Looking for a record-book buck

by Don Sangster | September 17, 2019
The author, left, measures a whitetail rack with official scorer James McGregor.
(Photo by John Bennett.)

Hunting is not always about spectacular wallhanging racks… but, sometimes it is.

Even the most ardent meat hunters among us have fantasized about putting a tag on a big record-book whitetail, maybe even a new world record. Then there are those hunters who actively target bucks that will make the record-book minimums and won’t settle for anything less.

Regardless of where you fall in this spectrum, knowing a bit about how record-keeping systems work, what constitutes a “book buck,” and what to look for in the field, can only increase your chances of achieving deer-hunting immortality.

A bit of history

The recording of measurements began in Africa in the late 1800s and was first applied to North American big game by the Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) in 1932. In 1950, B&C created and copyrighted a detailed scoring system which formed the basis for all subsequent measuring systems and which is still the most widely used today.

The Pope & Young Club (P&Y) was formed a few years later and serves as the official repository or records of bow-harvested North American big game, excluding crossbows, using the B&C scoring system.

The Foundation for the Recognition of Ontario Wildlife (FROW) was formed in 1989 and uses the same B&C scoring system, but records only big game and turkeys harvested in Ontario.

Two systems emerged

Eventually, two additional scoring systems emerged: an all-inclusive system adopted by Safari Club International (SCI) in 1977 for their world-wide record keeping; and a similar full-credit scoring system taken on by Buckmasters in the mid-1990s. Although both of these systems use the same measuring methods as B&C, there are significant differences in what they include in their scoring.

All of these systems and the organizations that use them share a philosophy of honouring the animal while recognizing the achievement of the hunter for posterity. The data collected is shared with interested wildlife agencies, and provides insight into the past and present management, health, and trends of North America’s wildlife populations.

The scoring systems

Boone and Crockett and Foundation for the Recognition of Ontario Wildlife

The B&C system is based on what its creators felt were the ideal specimens of each species. For whitetails, that includes the length of each main beam and its circumference at four places; the length of each tine; and the inside spread, with separate categories for Typical and Non-Typical specimens. Measurements are done to the nearest eighth of an inch.

As the system’s creators saw it as a highly desirable characteristic, B&C places heavy emphasis on symmetry, and penalizes antler growth that is abnormal or non-symmetrical. For example, if a buck’s right brow tine is six inches long but the left is only four inches, a two-inch deduction is made for that difference, effectively nullifying the additional length of the longer point.

Similarly, although the Non-Typical category adds rather than deducts for abnormal points, they must be symmetrical, or they will result in a deduction. Criticism of this system led to the creation of the SCI and Buckmasters systems.

Pope & Young Club

P&Y uses the B&C system, but the minimum scores required for entry in their record book is lower (see sidebar “What it takes: minimum scores”), owing to the greater level of difficulty of harvesting a trophy buck with a bow. In addition, P&Y accepts racks in velvet, while B&C requires that they be stripped before scoring.

Buckmasters

The creator of the Buckmasters Full Credit Scoring System felt that, with so much natural variation in whitetail racks, a buck should be given consideration for every inch of antler he grew, without conforming to an ideal of perfect symmetry.

As such, the Buckmasters system has no deductions. Consistent with the philosophy of giving credit for all antler growth, it doesn’t require a minimum drying period, as other systems do, before a rack can be officially scored. This eliminates any shrinkage factor.

What might seem contradictory though, is that the Buckmasters system does not count inside spread, as that is seen as a measure of air, not antler. The trade-off is that it allows inclusion of skulls that have been split for whatever reason, which B&C does not.

Buckmasters classifies racks into four categories: Perfect, Typical, Semi-Irregular, or Irregular, and simple math determines which applies. The entry minimums vary for gun or bow, but are consistent across the four categories.

Safari Club International

SCI’s system is similar to Buckmasters in that it doesn’t penalize for abnormalities or asymmetry. The major difference is that SCI includes inside spread. And, SCI is the only record book that has more than one geographic classification for whitetails, with Ontario falling into the Northeastern group.

Similar to B&C, SCI has categories for Typical and Non-Typical, with the choice being up to the hunter (although a minimum of 3% of non-typical growth is required for the Non-Typical category). SCI only requires a mandatory drying period for potential top-20 specimens.

What’s in a score?

Regardless of the system, there are a number of elements that go into making a record-book whitetail rack, but they generally boil down to width, height, mass, and number of points. And surprisingly, even among world-class specimens, few bucks have it all.

record book bucks

If you look at the current B&C world record Typical, the Milo Hanson buck taken in Saskatchewan in 1993, you’ll immediately notice the incredible width, with an inside spread of 27 2/8 inches. The next thing you’ll notice is the impressive height of its 14 total points. But its mass? Just five inches in circumference at the base of the left antler, and even less on the right; the main beams naturally get a bit thinner closer to the ends. So even the long-standing world record Typical whitetail is only average when it comes to antler mass.

What’s most important?

Once we accept that we are not likely to see a whitetail possessing equal measures of all these qualities, the question becomes, which of these characteristics is most important for making the book?

According to B&C, the single most important component is main beam length. Based on all bucks included in the Typical category in their all-time records book, length of main beam accounts for about 30% of the total scores. In other words, without main beams of at least 24 inches in length, it’s very difficult for a buck to make the B&C minimum.

After main beam length, the most important individual components are inside spread, length of second points, and length of third points, each of which accounts for, on average, 12% of the final score.

