Field Judging Whitetails

| Last Updated November 17, 2020

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Just about everyone I know has experienced what many whitetail hunters call “ground shrinkage”. That is, the deer they recovered is not the deer they thought they killed. It’s not part of some government conspiracy to switch out the giant whitetail you arrowed with a smaller buck. No, he is the same size as he was when you let the arrow fly.

A lot of deer hunters just don’t see enough mature whitetails in the woods to be able to really tell the difference between a good buck and truly trophy animal when the pressure is on. Some people are more than happy with any legal deer and if that is you, more power to you. But if you want to know how to tell the difference between a good buck and a legendary one before he‘s on the ground, read on.

The Spread

The distance from ear tip to ear tip on a mature whitetail is around 17 or 18 inches. Most trophy deer will have 20+ inch inside spreads. So if the antlers aren’t clearing the ears by at least an inch, chances are you’re not looking at a trophy buck. Of course, there are exceptions. I’ve seen a few high tined bucks that reach into the 130s or even 140s but were barely outside the ears.


A 125 inch buck will have at least two tines (not including the brow tines) that are at least seven or eight inches long. Again, let the ears tell the story for you. A whitetail’s ears are usually six to eight inches long. Compare the tines to the ears and you will have a general estimate of tine length.

Main Beams

No two bucks are the same but trophy animals will typically possess main beams of 24 inches or better. A non-typical buck may have a different configuration but a trophy class typical buck’s main beams will extend out to his nose.

Field Judging From Behind

If you have a lot of time to look over a buck there shouldn’t be any surprises. But sometimes, especially for gun hunters, snap decisions need to be made. Deer hunters will often push bucks during drives, while still-hunting, or just while walking to and from camp. These deer are usually running away from us and we’re forced to judge deer from behind.

There are no guarantees in hunting but field judging bucks as they run away is asking for trouble. However, there is one good rule of thumb. Compare the rack width with a buck’s body. The ears aren’t going to tell you much because deer tend to run with their ears pinned back.

Deer Shows

The best way to really understand what a trophy whitetail looks like is to go look at them. Pictures are nice but trophy mounts are second best to live animals. The nice thing about attending deer shows and expos is that you not only see a trophy buck but you can also see the score. Want to know what a 150” whitetail looks like? There will probably be several to inspect at most deer shows.

A true trophy class buck will possess mass, a wide spread, long tines, and massive main beams. Again, if you’re just getting started in deer hunting, any legal deer is a good deer. But if you have a few decent bucks under your belt and you’re looking for something truly special, these field judging tips should be a big help.

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My name is Jeff and I have been hunting and fishing for over 40 years. I am an avid archery lover, bass fisherman, and all-around outdoorsman. Currently, I'm obsessed with elk hunting but I'm sure I'll move onto a different favorite soon. You gotta love hunting for that reason :) If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at Read more about Big Game Logic.