The Scoring Game

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What is it about antler mass that gets hunters so worked up? I've gotta admit, I too fall victim to the bottom line score now and again. So prominent is the numbers game that it frequently defines our hunting success.

Within our fraternity, scoring has become the vehicle for measuring trophy excellence. Outside our sub-culture however, many chastise us under the politically incorrect label of 'trophy hunters'. Society, under the misguided direction of mainstream media, has been fleeced; convinced that trophy hunters care only about antlers to the exclusion of the animal itself. Attracted exclusively to the rack, big buck hunters are immediately assumed to not give a 'tinker's you know what" about the meat. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact each and every scoring club from Boone & Crockett to Buckmasters maintains a strict conservation ethic. Sure there are those among us who hunt irresponsibly. I'd be remiss not to recognize the few bad eggs that spoil our public image. On the other hand, I'd venture to say most sportsmen, that is to say, those ascribing to the true trophy hunting mentality, place infinite value in not just the size of a deer's headgear measured by the bottom line score, but most importantly on wildlife management as a whole.

Scoring is Fun
Keeping score is just plain fun! We live in a competitive world, and scoring provides an element of competition and a marker for comparison. From sports to business, measuring or evaluating performance and quality go hand in hand. Hunters are no different. We revel in the almighty score. Fact is we use numbers not only as a measurement tool, but more to the point, as a standardized method of qualification. From moose to elk, sheep and every other indigenous big game animal most hunters are familiar with key measurements of their favorite species.

Start to finish, scoring is a proven method of evaluating the size of an animal. From Boone & Crockett to Pope & Young and Longhunter, each represents a standard for North American big game taken with rifle, bow or muzzleloader respectively. The only exception is Jackie Bushman's revolutionary Buckmasters BTR system which accounts for every inch of antler without deduction for abnormalities.

Personal philosophies aside, scoring offers a consistent way to compare what some consider, 'apples with apples'. While more traditional scoring categorizes antlers in typical or non-typical categories, the BTR system counts every inch of antler growth whether it is entirely symmetrical or irregular.

An unfortunate reality, some hunters today place infinite value on the almighty score. Losing sight of the historical premise upon which conservation-based scoring clubs were founded, record classification becomes the 'be all and end all' in their pursuit of game. Too few recognize that each and every scoring organization places a high value not only on trophy classification, but more importantly on preservation of wildlife and the environment.

While minimum qualification standards are in place for all North American big game species, whitetailed deer still get the lion's share of attention. By virtue of sheer numbers and accessibility, whitetailed deer are the focal species for most hunters each fall. Talk to most bow hunters for example, and they know that the minimum Pope & Young score for typical whitetails is 125 inches. Likewise, riflemen are familiar with the 170 inch minimum and, for those fewer in number muzzleloader hunters, 130 is the magic marker.

Boone & Crockett
The Boone & Crockett (B & C) Club was the first to establish a standardized scoring system. As such, they have become the benchmark upon which most other records clubs set their scoring standards. "The Club's "Fair Chase" tenets have encouraged laws in the states and provinces to maintain sport hunting at a high level of sportsmanship and ethical action, and the Fair Chase rules directly encourage the individual hunter to enjoy hunting in an ethical fashion." (Boone & Crockett Club, 1999)

Founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt and a few of his hunting companions, the organization is rooted on a common appreciation for big-game hunting and concern for wildlife and its habitat. Only since 1932 has B & C maintained scoring records on native North American big-game animals. Back then, scoring was rudimentary with simple length and spread measurements considered. It wasn't until 1950, following its first formal awards program for outstanding trophies just three years prior, that the scoring system was refined to what we know and use today.

In consideration of North America's most common big game animal, to be eligible for the record book, whitetailed deer for instance must have been killed ethically, according to the "Rules of Fair Chase". This means during legal hunting seasons, and in accordance with hunting regulations; and they must meet the all-time minimum scoring standard of 170 inches for the typical category and 195 inches for the non-typical category. For more information, visit www.boone-crockett.org.

B & C acknowledges different minimum scores for awards eligibility versus their record book eligibility - again, for whitetailed deer, the minimum for record book eligibility is 160 inches for typical and 185 inches for non-typical antlers. According to the club's documentation, "trophies that meet the Awards minimum but not the all-time minimum will be listed in the Big Game Awards book. Trophies meeting the all-time minimum will also be listed in Records of North American Big Game."

Pope & Young
Recognized as official record-keepers for North American big game taken with bow and arrow, the Pope & Young (P & Y) Club operates on similar premises to the B & C Club. From their clear conservation philosophy to the standardized scoring system, they share many of the same principles.

Credited with launching the first recognized bowhunting records book in 1975, Glenn St. Charles and a few of his peers saw a need to prove the effectiveness of archery gear. Aside from maintaining detailed records of trophy class animals taken with stick and string, in the wise words of G. Fred Asbell, "the underlying principle behind the formation of the P & Y Club was its goal of helping bowhunting and the bowhunter. It would seem that improving the image of today's hunter is the most important task before us, along with the need to communicate the fact that hunters are America's most concerned conservationists."

