is that it is not often when you’re about to squeeze the trigger or release the arrow that a buck will hang around long enough to offer you a lengthy, unobstructed view of his antlers. This means you prevent the buck from scenting or spotting you as best you can. Most times things happen too quickly for that. So in order to become a hunter who commits to taking only trophy class bucks - you have to make a few sacrifices. First you must be willing not to shoot before you know (not guess), as closely as possible what the rough score the rack will be. That’s easier said than done. Secondly, you must also be able to let smaller bucks – especially yearlings – walk by because many times larger racked bucks follow them.

Whitetailed buck eating corn off an ear still attached to a stalk.
If you spotted this buck eating in the corn, you would need a good set of binocs to accurately pick out its tines. They blend in with the color of the corn stalks.

I can guarantee you there is rarely time to look over a buck’s antlers and jot down the information on a score sheet! This is all done quickly in your head.


In order to score properly, however, you must first understand what you have to score to begin with. Most scoring organizations like B&C and P&Y take measurements of the inside spread, the length of the two main beams, the height of each tine, and the circumference of the main beams in four separate locations. Remember that in order to score high, a typical rack must have symmetry. The more symmetrical the antlers are the more likely it will score high.


To practice this and get good at measuring antlers you can’t try to do it in the field. I suggest practicing on as many mounted heads as you can before you try to do it for real in the field. Look the mounts over carefully and estimate and record on paper (now is the time for that), all the information.


Guess the inside spread first then guess the length of the two main beams, next I like to guess the length of all the tines at this point, I usually can make my decision on if I’m going to shoot or not. In the field if I’m looking at a buck that has tines that are pretty close to being the same size on each side, I only add up one side to save valuable time.


The same goes for the overall length of the main beams. There are four points on the antlers where the “H” measurement (which is the circumference of the main beams) must be calculated in four places on each side! I have learned to look at the overall thickness of the main beams and the bases and make a quick analysis of the mass on the main beams rater than waste valuable time trying to add up 8 different measurements in the field which 99.9 percent of the time is not practical. When you practice on mounted heads, however, don’t skip this step. It will help develop your skill level to quickly judge the “H” measurements. I might be off an inch or two in the end – but in circumstances when time is of the essence in the field this is often the only way to score the rack quickly.


In reality, when that buck steps into the open for a few seconds, your brain has to be trained to rapidly add up its antlers before he walks too far off or even disappears.


Think quickly in four terms: overall mass, inside spread, overall tine length, and overall main beam length. If the rack is substantially lacking in one of these areas, it probably won’t score high enough. Even if it has a lot of points but they are all different sizes it probably won’t score well. If only one is lacking, however, do the other measurements have enough of an impact to make up for the one that doesn’t score well?


Forget trying to look to see if the antlers extend past the buck’s ears. I have news for you – it is the rare buck – even a mature buck – whose antlers get much wider than 20 inches. Most are smaller. In cases where you are hunting in trophy areas like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, etc., bucks may have slightly wider racks, but they don’t even get much wider than 22 inches most of the time. I don’t let this interfere with my field judging then. I concentrate on more important things like symmetry and mass. Mass can over come a lot of short comings on a buck’s antlers.


I always look most carefully at the tine lengths, and if the main beams are relatively straight. A good circumference of the beams will be three to four inches, but the most deceiving aspect to field judging antlers is circumference. If you’re going to misjudge a rack it is usually in this area (circumference).


When I see a buck walking my way, I quickly start to calculate the mass, spread and tine length in my head rather than get distracted by the whole buck. I’m not a certified scorer but it is the rare rack that I can’t score within 5 points in less than 30 seconds! Now before you say he’s full of it – remember this. I have made this a hobby of mine for over 45 years.


