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Saturday, January 09, 2010

What did he score?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, January 9, 2010.)

Deer hunting is not about
who hangs the biggest antlers on his wall.
It’s a question often asked about whitetail bucks. Sometimes it’s a good question, and sometimes not so good.

Deer antlers are measured or scored according to several systems. The Boone & Crockett Club uses the most well known system, and scores animals taken by any fair chase means. The Pope & Young Club measures animals taken only with archery equipment. The Safari Club International and Buckmasters, to name a couple of others, also use scoring systems.

With some variations, these organizations measure antlers with a cumulative tally of width, main beam lengths, a series of circumference measurements to gauge mass, and the sum of the tine lengths to produce a total gross score.

Although I appreciate knowing how antler scores are determined, I seldom mention antler measurements in this space. It’s not a means of pointing out the superiority of one animal over another, or one hunter over another.

Trophy status has more to do with how we experience the hunt and the challenge of the hunt than with a high Boone & Crockett score. But the main benefit of scoring is that it’s a fairly objective way to compare one buck with others, and put a picture in the mind’s eye of relative size. But objectivity isn’t everything.

Years ago hunters talked mainly about how many points a buck had, but that doesn’t reveal much. My eight-point might have a width of 10 inches, tines just 2 or 3 inches long, and circumferences under 3 inches. Yours might be 20 inches wide, with tines ranging from 6 to 12 inches, and circumferences of 5 or 6 inches. The difference between the two racks is enormous, so the question “How many points did he have?” is irrelevant.

My buck might have been a 1½ year-old, yours might have 4½ or 5½ years of wisdom and survival experience. (Deer are born during the spring so they’re always at half-years during deer season.)

Which 8-point is the greater trophy? Even knowing their ages doesn’t tell the story. Let’s say you harvested yours in the first hours of opening day from a comfortable tree castle, and the buck was punching a timeclock at a luscious, irresistible food plot. I shot mine in the final hours of the last day, with my boots on the ground, in a raging blizzard, one man battling the elements.

Now, which is the trophy? Knowing some of the details of the hunt might make a difference in how you answer.

Famed Vermont hunter Lanny Benoit, who detests today’s emphasis on antler scores, thinks northeastern deer tracking culture has it right. He told me people in Vermont and Maine don’t ask about antlers. Instead they inquire, “How much did it weigh?” That’s another way of asking “How much food did you get?” There might be something to that.

Certainly, bigger antlers and bigger bodied deer both are products of maturity. Deer must live several years to maximize their antlers or their body size. The truth is that deer are a prey species that survive countless threats to reach that stage.

And maturity correlates to smarter, savvier animals that are harder to harvest, and often more impressive trophies. No one looks at common spike antlers and says “Wow!” Everyone looks at Boone & Crockett antlers and says “Wow!”

Antlers are impressive. Antlers are fascinating. But deer hunting is not about who hangs the biggest antlers on his wall. Indeed, the story about harvesting that yearling buck might be more wow-worthy than a story about a Boone & Crockett giant.

The question “What did he score?” is not so good when it makes antlers a matter of competition. And although the Boone & Crockett Club is probably best known for ranking trophies, that hasn’t been its primary aim since Teddy Roosevelt first founded it. The organization is foremost a conservation organization dedicated to the practices of sound wildlife conservation. Scoring trophies is a way of acknowledging the products of that conservation.


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