Is Scoring Whitetails Stupid?

Is Scoring Whitetails Stupid?

During the first week of the Minnesota season, I managed to arrow a decent ten-pointer. A good friend of mine also filled his tag on a really solid nine-pointer. He and I, along with two other buddies, have a lively group chat going all season.

One of the guys on the chat was adamant that we needed to score our bucks. It’s an innocent request, but he was pushy about it. So we decided to not score our deer. After all, it really doesn’t matter anyway, even though scoring animals’ roots has a strong foundation in conservation.

Where Scoring Originated

Back in the 1880s, Theodore Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club. In a move that benefits all hunters today, Roosevelt and a few other folks took note of the damage humans were having on habitat and wildlife populations. The club’s creation, along with the awareness of our deleterious effects on the animals and the land, led to the creation of the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation.

Over time, the Boone and Crockett Club established the National Collection of Heads and Horns, and also released the first edition of the Records of North American Big Game. The scoring system we use today for deer and other critters was developed in 1950.

With whitetails, this system takes into account tine length, four mass measurements per side, main beam lengths, and inside spread. It’s an arbitrary system, that counts the empty space between main beams while simultaneously removing inches of antler that are actually there (in the case of typical racks, anyway).

This scoring system is also the gold standard that almost all whitetail hunters understand to some level. It’s also, kind of dumb.

Why Score At All?

We can’t help ourselves but compete with one another. If we weren’t allowed to shoot bucks, we’d target the heftiest does, or the fawns with the most spots, or something. We need to qualify our accomplishments, and scoring whitetails is certainly one way to do it.

It’s also, dangerous territory. Ask any Official Measurer for the Pope and Young Club (which uses the same measuring system) if they’ve ever seen disappointment on a hunter’s face after hearing their animal’s score. They have, and it often comes from the discrepancy between the green score while sipping Busch Lites in the garage post hunt, and the official score from an official measurer after the requisite 60 days of drying time.

Now, both the Pope and Young Club and the Boone and Crockett Club are conservation organizations, so getting an animal scored does have a net positive effect that way. The downside is more about how we view score, and how it makes us treat one another.

Size Is Relative

A lot of hunters will talk about a 110-inch buck as small, and a 180-inch buck as big. It’s simple math, right? When we reduce deer to those basics, we leave out a lot of the more important factors. For example, if you were to go arrow that 110-inch buck on public land in Louisiana for example, you’ve accomplished something major.

If you go on an outfitted hunt in Kansas and shoot a 180-inch buck over a pile of corn that the outfitter has refreshed all season, you’ve accomplished something, too. They aren’t the same thing though, and if you take it on animal score only, you’re leaving out about 99% of the relevant details.

Deer size is relative, but score really isn’t. What’s worse, is in today’s world we are exposed to the top of the top of whitetails that are harvested—the .0001% of the biggest deer—it skews our view. It’s not that uncommon to hear people talk about 130-inch or 140-inch deer in a way that makes them sound like the equivalent of spikes and forkies. It’s weird, and not a great look for us. It’s also reality, and it’s not all negative when it comes to scoring whitetails.

Where Scores Are Useful

If I tell you I saw a 125-inch eight-pointer, you probably can conjure up a somewhat accurate image in your head of that deer. If I say I missed a 190-inch nontypical, you can probably imagine a rough idea of just what a deer like that might look like.

Scores are ubiquitous in our world, and they actually work pretty well to help us communicate with one another. It’s weird, but our obsession with the score of bucks has allowed us to develop a means to more accurately describe our hunting experiences with one another. That’s a plus, and it also can be a positive personally.

If you’ve never killed a deer that would break 100 inches but are looking for a bigger challenge for yourself, you know what to target. The same goes for any size deer, really. That’s not a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t become a way to shit on someone else’s accomplishments or goals.

That may be the crux of the whole thing.

Scoring deer isn’t smart or stupid, it’s just a part of what we do. Some folks are religious about it, some don’t care at all. Most fall in the middle, where they might scratch out a rough score a few days after the hunt, and then use that as a tool to describe their deer. It often doesn’t go any further than that, which is just fine. It’s also fine to officially score every deer you shoot and enter them into the record books. Just remember that antler score is a very small part of the whole experience, and really isn’t ever all that important.

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