Boone and Crockett Club: Do Not Use Scoring System for Captive Deer

MLDP Conservation Option

B&C Score: It’s become a part of the everyday lingo used in the world of white-tailed deer hunting. TV show host refer to it, most hunters over-estimate it, deer hunting guides live and die by it, and deer breeders use it to market breeder bucks. Uh-oh, someone stop the music! Despite the fact that B&C score is the gold standard for scoring big game, the Boone and Crockett Club politely asked last month that deer breeding operations no longer refer to their name or use their scoring methods when marketing pen-raised deer and elk.

A bold move, but the right one based on the organization’s president, William A. Demmer. To qualify for the B&C record books native big game animals must be harvested under fair-chase hunting conditions. In short, the Club is reiterating that their proprietary scoring system is intended for use on free-ranging animals, not captive bucks — and the Club wants no affiliation with pen-raised wildlife.

Boone and Crockett Club on the Scoring of Captive Deer

Source: “The Boone and Crockett Club scoring system exists to document the successful conservation of wild game animals in North America. The Boone and Crockett Club objects to and rejects any use of or reference to the Boone and Crockett Club or its scoring system in connection with antlers/horns grown by animals in captivity.”

Demmer said, “With the growth of the deer breeding and shooting industry, and modern marketing and selling of ‘shooter bucks’ raised in captivity and graded and sold using B&C scores, it was time to make this unauthorized use of our scoring system more widely known.”

The Club’s records program was established in 1906 as a way of detailing species once thought headed for extinction. Today, the B&C scoring system is used to collect data on free-ranging big game. These data reflect successful conservation efforts, population health and habitat quality. Biologists compare and contrast records to improve local management strategies as well as state and federal wildlife policies.

“To maintain the purity of this dataset, and to ensure its usefulness for conservation professionals, the Club has always excluded farm-raised big game from its records program. Including unnaturally produced or genetically manipulated specimens would taint one of the longest running conservation programs in existence,” said Demmer.

The Club supports use of scientifically guided wildlife management techniques to enhance or restore big game populations and other species at risk. However, the Club condemns artificial enhancement of a species’ genetic characteristics for the sole purpose of producing abnormally large antlers to increase commercial value.

Scoring Bucks on the Hoof

Deer Hunting: Scoring Deer on the Hoof

Many whitetail hunters are interested in scoring bucks on the hoof. And without a doubt, one of the most common questions I hear this time of year is, “What will this buck score?” I think it’s just a sign of the times. People want to measure everything now days. And most hunters are people, after all. From a deer hunting standpoint, the score of a buck’s antlers is not the most important thing. However, it is one of many good ways to track the progress of a deer management program. Estimating the gross score of a buck’s antlers without the deer in hand can be accomplished in one of two ways, either using game camera photos or actually looking at the live deer in the field.

Most prefer to look at game camera photos because it offers a hunter all the time in the world to look a buck from many different angles. A hunter can check out the left side, the right side, the front view, basically everything you’d need to make a good guesstimate of the deer’s gross Boone and Crockett score. A buck’s antler score is made up of quite a few measurements. Every set of antlers will have at least 11 measurements that relate to the beams of the deer. These include 8 beam circumference (mass) measurements, 2 beam length measurements and another measurement between the main beams (greatest inside spread). The remainder of a buck’s antler score is simply the length of each of his antler points.

Deer Hunting: Scoring Deer on the Hoof

More points and longer point lengths mean a higher total score. An 8 point buck with very heavy antlers and long points can score the same or more as a 12 point buck with thin antlers and short points. And in my opinion, although there are many factors involved, the tine lengths of buck are usually the most important factor when it comes to racking up really large scores. But what is the best way to score a buck from a photo or in the field? As explained above, antler score can be grouped into a handful of measurements: mass, beams, spread and point length.

Like most things, getting good at scoring deer takes experience, practice, and more experience. For me, the best way to relate antler score to what was observed was for me to see the deer, either from a photo or in the field, and then be able to physically measure the antlers in my hands. After repeating this a few times, I was able to calibrate my mind, so to speak, and put the image that I was seeing into inches. It was then that I could see a 4 inch base (H1), a 5 1/2 inch brow tine (G1) and a 10 inch G2 on a live deer. This happened because there was a relationship between past observations that I had seen and the physical measurements that I had made. Those proportions could then be applied and adjusted to fit other bucks in the future.

Deer Management: Scoring Deer in the Field

It will not happen overnight. Even with some experience and a lot of practice it takes time to get proficient at scoring bucks on the hoof. The best tip I can give to help score deer is to combine the 8 mass measurements, 2 beam measurements and inside spread measurement into a single number I refer to as the “base score.” To estimate the base score for bucks found in your area, simply use the base score for bucks that you have previously harvested. For example, mature bucks (5 1/2+ years old) on a property I used to hunt typically had mass measurements that totaled about 30 inches, main beams that were about 20 inches (remember there are two beams), and an inside spread around 17 inches.

