Scoring Big-game Animals

When talking to a group of hunting archers there seems to be a lot of confusion how a big-game animal is scored for inclusion into the Pope and Young records book. Part of this due to not knowing how many points a buck might have. When scoring deer, the larger the number, the better the chance of its entry into the record books. This is true, but the amount of points a rack has is not the whole story on how a buck is to be scored.

I’ve seen 12- and 14-point bucks that could not make the minimum when it comes to being a record-sized rack. These antlers are often referred to as “basket racks” in that they are small representations of the normal white-tailed deer. They are very attractive antlers, but well below the minimum required score for a trophy buck. A subspecies, the Coes deer found in Florida, never grow a rack of antlers that could be compared to the standard whitetail and have a category all their own when it comes to scoring for the Pope and Young record book.

As said, there’s more on how a whitetail’s rack is measured for the record. If you’re thinking that one of these days you might harvest a whitetail that could potentially score high and be put into the record books, then you owe it to yourself to become familiar with the characteristics of a true trophy. Under hunting conditions, you may not have a lot of time to observe a big buck, let alone decide if you want to take a shot or not.

Another situation you could come across while afield is that you may see several nice bucks and have to decide which one to concentrate on. If this has been an issue with you then you may want to go to more outdoor shows where a lot of deer are on display and note the characteristics that they all have in common or ask the event organizers if an official scorer is present.

The three things that you want to become familiar with are the number of points, the spread of the main beams and the mass of the rack as a whole. Starting with the length of the tines or points, the taller these are the better the chances the rack will score well. Each point is individually measured and recorded on the score sheet so you can see where a deer with long points will add up nicely. The length of the points is from the main beam to the tip of the point. While looking at the points, note that they should strongly resemble each other. The points on the right beam should be nearly identical to those on the left beam. Next, you want to take note of the spread of the rack as a whole. A good way to note this is by looking at how much the antlers go beyond the ears of a deer’s head. The size of a whitetail’s ears is fairly constant, and you can use this to gauge it when checking out bucks in the field and which to pursue. Finally, check the mass of the rack “as a whole.” The thicker the rack is, the better it will score. The rack as a whole should be on the massive side to increase the possible scoring size of the animal. White-tailed deer grow many different-sized racks among their species, and most will not score well.

But there is the negative side to scoring. As said before, you want to see as symmetrical a rack from side to side as possible. If there are missing points on one side or the other, you will start to see deductions in the subsequent final score. This can take you right out of the running for a record-book animal. Sometimes, a buck will grow points that point down too. These may look super out in the field from a certain distance, but when it comes to scoring the rack, these are a loss.

The system of recording deer is set up so that the final score for a given whitetail is numerically what that deer should be, if all is perfectly symmetrical. However, this is typically not the case when it comes to these animals. When you are afield looking at bucks you could see several with as a 12-pointer with a massive rack. You may note that he has a couple of dropped tines, and the G2 tine seems to be broken off a bit. Close by to this buck is a nice 10-pointer with an almost perfect set of antlers, but you notice they seem to be rather thin with a bit less in the spread. Another buck may be an 8-pointer that is also more symmetrical, and quite massive. A little hint: there are quite a few 8-pointers that have shown up in the record book.

Your choice is a challenge if you cannot make out these differences from side to side when observing these bucks. It can be a tough call on which to choose from, and one that you have to make quickly as we all know whitetails will not stand around waiting for you to make up your mind.