When I first started scoring bucks in the field it took me several minutes. After shooting some of the bucks I was surprised to see that most times for the first couple of years I was off by 15 to 20 points! It takes constant practice to get good at quickly field judging. Again, luck must play a role here as you need the buck to present you with at least 30 to 60 seconds of opportunity to look over his rack. But after doing it over and over again you train your brain to see the rack even when partially obstructed by brush and it instinctively begins to calculate the score without much effort after a few years.


After 45 years I have trained my brain to quickly calculate what a buck will score as he passes me. These days it has become second nature for me to calculate a buck’s antlers on the hoof. When I shoot a buck that I have field judged his rack I often guess the score to within 10 inches or less. After all these years, When I am measuring a set of antlers from mount of skull plate however, I can guess the score usually within 5 inches and sometimes even closer every time.


Two deer in a green pasture. The buck is sniffing via a flehmen gesture.
This 6-point buck has nice G-2 tines and the G-3s are much smaller.

GREEN SCORING YOUR BUCK’S ANTLERS


The second group is made up of hunters who want to simply want to know what a particular buck’s antlers score for their own satisfaction or to know if it scores high enough to be officially scored for entry into any of the organizations mentioned above.


For this type of antler measuring time is not crucial. You can take all the time necessary to accurately score a set of antlers. All you will need is a few tools and patience.


As you begin you can choose one of two ways to keep track of your measurements. The less formal way (especially when you don’t have access to a score sheet), is to enter the numbers on a piece of paper. If you use this method, you must be able to memorize all the entries you need to measure


The more organized way is to use a score sheet from one of the many organizations that maintain record books. The combined columns consider the spread credit, overall length of left and right antlers, the overall length of the main beams, and the length measurements of each individual tine on both main beams. The individual tine length is commonly referred to as a “G” measurement. The “G” measurements begin with the brow tines which are referred to as the G-1s. The next tines after the brow tines are called the G-2s, nest are the G-3s, G-4s and so on.


Each set of antlers will also include a deduction column with the exception of the Buckmasters Club which provides the hunter credit for everything Mother Nature has given the buck for his antlers.


There are three additional measurements that are recorded but that are not figured into the overall score. They are the number of points on each antler, the tip-to-tip spread and the greatest outside spread of the antlers.


To achieve the most accurate total score, you must know where to begin taking each measurement from the main beam. To begin the process, whether you are measuring for your own satisfaction or to see if the antlers are large enough to be scored by an official scorer, you can make some minor mistakes and still have the overall score within the ball park. Keep in mind hat most organizations require a “drying-out” period of sixty days before they allow an official measuring to take place.


BASIC EQUIPMENT NEEDED


The equipment needed to score a set of antlers is basic. A 1/4 –inch flexible steel measuring tape which you will use to measure the antlers to the nearest 1/8 of an inch, a pencil, paper, or a black score sheet, and, if you have trouble with fractions, a calculator.


The process begins with the eight (or so) basic measurements you must make and where they are made.


NUMBER OF POINTS

This measurement is not calculated in the final score. First determine the number of points on the right antler, then the left. To be officially counted as a point, a point or tine must be at least one inch long. All points are measured from the tip of the point to the nearest point of the main beam.


TIP-TO-TIP SPREAD

This measurement is also not calculated in the final score. Measure the width of the antlers from tip to tip. Simply stated, this means make a measurement between the tips of the main beams.


GREATEST SPREAD

Again, although most organizations list this measurement it is also not calculated in the final score. Now, measure the greatest outside distance or spread of the rack. This is done by measuring the outside distance between the two tines that are the farthest apart.


INSIDE SPREAD

The inside spread of the main beams is measured at the widest point between the main beams. This number is used in the overall score. If the inside spread measurement is greater than the length of the longest main beam, than you have to use the longest main beam length as your measurement in this category.


LENGTH OF ABNORMAL POINTS

Abnormal points are those non-typical in location on the antlers or are also extra points beyond the normal pattern of points. They are often called kickers by hunters and are measured in the usual way.