To estimate the gross Boone and Crockett score of a mature whitetail buck on that ranch from a photo or in the field all I had to do was start with 87 inches and perform some mental math to add up the length of each of the antler points. This would allow me or any other hunter the place to score a mature buck in the field in well under a minute. The base score could be adjusted rapidly and on-the-fly, allowing one to deduct a few inches for a deer with thinner-than-average mass (base score 85) or add several inches (base score 90) for a wider-than-normal buck. Measure or estimate the base score for middle-aged and mature bucks in  your area and that will give you a great starting point for scoring deer this hunting season.

Scoring bucks on the hoof and in the field is important, but not nearly as important as aging deer on the hoof. For hunters and landowners that want to improve the quality of the white-tailed deer found and harvested on their property, it’s important to let bucks reach their full potential. Bucks can not do that if they get shot at 3 1/2 years of age, even if they do have 130 inches of antler. That being said, each property has it’s own challenges when it comes to deer management and buck age structure. A “shooter buck” on one property may be a 6 1/2 year old, but a 4 1/2 year old deer on another. The scores of the bucks taken from a property in a given year can be a good physical indicator of herd health, but so can body weights. If the goal is to produce mature bucks for harvest—a great goal in itself—then correctly aging deer in the field will much more important than a buck’s antler score.

Deer Aging: Whitetail Aging Chart Uses Tooth Measurement

Deer Hunting - Deer Aging for Whitetail Deer Management

Hunters interested in producing and growing bigger, more healthy whitetail understand that active deer management is the key to long term success. An important component of a successful deer hunting and management program is being able to accurately age white-tailed deer, specifically bucks. The selection of bucks suitable for harvest is most often performed by aging deer on the hoof in the field, but that determination is often evaluated by aging harvested deer using the tooth wear and replacement method. Neither of these methods are foolproof.

Aging deer on the hoof relies on the observer being able to objectively judge an animal based on physical characteristics. It’s an acquired skill that hunters can get better with over time, but its’ not perfect. This technique can be enhanced by allowing observers more time to look at individual animals, which is often accomplished using game camera photos placed in feeding areas. Numerous photos from various angles usually allow a hunter to get a good idea of deer’s age before even heading to the field. Observation of the animal before or during the deer hunting season can then be used to confirm or reject the armchair evaluation of the deer’s age.

Deer Hunting - Deer Aging for Whitetail Deer Management

The tooth wear and replacement technique is most commonly used on dead deer, although persons involved in the legal trapping and transporting of wild deer as well as commercial deer breeders may use the method on live deer. There are, however, a number of variables that can impact tooth wear in deer. The teeth of whitetail found living over sandy soils will wear quicker than those found living over clay soils. Deer that eat a lot of protein feed will wear down slower too. But like most things that require skill to get better, confidence and consistency with the deer aging technique takes time. So is there a better way?

Source: Researchers at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde have developed a more accurate technique than traditional methods for estimating the age of white-tailed bucks. When owners or managers know the true age of harvested deer on their ranch, it improves their ability to predict the age of live deer on that property.

“South Texas is famous for producing trophy white-tailed deer,” said Dr. Susan Cooper, AgriLife Research associate professor and lead investigator for the new age-estimation research. “Large-antlered deer sell for very high prices, so harvesting a good buck before it reaches its prime or after it begins to decline can represent a significant loss of income to the producer.”

“The traditional method for estimating the age of white-tailed deer has been by visual, tooth-wear patterns,” Cooper said. “This method – known as the Severinghaus technique – was developed using northern deer and is inaccurate for estimating the age of wild deer in Texas beyond the rough categorizations of young, mature or old.”

The new technique also relies on using the animal’s teeth, but involves measuring the width of the dentine — the hard tissue located under the enamel of a tooth — on a specific tooth.

Cooper said over the past 10 years the wildlife team at the Uvalde center has ear-tagged more than 2,000 wild buck fawns on South Texas ranches. During the past decade, ranch owners and operators have kept tabs on ear-tagged deer, collaborating with the center on deer-related research. “When these bucks are harvested, the partner ranch returns any known-age jawbones from tagged deer to us for evaluation and assessment,” she said.

Cooper said research assistant Shane Sieckenius had noted that an actual measurement of tooth wear would be superior and more accurate than a basic visual scoring system would be in aging white-tailed deer.

