Here is how to score that trophy buck this season.
IF you are ever fortunate enough to harvest a big buck, it can be difficult to convey the size other than telling someone the number of points. This is one of the reasons that scoring systems were developed. They allow hunters to put a number with the size that gives a better impression of how large a buck's antlers really are.
They also allow organizations like the Boone and Crockett Club and Pope and Young to keep record books of the largest big game animals ever taken.
Even if you have no interest in records, it can be fun to score your deer, just to see what numbers you get. An official score by a certified measurer is needed to get into any record book, but anyone can score their own deer at home to get a rough idea of where it sits as far as size goes. We will simplify and explain the process of scoring a deer's antlers in a way that anyone can do it.
What do I need to score a deer?
Fortunately, the materials you will need are quite simple. Odds are, you already own at least some of these tools. All you really need is a tape measure, a steel cable and a score sheet. However, I have substituted the steel cable for a piece of string or even a piece of paracord in the past. Basically, you just want something flexible that can be used to measure the length of the outside edge of the main beam or the circumference measurements if your measuring tape is not flexible.
The best measuring tape you can use for scoring a deer is a cloth measuring tape. The type that tailors use to measure people's bodies and create custom-fitting garments. These tapes are flexible and make precision measurements for the mass easier and more accurate. Many professional scorers also use a folding rule with an extension for calculating the spread credit, but if you are doing this just for yourself and not the book, you do not need to be quite so precise. A regular measure will suffice. Just make sure you have a measure that you can you can get numbers to the nearest one-eighth of an inch.
Yet another option for getting a rough score on your deer is to use Wildgame Innovation's "Trophy Tape" product. I have used this a few times myself, including on the buck that I harvested last year that I already knew was not going to meet the Commemorative Bucks of Michigan's minimum score for a firearm-harvested animal. While this is a quick and easy way to get rough measurements, it does have a few downsides. For one, this tape will produce only a gross score. You will have to calculate the differences to figure out a net score on your own. For the purposes of this article, I have used this tape to mark roughly where all the measurements are taken.
The other downside is that each roll is only good for one deer. If you measure a 110-inch buck, what my deer scored, the remaining portion is not good for much else. It is also a bit of pain to pull all the tape off once you are done scoring. However, if you are looking for a quick and easy way to get a rough score without doing any calculations yourself, it is a viable option.
Lastly, you will need a score sheet. These are readily available on the Internet through Boone & Crockett or Pope & Young's websites. Personally, I prefer to use B&C's online score calculator. Mostly because all you do is measure and input data. It does all the addition, subtraction and calculation of deductions for you. Helpful if you are total math dunce like I am. At the end, it pumps out a score sheet with all the relevant data that you can save and print for your own records. Best of all, they offer this resource for free, so why not use it?
How to score a typical deer
Most people are going to be dealing with antlers that symmetrical for the most part. That is why we will focus on typical first. The process for non-typical antlers is the same, just with some different rules for abnormal antler points. Note that what I am describing here is the basic process for a whitetail deer. Things vary slightly for mule deer and blacktails.
To start things off, count the number of scorable points on each antler. Remember that to be scoreable, a point must be at least one inch long. The best way to determine where the point begins is to lay your tape sideways on the beam. Line up the edge of the beam with the edge of the tape. That is where you start your measurement of each point. In the image below, I have placed a thin orange line so you can see what I am talking about.
Most scoring systems then ask for the tip to tip spread and the greatest spread. These measurements do not play into the final score, but record keepers always document them anyway. The tip to tip is self-explanatory, that is the measurement between the tips of the main beams. The greatest spread measures the widest point between any antler on the rack. If you have an abnormal point jutting out sideways from the main beam, you measure from that.
The inside spread is where your buck starts getting credit. Almost every hunter should understand this one. Simply find the widest point between the main beams and measure that. I have this measurement roughly marked in the photo above with the trophy tape between the main beams.
Most scoring sheets will ask you to tally up the measurements of abnormal points next. What makes for an abnormal point? Well, that is difficult to answer because nature can be crazy. The most common ones you will see are split tines, kickers, drop tines and extra points jutting from the base can all be considered abnormal.