To be eligible for the Bowhunting Big Game Records of North America, antlers must meet similar, but lower standards than those posed by the B & C Club. Successful bow hunters with a whitetailed deer for example whose typical antlers score 125 inches or better, are eligible for submission. For the non-typical category, cumulative score must be 155 inches or higher. And, naturally, deer must be harvested using a bow and arrow legally, ethically and according to the "Rules of Fair Chase". For more information, visit www.pope-young.org.

Longhunter
A long time coming, the Longhunter is the official record-keeping program for North American big game taken with a muzzleloader. Founded in 1988 by the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA) in the United States, the program was made possible by the financial support of Thompson/Center Arms of Rochester.

Following in the footsteps of the B & C and P & Y Clubs, Longhunter adheres to the same tenets of "Fair Chase" and utilizes the same scoring system for measuring. In fact, there are only a couple ways in which Longhunter differs from the B & C system. First, and most obvious, is the minimum eligibility scores. For the sake of comparison, whitetailed deer antlers must measure 130 inches to qualify for the typical category and 160 for the non-typical. Second, the Longhunter does not acknowledge "pick-ups" for inclusion in their Longhunter Muzzleloading Big Game Record Book. For more information, visit www.nmlra.org/longhunter.htm.

Buckmasters (BTR)
Founded by Jackie Bushman, of Buckmasters fame in 1994, The Buckmasters BTR Full-Credit Scoring System's mandate is to "record what nature produced, without making any assessment of its aesthetic value to the human eye."

The BTR is unquestionably the black sheep of the scoring world. Acknowledging a deer's antlers without deduction, their Full-Credit Scoring System measures and records whitetail deer antlers without forcing them to "conform to an ideal of perfect symmetry." To the sheer joy of many hunters, this method acknowledges a whitetail rack for everything it is. Where B & C incorporates deductions for abnormalities and lack of symmetry, the BTR does not. It simply measures every inch of antler and classifies it accordingly.

A number of important features make the BTR system unique from the other. First, it does not deduct differences between lengths of opposing typical points. Second, it does not include the inside-spread measurement, because it is a measurement of air, not antler. Equally unique is the eligibility of antlers with a broken skull plate. The fact that they are severed is a non-issue as the inside spread between the main beams is not added into the rack's score.

Instead of simply using the two categories of typical and non-typical, the BTR incorporates four scoring categories. They include Perfect, Typical, Semi-Irregular, and Irregular. The minimum score for all whitetails taken with a firearm is 140 inches. To be eligible for the book, a minimum score of 105 inches is required for deer shot with a bow.

Another unique feature is the provision of categories for all types of firearms including centerfire rifles, shotguns, handguns, and blackpowder guns. The archery category acknowledges all compounds, recurves, and longbows, with a separate category for crossbows. The "Pick-Up" category is for antlers found rather than harvested by a hunter. The minimum score for this category is 140 inches. There is even a category for antlers still in velvet. Minimum score for a shed antler is 75 inches.

The biggest attraction for most whitetail fanatics, is the opportunity to record their trophies with an unbiased, record-keeping agency in acknowledgement of the natural genetic diversity among whitetailed deer across the continent. For more information, visit www.buckmasters.com.

The Measuring Process
A deer's antlers can be green scored at any time after the kill. To determine eligibility for B & C, P & Y or Longhunter, antlers must first dry, at room temperature, under normal atmospheric humidity, in an unaltered state, for a period of at least 60 days after the date of harvest. Only after this drying period can they be officially measured. The Buckmasters BTR system does not require any drying period, therefore an official score can be recorded immediately following the harvest.

Once in the hands of a certified scorer, with the exception of the BTR system, measurements consistent with scoring sheets are completed and tallied with special consideration given to deductions for abnormalities. Abnormalities are subtracted from the gross (total) score to provide the resultant net (final) score. Eligibility is based on net score.

The same score sheet is used for both whitetailed and coues deer, but there are two different forms used for antlers noted to be typical and non-typical. Measurements of tine lengths (G-1 through G-7), tip to tip spread, greatest spread, inside spread of main beams, total length of all abnormal points, length of main beams, and various circumference measurements (H-1 through H-4) of the main beam are taken. For the score sheet to be considered official, it must be signed and dated by the official scorer along with provision of other relevant information such as date of the kill, hunter's name, present owner, their address/phone number, guide's name/address, location of the kill and other pertinent remarks.

With the BTR system, measurements for irregular points are noted along with main beam lengths (MB), tine lengths (P1 through P10), and circumference measurements of the main beam (C1 through C4). As noted before, there is no measurement for inside spread of tip to tip spread - only measurement of actual bone. Likewise, similar relevant information is required on the scoring sheet to formalize it for submission.

If the final score meets or betters minimum requirements, hunters are then required to submit various materials for possible inclusion in the record books. Among these are a scoring form completed by the official measurer, a Fair Chase Affidavit signed by the hunter and photographs of the antlers. Also, a field photo, if available, is usually requested along with a recording fee.

Other Scoring Opportunities
Aside from mainstream scoring clubs, there is Safari Club International (SCI). Considered controversial by some, they too are a conservation-based non-profit organization. SCI is unique from all the aforementioned scoring clubs in that they provide record book qualification and records for game animals taken both within North America and internationally.


Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing, waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. For more information on his outfitting services, visit www.venturenorthoutfitting.com.
Member of OWAA & OWC.

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