After discussion and evaluation, the team determined the first permanent molar would be the tooth which was most likely to show age-related wear patterns. Using digital calipers, they took accurate measurements in millimeters of tooth height, as well as all ridges of white enamel and brown dentine on the tooth from jaw samples of harvested known-age bucks 2.5 to 7.5 years old.

“We wanted to see if we could go to just one location in the jaw to reduce the amount of variability of age-related wear within the jaw,” Sieckenius said. “This particular tooth was consistent in showing the true indication of wear.” Cooper said evaluation of measurement data revealed that only the width of the dentine in the tooth’s cusps, pointed ends of the chewing surface, was related to the age of the deer.

“The best measurement fit for aging was the width of the dentine, which we gave the value D, in the front cheek-side cusp of the first molar on the right side of the jawbone,” she said. “This provided us with the relatively simple formula for estimating age: 1.8 times D, plus 1.8.”

She said the only equipment needed for the study was the digital calipers, which can be purchased from major online retailers for as little as $20 each. “To save doing the math, measurements can be compared to a simple chart that we have developed and will make available to landowners,” she said.

Deer Aging Chart for Deer Hunting and Management

“You have to get the jaws good and clean before measuring, so in our case we boiled the jaws thoroughly to ensure they were free from any tissue, decay or foreign objects that might hinder obtaining an accurate measurement,” Sieckenius said.

Cooper said when tested on a sample jaws of 141 bucks, the formula predicted the correct age for 61 percent of young bucks aged 2.5 to 3.5 years; 53 percent of mature bucks aged 4.5 to 6.5 years, and 25 percent of old bucks aged 7.5 to 8.5 years. She added that all animals were correctly aged within one year of their actual known age.

For comparison, Cooper said, 27 wildlife professionals and students were asked to age samples of the same jaws using traditional visual tooth-wear measurements.

“They estimated the correct age for 40 percent of young bucks, but only 18 percent of mature bucks and none of the old bucks,” she said. “This means the new technique – which we have named the AgriLife Dentine Method – of aging deer provides much greater precision in aging harvested deer.”

Sieckenius said the new aging technique will be of particular interest to ranchers and hunting lease owners who wish to harvest deer at a specific age.

“This new measurement process is very interesting,” said Jim Hillje, a wildlife consultant for many South Texas ranches and a former Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist. Recently, Sieckenius traveled to Encinal to demonstrate the new technique to Hillje and Jeff Pierce, manager of the 7-1 Ranch in Webb County.

“It’s good to have a more precise way of aging a particular deer, and this new method works well in conjunction with the buck ear-tagging we’ve been doing for several years to confirm the deers’ age.”

Hillje said while he is satisfied that the new technique is an improvement in age-estimating methodology, the down side of current age-measurement techniques is the difficulty in applying them to live deer specimens.

“Landowners want to harvest deer at their maximum antler potential,” Sieckenius said. “Some want to harvest them at five years old and some farther south may prefer to harvest when they’re closer to six years old. We’re giving them a means by which to maximize that potential so they can get the most for their hunt.”

The AgriLife Dentine Method of aging deer does provide measurable physical factors for the aging of harvested deer, but the fact remains that the deer must be in someone’s hands, and dead. The method will accurately determine the age of an animal 60 percent of the time or get within one year of age. With this stated, I’m not convinced that this way is really any better than the old-standby Severinghaus tooth wear technique.

The technique uses measurable tooth wear, kind of a modified Severinghaus method, so the new deer aging technique will only be applicable to those deer hunting in South Texas or in areas that have very similar soil and habitat conditions to South Texas. As mentioned earlier, there are many factors that can impact tooth wear in deer. Soil type, plant communities, supplemental foods and even genetics can affect tooth wear in individual animals. This techniques is still far from perfect, but could offer value to those with little experience aging dead deer.

B&C Scoring: Measuring Common Base Points

White-tailed Deer Hunting in Texas

Hunters that commonly score white-tailed deer antlers are familiar with the measurements necessary to score most sets of antlers. However, there are special circumstances that scorers will encounter that can make life difficult, particularly when scoring non-typical sets of antlers. One point of confusion with many new Boone and Crockett scorers occurs when they encounter common base points.

Although these types of points can occur on both typical and non-typical sets of antlers, common base points are not always abnormal. Ensure that you accurately measure your buck’s antlers by learning a little more about measuring common base points on antlers. It could make a big difference for you or someone you know!

Measuring common base points using the Boone and Crockett Method

First, common base points are points that are joined at their bases and share some degree of webbing between them. In the above photo, the drawing on the left (L) illustrates two points that do not have a common base. However, the figure on the right (R) depicts two points that do have a common base. The two points on the right are common base points. The easiest way to distinguish common base points from two points that do not share a common base is to perform an imaginary cross-section at the base of the points where they attach to the main beam.