Things get a little more confusing when we get to the next step which is measuring the main beam length. This is where that cable or string comes into play. Starting at the base of the antlers, measure the full length of the main beam by laying the cable flat to the outside edge of the beam. Mark on the cable where the tip ends. Remove the cable from the antler and lay it flat and measure it. Once again, you can see in the image above the trophy tape I have running along the outside of the main beam. That is roughly where your measurement will be.
In the case of this buck, his beam measurements were roughly 20 inches on the nose. In my experience, for a buck to score at least 110-120, his beams must almost always hit this mark. That is not a hard and fast rule, but it is a good one to keep in mind generally speaking. This deer ended up scoring 121 inches as a basic 8-pointer.
The next measurements you will do will be the tines. I already covered how to measure a tine, so this should be easy. Again, note the smaller orange lines I have placed in the image to see where to start your measurements. Make sure you are marking them correctly on the score sheet. For reference, in these images I have labeled this 8-point's tines. The brow tines are G1 and as you move up the main beam you have G2, G3, etc. If this deer were a 10-point, he would have G4s. Keep going until you have all the typical tines measured.
The next step is to measure mass. This is where that flexible tape comes into play. These measurements are usually labeled H1, H2, H3, etc. See my photo for reference. These measurements start below the brow tine and continue up the main beam between the points. You will want to do four of them, but in the case of the buck I shot last year, a 7-point, I was only able to do three on one side. This scenario is usually rare because most deer people want to score have at least eight points. One thing to stress here is that for mass measurements, you are going to be recording the SMALLEST circumference in each location. Pull that tape tight! I know it is tempting to measure the fattest part of the beams, especially if you shot a buck with exceptional mass but those are the rules.
Tally it up
Once you have all your measurements for both sides in two columns, it is as simple as adding it all up. Add the scores of both sides with the inside spread of the main beams and you will have a gross or "green score" for your buck.
To determine a net score, subtract the difference between measurements each side. This is where those abnormal points or broken racks can come back to hurt you. In the case of my biggest buck, a Michigan 10-pointer, he had broken off his right G4 tine fighting before I shot him. When I met with the measurer, I was told my deer would have netted 150 inches had he not broken it off. Instead, his net score was 140 4/8.
I should note there are some scoring systems like Buckmasters that do not penalize deer for abnormal growth or for broken tines not matching up on the other side. However, Buckmasters also does not count inside spread as credit. The two most popular scoring systems are Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young. If you are not familiar, the difference between these two clubs and their record books boil down to weapon used and size. Boone & Crockett measures animals taken with a firearm and the minimum is 170 inches. Pope and Young concentrates on archery and the minimum for a typical whitetail is 125 inches.
If your deer is above those minimums, contact a pro for an official scoring session. You just may find your way into the record books. Note that a buck's antlers have to dry for at least 60 days from the day of harvest before being measured for most systems.
How to score a non-typical deer
The process for scoring a non-typical deer is usually the same as scoring a typical one. The only difference is that scoring a non-typical can be much more challenging. Some deer may have main beams that are not well defined. With others, it may be hard to figure out which tine is the G2 and which is the G3 if the placement on the main beams is abnormal.
On other deer, getting an accurate H3 or H4 measurement may present a special challenge if the main beam is loaded with lots of junk. Depending on how many points the buck has, it may take a lot of extra effort to measure all the abnormal points the animal grew. Once again, make sure each point is at least one inch long. Most scoring systems also dictate the point must be longer than it is wide.
When you total up the scores, the big difference is that instead of subtracting the total of all those abnormal points, you ADD them to the score. This is how some bucks like the Luke Brewster buck taken a few years ago can tally up nearly 330 inches of antler! Non-typicals tend to score higher than typicals because they are not being hampered with deductions in the same way.
Scoring a deer's antlers is easier than most hunters realize, and it can be a lot of fun to see just how your harvest measures up, even if you are primarily a meat hunter. Take a little time to score your buck this year. Who knows? You may just have a new record on your hands!