LENGTH OF THE MAIN BEAM

Measure the overall length of the main beam from its lowest outside edge of the burr over the outside curve to the tip of the main beam. This measurement must be entered separately for both right and left antlers.


LENGTH OF INDIVIDUAL POINTS

Now measure each individual point on each main beam. Begin with the G-1’s traditionally called brow tines or eye guard points. Every official organization refers to this point as the G-1. Each point up to the main beam from G-1 is referred to as G-2, G-3, G-4 and so on. Remember, to be classified as a point, it must be at least one inch long. The old wives’ tale that a point is anything you can hang a ring off of does not hold true officially when you score a set of antlers or when counting the overall number of points on a set of antlers. To accurately measure a point, measure it from the nearest edge of the main beam over the outer curve to the tip of the point.


Now, measure the length of each remaining point on each beam and enter or write down the individual lengths. Do not measure the end of the main beam as a point – it is calculated in the overall length of the main beam.


CIRCUMFERENCE OF MAIN BEAM

This measurement, referred to on the score sheet as the “H” measurement is taken at four exact places along each main beam. What is important with these measurements is the location where they are made. The circumference measurement is made at the smallest place between twp points. For example, the first measurement (H-1) is made at the smallest place between the burr of the antler and the first point.


The next “H” measurement is at the smallest place between the first and second points; and is called H-2. The remaining circumference measurements are H-3 and H-4. For the H-4 measurement, if there is no fourth point (or tine), then take the measurement halfway between the third point and the beam tip. There are no additional circumference measurements taken after H-4.


TOTALING YOUR SCORE

This is where the suspense begins to peak. Now add and deduct all the measurements you have just taken. First, add the measurements of the column referred to as Spread Credit (the inside spread of the antlers) to the bottom of that column.


Next, add the left and right Antler columns to the bottom of the page. Then add the Difference column to the bottom of the page, too. Bring all the total figures from columns 1, 2 and 3 to the “Add Column” (found on the left-hand side of all official score sheets) and total them together. Then bring the figure from column 4 over. SUBTRACT COLUMN 4 from the total you got by adding columns 1, 2 and 3.


This figure is now your subtotal green score sometimes also called the rough or unofficial score. Now deduct from the gross number the length of abnormal points and all the “difference” measurements. This number is your NET or Final Green score. The reason I say green or rough, is that until the rack dries out for sixty days and then is measured by an official scorer from Boone & Crockett or Pope & Young or any state record keeping organization, your score is not official and, therefore, only classified as a green or rough final tally.


By the way, before I begin to measure a rack on paper, I estimate what it will score, and I write the number down on the page as “eye-ball score.” When I am finished measuring the antlers with a tape or wire, I compare it to my “eye-ball” measurement for fun. It adds some excitement into the process for me.


Knowing how to measure a set of antlers is really fun and important especially if you want to be able to accurately tell your friends what your buck scores. You’ll become the “go-to-guy” when ever anyone in your hunting circle shoots a buck. Everyone wants to know what his buck scored no matter how big or small his antlers are.


In the end we all develop our own way of calculating and summarizing all the elements on a rack to get a good feel for the overall score. I know plenty of guys who after practicing a couple of years don’t even have to add up scores anymore. They simply look at the buck’s antlers and in less than a few minutes they can tell you if it scores 120, 130, 140 or whatever range it is.


So whether you call into group one or two or both start practicing how to score racks right now. Begin with your own heads and then practice on heads that you see in stores like Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, and Gander Mountain and in taxidermist shops. Before long, you will be a pro at estimating (notice I did not say guessing now), the overall gross score of a whitetail buck.


It’s a lot of fun even if you’re not planning to become the next Milo Hansen and bagging the next world record. Give it a shot (forgive the pun here), and I know it will not only be enjoyable, but it will also make you a more knowledgeable hunter as well as helping you to impress your hunting buddies.



Whitetail buck in fall woods
This 8-point buck's spread is wider than its ears' spread and the tine length is very good.

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