The figure on the left depicts points that do not have a common base. The figure on the right has common base ponts.

In the above photo, the cross-section of the base on L looks like an oval, whereas the cross-section of the base on R looks like a peanut or a figure eight. This cross-sectioning process is critical in making the call and establishes that two distinct points do exist. The two points on R are common base points that both extend to the main beam, but they do share some degree of webbing.  The two points on L consists of one normal point and one abnormal point.

Now that we established that the points on R are common base points, how do we measure them? Well, it depends on whether the points are matched or unmatched and whether they are normal or abnormal points. This sounds confusing, but lets work through it. Let’s say the points of R are located on the right antler and are the G2 and G3. If the G2 and G3 are also common base points on the left antler, then the points are considered matched because they are in the same place on each side of the antlers. In this case, all points are considered normal, but the points should be measured from the tips to the dashed line as illustrated in the figure on the left below. Measurements are taken this way on matched common base points because an inflated circumference measurement (H3 in this example) will be recorded between the G2s and G3s on both sides.

How to measure common base points.

On the other hand, if common base points are found only on one side (either the left or right side of the antlers; unmatched), then one of the points is likely normal and the other is abnormal because the point spacing is interrupted. Regardless of whether or not one of the points is matched or unmatched, the points should be measured and scored from the tip of the points to an imaginary line along the top of the main beam (as illustrated in the above photo on the right side).

Scoring a Buck Typical Versus Non-Typical

Scoring deer antlers can a be a bit confusing, especially since most hunters score only a single set of antlers each year. If one is not well-versed in antler scoring terminology, then it requires the hunter to get reacquainted with the lingo (and what it’s referring to) each year. I’ll admit, it’s not an easy process/concept to wrap your mind around because the words “typical” and “normal” (and “non-typical” and “abnormal”) mean very different things when scoring a buck, but people commonly use them interchangeably in daily conversation when talking about other subjects.

I would now like to address the following questions I received: “What determines whether a buck is scored typical or non-typical? Is there a maximum amount of deductions allowed for typicals?”

Scoring a buck typical versus non-typical 

There is no set rule that says a white-tailed buck must be scored typical or non-typical. The choice really is up to the hunter and which classification makes the most sense. As I go through the following discussion, it will become obvious how a particular buck should be scored.

First, when scoring deer antlers, all normal and abnormal points are measured. The scores of both typical and non-typical sets of antlers are based off the symmetry (after deductions) of the main frame. Yes, even non-typical bucks get deductions for not having a symmetrical main 8-point, 10-point, 12-point, etc frame with matched points of the same length.

But — since the measurements of all normal and abnormal points are taken, it’s easy to calculate both the typical and non-typical scores. Abnormal points add into the gross score of a buck scored non-typical and are subtracted from the gross score of a buck scored typical. If a set of antlers has many abnormal points, the set is most accurately classified as non-typical and would be best scored as non-typical (but it is not a requirement).

Odd, freakish, and unmatched points do not add any value to the typical antler score as per the definition of a normal point. When scoring a typical set of deer antlers, the length of abnormal points is measured, but subtracted from the gross score of a buck. The rules state you can not add abnormal points to the score of a typical frame. If the antlers are nearly typical, abnormal points hurt the net score. So there is no maximum on the amount of inches that can be deducted because the mathematics of the issue becomes self limiting. The more abnormal points, the lower the net score becomes under the typical classification and the more the scorer leans towards scoring the antlers non-typical.

On the flip side, if a set of antlers is scored non-typical, then the total length of abnormal points is added into the gross score for the rack. The more abnormal points a set of antlers has, the more sense it makes to score them as non-typical. The fewer abnormal points a set of antlers has, the more sense it makes to score them as typical.

Again, the important thing to keep in mind: Both typical and non-typical sets of antlers are scored based on the main frame. The only difference is that abnormal points deduct from a typical rack’s final score, but they are additive for non-typical. If the white-tailed buck has a lot of abnormal points, why score it as typical and then subtract away abnormal points?

Case in Point

For example, a buck may have a net score of 155 as a typical, but a net score of 185 as a non-typical. That’s 30-inches difference in antler material! That’s because I assumed it had 30-inches of abnormal points — which is deducted from the gross score when scored “typical,” but not deducted from the gross score when scored “non-typical.” Most hunters use a buck’s gross score in conversation because it gives the deer credit for all antler growth.

If, on the flip side, you only had 7-inches of non-typical antler on your buck (a single drop tine, a split tine, or an extra point), typical makes much more sense. The more abnormal points a buck has, the better the likelihood it should be scored non-typical. Of course, I’ve seen some white-tailed bucks that get stuck in the middle — not enough abnormal points to score high as a non-typical, but too much to score well as a typical.