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Moments after the great buck was hoisted to the rafters by his rear haunches, people started coming over to see him. The neighbors had trail camera photos of him. A few of the area farmers saw him carelessly chewing up their soybeans throughout the summer. But he seemed to disappear when bow season started that September. The great 12 pointer wasn’t huge when compared to some of the giants you see the stars of outdoor television take down. But he was one of the biggest bucks anyone had killed in the area for a few years.
His magic act kept him in the woods throughout bow season and into the morning of gun opener. Due to a weird moon pattern, all the experts were saying the rut would be less intense this year but more spread out. Typically, peak rut is a memory by the time gun hunters get their shot in Wisconsin. But this year was different.
We were seeing a lot of chasing that morning. Deer were moving despite temperatures around 50. Due to regulations at the time, my partner and I were both relegated to shooting antlerless deer before we were allowed to put a buck on the ground. This could potentially be disastrous but within an hour of the opening bell we both had our baldies on the ground. Our deer were cooling in a tree by 8 AM.
After giving each other a hand, my buddy wandered off into the woods and I stayed at the field edge. Deer kept filtering through the still standing corn so it felt like a matter of time before the right deer walked by. I spotted a big ten pointer walk right past this spot a week prior. As a few hours and a few dozen deer pass by, I wondered what my friend was seeing. It turns out he was in the middle of the action too. Does skirted past the blown down tree he was sitting in. One actually bedded down within 10 yards of him.
As he watched her, a glint of light caught his attention. It was an antler. Then, more antler. This was Jason’s seventh season of deer hunting. Up to this point the only deer he had ever spotted in the woods were young bucks or does. Now he was eye to eye with a trophy buck and he was closing in. The great deer finally offered a broadside shot as he strutted down a trail just 15 yards from Jason’s make shift ground blind.
The squeeze of the trigger set off a chain of events that led to this buck hanging in the garage.
“How much do you think he scores?” asked the neighbor kid. It seemed like a logical question. When many deer hunters talk about great bucks you hear terms like “160 class” and “Booner”. But not long ago, an eight pointer was an eight pointer. While scoring systems existed, most hunters were blissfully unaware that serious hunters were quantifying the differences in antlers between a two year old eight pointer and a five year old.
Outdoor television and the popularity of hunting expos have stripped us of our innocence. Here was this kid, not yet old enough to pass on his youth model 30-30 to his little brother, attempting to put a number on this great beast. Was he attempting to discredit what he was seeing? What if he only scored in the 130s? Would that make him less of a trophy in his eyes? Or was he simply trying to quantify the animal so that he would have further details when talking to his buddies in the high school hallways?
There seems to be immense pressure on hunters to get their animals scored these days. The question that kid asked is a common one. But does it really matter? Three seasons have passed and my friend has never had the deer scored. He has no desire to do so. To him, it’s the biggest deer he’s ever seen in the woods. Putting a number on his deer won’t make him any bigger or smaller to him.
For others, ignorance is anything but bliss. Sure, there are some bragging rights on the line. But knowing the score not only allows them to compare their deer with their peers, but with their own future or past deer. State and federal agencies also use official scores as a way to gauge local herd health and stability.
Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young are the two most popular record books. The Boone & Crockett Club was founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887 with the expressed goal of conserving wild lands and the creatures on them. The Boone & Crockett whitetail record book is focused on firearm harvested bucks. A typical whitetail needs to score 160” to make the Awards book and 170” to make the All-Time book. Non-typical bucks have to score 185” and 195” to qualify.
The Pope & Young Club is named after bowhunters Dr. Saxton Pope and Arthur Young, recognized as two leading pioneers of bowhunting. The Pope & Young Club recognizes outstanding trophy animals taken with archery equipment. To qualify for the Pope & Young Club a typical whitetail buck needs to score 125” to qualify. A non-typical has to score 155” to make the record book.
Whether or not to score your buck is completely up to you. If you’re interested in entering your deer into a record book, score it yourself first. You can use this scoring sheet to make what is referred to as a “green score”. If you feel your trophy qualifies, contact an official scorer in your area. You should do this anyway, but several field photos from different angles are also required.
If your deer doesn’t qualify, don’t fret. If he’s a trophy in your eyes, he’s a trophy in my book. Many states simply don’t have the genetics or quality habitat to commonly produce record book bucks. For example, states like Wisconsin churn out dozens of record book bucks every year. South Carolina has a rich deer hunting tradition but rarely puts a buck in the Boone & Crockett Club. A 100” buck is a solid buck in South Carolina. They’re usually passed up by accomplished hunters in the Midwest. What is a trophy can vary geographically and individually. My best advice; enjoy your hunt and treat every deer as if it’s a trophy.