Is It a Shooter?
A Guide to Scoring Whitetails on the Hoof (How to score whitetail deer.)
Hunting mature, trophy whitetails is a wonderful sport. The pursuit of record book whitetails is a passion that lives year round in the mind of just about every serious whitetail hunter. Every year, millions of hunters take to the field looking for the buck of a lifetime. Some are hunting out behind the barn on Grandpas property. Some are hunting with whitetail hunting outfitters on some of the best trophy whitetail properties in the nation. We are all waiting for that one magic moment to happen. From the first sound or sighting of an approaching deer, we start looking for antlers. It could be a spike or it could be the next world record. Chances are itís going to be some where between the two. Are you able to make the right call? Can you make the right decision? Itís almost impossible to hit the nail on the head when it comes to scoring live whitetails, but with a little training, you should be able to make a ball park estimate. Plus or minus 10 inches. In the following narrative we will attempt to assist you how to score a whitetail deer.
Once we determine that the deer has antlers, then we have a decision to make. Sometimes, we have a lot of time to make that decision. Other times, it needs to be made in a couple of seconds or the opportunity to harvest the animal is gone.
We are all Trophy hunters at heart and all have our qualifications of what a trophy whitetail is. To serious trophy hunters it has to be a record book buck. To qualify for the Boone and Crockett record book, it has to score 170 inches of antler. Minimum score for the Pope and Young record book is 130 inches of antler. For the average hunter having a record book whitetail isnít the top priority, but taking a quality buck is an accomplishment to be proud of.
If you are hunting with a whitetail-hunting outfitter that has a minimum on what size deer you can harvest, knowing how to field score live whitetails can make a definite difference in cash reserves. Shooting a buck below the outfitters minimum size requirement will result in a penalty fee. Some outfitters impose fees of over $1000.00 for shooting a buck that is below their minimum. So how do you score a whitetail deer?
As the manager for IMB Outfitters in Pike County, Illinois, part of my job is to train our incoming hunters on how to decide if a buck meets our minimum size requirements of 120 inches. Having a minimum size requirement is an important part of any quality deer management program. In Pike County, Illinois, the minimum size requirement that the outfitters impose on their hunters has resulted in Pike County Illinois being one of the top places in the nation to harvest a record book whitetail. It is important for the whitetail-hunting outfitter to give the animals a chance to grow to their potential. At the same time, for the outfitter, itís not any fun informing a hunter that he has shot a buck below the minimum size requirement and you need to collect the penalty fee.
A certain percentage of our hunters that hunt with IMB Outfitters already know how to field judge trophy whitetails, but a lot of our incoming hunters have never even seen a 120 inch buck on the hoof. This article will cover the basics on field scoring whitetails by defining the most important characteristics to look for. Heres a few pointers in an effort to scoring a whitetail deer.
They are :
#1. How many points does it have?
#2 How long are the points?
#3 How wide is it?
#4 How long are the main beams?
#5 Determining mass?
#6 Body weight of the animal?
#7 Adding it up!
# 1. How many points does it have?
The first seventy bucks in the Boone and Crockett record book all have more than eight points. It just stands to reason that the more points a buck has the better he is going to score. A buck that scores 120 inches as an eight pointer may score 130 to 135 inches as a ten pointer. Having good brow tines will also add greatly to the score. Having ten points wonít mean much if the brow tines are only an inch long, but if they are five inches long itís going to make a huge difference in the score.
Also, make sure you get a good look at both sides of the bucks rack. I have seen this happen a number of times. A hunter gets a look at a buck but only gets to see one side of the antlers and assumes that the other side matches the side he sees. After shooting the buck, the hunter is disappointed to find that the other side is broke off or is deformed for one reason or another. Donít assume anything ! If you are serious about taking a trophy buck, wait until you see both sides!
#2 How long are the points?
In order to determine this, one must have something to compare the length of the points too. The average whitetail buck has ears that are six and 1/2 to seven inches long. When viewing a buck, compare the length of the points to the length of the ear. This is the best way to get an idea how long the points are. If the buck has ten points that are short and stubby, heís probably not going to score very well, unless he exhibits some other outstanding features such as long main beams or a lot of mass. Like wise if the buck is only an eight point, but has long, G2ís and G3ís, he may score well.
Remember that brow tine length is very important, especially on an eight pointer. Having good brow tines is critical. Iíve seen some real nice eight points that didnít make the minimum simply because they had short brow tines!
#3 How wide is it?
This can be a hard one to judge, especially if you donít see the buck from several different angles. Most mature whitetail bucks ears are going to be between 16Ē and 18Ē wide, tip to tip when their ears are on full alert. There isnít any doubt about it when you see a buck that spread is way outside his ears, but I have been fooled a number of times when the bucks ears are laid back. The spread on a 130-inch buck can looks pretty good with the ears relaxed. If you have time to evaluate the buck, it wonít take very long before you get a chance to see him with his ears alert. We like to tell our hunters that the spread should be out, close to the tips of the ears to help qualify him to meet our 120Ē minimum.