However, although length contribution ranges from a low of only 6% for first points to a high of 12% for seconds and thirds, taken in the aggregate, the component of “height” overall can be close to 40%.

Similarly, for mass, circumference measurements only account for 4% to 6% each, but given that there are four used on each side, they account for approximately 20% in total.

Symmetry critical

As mentioned, symmetry is critical for a B&C entry, as a hunter from Wisconsin learned the hard way nearly a decade ago. He harvested an incredible buck that was first thought to be the new world-record Typical. However, two points on the buck’s right beam were deemed to be “abnormal,” resulting in significant deductions that put the buck well below that, even in the Non-Typical category.

As Glenn Hisey, director of records for P&Y told me recently, “Sometimes it’s not so much about how big a buck’s rack is, but how it compares to the ideal as determined by the creators of the scoring system.”

Given that Buckmasters does not count inside spread, the relative impact of each of the other components goes up correspondingly. Similarly, since neither Buckmasters nor SCI deduct for abnormal points or asymmetry, the relative importance of length of points, or overall “height,” is increased under those scoring systems.

What it takes

To really understand what a buck needs to make the book, I went straight to the people who keep the records.

record book bucks

Keith Balfourd is Director of Marketing for B&C. “Length is king when it comes to scoring a whitetail, so tines and beams matter the most,” he offered. “Narrow but tall trumps wide and short every time. If he’s both wide and tall, don’t hesitate,” he added.

Closer to home, I asked Paul Beasley, Records Chairman of FROW, for his advice to help determine if the buck in your sights has record-book potential. “To make the FROW minimum as a 10-pointer, at least two points on each side must be at least eight inches in height; for an 8-pointer, at least two points on each side must be at least 10 inches in height. In either case, his inside spread must be at least as wide as the tips of his ears when they’re straight out in a forward-facing position,” he advised.

From a bowhunter’s perspective, Glenn Hisey of P&Y offered this quick field tip. “If the buck’s weaker side has at least 20 inches of points sticking up from the main beam (but not including the main beam), he’ll probably make P&Y, assuming average main beams and inside spread.”

With a relatively lower minimum score required for entry into their record book, Mike Handley, trophy chairman for Buckmasters, offered this advice, “Look for at least eight points, with decent brows, seconds, and thirds. If he’s better than average, he’ll probably make it, while average 10-pointers will generally make it.”

In the field

Unfortunately live whitetail bucks don’t have measuring tapes strapped to their racks and they rarely stand around long enough to give you time to size them up. We often make snap judgements in the field as to whether a buck is a “Booner” or not. However, we can use a few physical features as guidelines for field judging.

James McGregor is a taxidermist with Advanced Taxidermy in Caledon, and an official scorer for FROW. He’s measured hundreds if not thousands of bucks. According to James, the ears of an Ontario buck are usually around seven inches in length, while his face is about five inches wide between the ears. If you get a good head-on look at a buck, these two measurements can give you a pretty good judge of his inside spread, which you’ll want to beat least to the tips of his ears, or about 19 inches.

record book bucks

A buck’s ears are also usually three-and-a-half to four inches in vertical height at their tallest point; the longest should be at least 10 inches and the shortest at least five inches, or just longer than the height of his ears.

Look for the beams to reach to the tip of the nose or beyond when viewed profile, as the distance from the eyes to nose is usually seven to eight inches. This helps gauge at least the front-sweeping portion.

Finally, for mass, it’s generally accepted that the circumference of a whitetail’s eyeball is about four inches, so look for a buck with bases that exceed the size of his eyeballs, or about the size of his outer eye area.

Judging a score

As with so many other things in life, practice is key to becoming a good judge of score. Thoroughly study the score charts for each record-keeping organization that interests you, and then test yourself by estimating and then measuring as many mounted heads or bucks taken by other hunters in camp as possible. Over time, you’ll sharpen your field-judging skills.

To some, a trophy is all in the eye of the beholder. To others, it’s an objective standard as defined by a record-keeping organization. Becoming familiar with their rules and procedures will add a new element to your deer-hunting enjoyment, and may even help you join the exclusive club of record holders one day.

What it takes: minimum scores

Originally published in the Ontario OUT of DOORS 2015-2016 Hunting Annual.

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Comments

  1. Sam Menard wrote: I like large antlers as much as any hunter, and I regularly pass on young bucks to better my hunting skills. But assigning a score degrades the animal and cheapens hunting. Unfortunately, the scoring system rewards the hunter, who may not be deserving to have taken a fine animal (i.e. famous heads are known by the owner - Hansen Buck, Jordan Buck). On many managed Texas properties, they consider bucks bucks with "sub-standard" antlers as "management bucks" or "cull bucks" that is sick! Every deer taken should be considered a trophy. The following quote sums things up nicely “Today there is no need to battle with the beasts of prey and little necessity to kill wild animals for food; but still the hunting instinct persists. The love of the chase still thrills us and all the misty past echoes with the hunter’s call. In the joy of hunting is intimately woven the love of the great outdoors. The beauty of woods, valleys, mountains, and skies feeds the soul of the sportsman where the quest of game only whets his appetite. After all, it is not the killing that brings satisfaction, it is the contest of skill and cunning. The true hunter counts his achievement in proportion to the effort involved and the fairness of the sport.” —Excerpt From: Pope, Saxton. “Hunting with the Bow and Arrow.