Another viewing angle that helps determine width is looking at the buck from the front or from the rear. This past pre-season in Pike County, Illinois, I saw a buck several times while scouting one of our properties. I could tell he was a definite shooter, but never got a really good look at how wide he was. Finally, I got the chance to see him walking away from me and was impressed to see that his rack was much wider than his rump and was outside his ears at least 3 inches on each side when his ears were erect. I would estimate his outside spread was about 24 inches. A monster!
#4 Main beam length.
Main beam length is very important. There are several different things that need to be analyzed when deciding this. This measurement starts at the base of the antler and goes all of the way to the tip of the antler. When viewing the animal from the side, I try to see where the tip or end of the antler is in relation to the deerís nose and eyes. If the end of the main beam isnít at least out over the middle of the nose or further, I seriously start questioning the quality of the rack. Likewise, if the tip of the antler is out close to the end of the nose, the main beam length is probably going to be in the 22Ē to 25Ē length. Main beam length is also influenced by how wide the rack is and how much curve there is in the rack. The closer the tips of the antlers come together, the more length there is.
#5 Determining Mass
There are several ways to get an idea of how much mass a set of antlers has on a live whitetail. Once again, the ears are used. If the antlers look spindly, compared to the buckís ears, he doesnít have a lot of mass. Likewise, if the antlers at the base appear to be close to the size of the ears, the mass is going to be great. Even though this is probably the least important of all the measurements, it is surprising how many times an inch of mass here and an inch there can make the difference between being a penalty buck or being a shooter.
Another thing to look at is comparing the bases of the antler to the eyes. If the bases are smaller than the eyes, there isnít going to be a lot of mass. Like wise, if the bases are as big or bigger than the eyes, the mass is going to be good.
You must take into consideration the average body size of the deer in the area you are hunting!
There are a number of things you need to recognize when you are field-scoring whitetails. 140 inches of antler on a buck that weighs 130 lbs will appear to be huge. If you put that same set of antlers on a mid-west buck that weighs 250 lbs or more on the hoof, it wonít look nearly as impressive.
Several years ago, I was watching a deer hunting show on the outdoor channel. The first hunt took place in south Texas. The buck that came in to the setup appeared to be huge, maybe a Boone and Crockett caliber whitetail. After they shot the buck and recovered, I was surprised to find that the buck scored 135 inches and weighed in at 140 lbs.
The next segment of the show took place in Alberta, Canada. The hunt took place on the edge of a cut cornfield. The buck that they harvested that morning came walking across the field in front of the stand. My first opinion of the deer was that it was a good buck, but nothing to really get overly excited about. After the buck was shot, it turned out to be a monster that scored 172 inches and weighed in at close to 300 lbs! The huge body size of the deer made the antlers appear smaller than the deer they shot in Texas. Realize that the body size of the animal is an important aspect of judging the size of the rack.
#7 Adding it up!
To be a shooter, a buck should exhibit several strong characteristics of the items we have covered. Very seldom will you view a buck that is outstanding in all the categories. If you do, you will know it the second you see him and wonít even have to think about it.
If you see a buck, and you have to ask yourself if it is a shooter, the first thing you should look for is how many points he has and how long they are. Make sure you see both sides of the rack! Then I look at the length of the main beams. If they are out past the middle of his nose, and turn inward I know he has potential. The width of the rack is next on the list. If the buckís spread is out to or beyond the tips of his ears, thatís good enough.
As I stated earlier in the article, mass isnít as important as the other qualifications but can make a difference on a border line set of antlers when scoring a whitetail deer.
Most of the time, when you see a buck that scores 140 inches or better, you are going to recognize it as a good deer. When a questionable deer shows up, and you have to question if the buck is going to make the minimum or not, you should take the time to evaluate the antlers using the guidelines I have listed above.
Remember that live whitetail bucks almost always look bigger than they are!
There is a lot of information on the internet from different websites that will help you in your quest to become a better judge of whitetail antlers. Groups such as QDMA ( Quality Deer Management Association), Buckmasters, North American Whitetail and most Hunting websites offer you the chance to view and score whitetails.
There are also a number of books on the market that will help you learn to make accurate estimates on whitetail antlers. Another tip that is helpful is to go to our website at www.IMBmonsterbucks.com and go through our photo gallery. A lot of the bucks in the gallery have what the buck scored written down. If you go to the video highlights page, you can try to estimate the live bucks we have on there. Trust me one of the worst mistakes you can make before booking the hunt of a lifetime is not doing your homework regarding how to score a whitetail deer.