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Ask The Biologist: Tips on Field Judging Bucks

Back To "Ask The Biologist?" QUESTION: I am from Florida, and down here the antlers just have to be basically spikes, which I don’t shoot, anyway. We are going on a hunt where the minimum size of the deer’s antlers must be 130 inches. Do you have any tips or books to recommend on how to field judge them?
— Kristina Danakos-Leffler

Whitetail DeerANSWER: Great question. You didn’t mention where you were going, which could be a factor because the size of various features used to estimate antler score can vary from one location to another.

However, in most places with a 130-inch minimum, any adult buck with 8 points or better and a spread outside the ears should get you pretty close to that mark. If you have a little time to look the deer over, there are some other clues that can help.

Things to Look For

Outside Spread — A buck’s ears are approximately 6-7 inches long, as is the space between them. So a spread just at the ear tips (in the alert position) will be around 16-18 inches.

Tine Length — You should also compare tine length to ear length, looking for at least two pairs of tines longer than 6 inches (or longer than the ears).

Beam Length — From a profile view, if the tips of the main beams extend to the nose tip, beam length is about 25 inches — a good sign. Also look for beams that curl inward or upward at the tip and extend well beyond the last tine.

Mass — Although tine length is what drives score, mass is also a factor. One way to judge mass is by comparing the diameter of antler bases to the eyes. Antlers with bases smaller than the eyes won’t have much mass.

Other — Obviously, other features like more than eight points, extremely long tines or beams or exceptional mass are going to drive the score up.

Things to Look Out For

Short Brow Tines — Brow tines are often overlooked, particularly when other points are somewhat longer, but short or missing brow tines can really hurt your score.

Broken or Missing Tines — If possible, try to view both sides of the rack to make sure it is symmetrical and intact.

Thin Antlers — While mass doesn’t usually add significantly to the score, thin antlers could keep you just below that magic 130 inches. If the rack looks thin, it probably is.

I would also caution against trying to judge a deer as it’s going away. It may be partly psychological, because it means the deer is leaving and taking your shot opportunity with it, but it seems that bucks always look much bigger when they’re going away.

If, after all of this, you’re still not sure, you can always fall back to the old hunter safety course axiom: When in doubt, don’t shoot.

For more information:

One of the best books on the subject is “Observing & Evaluating Whitetails,” by Dave Richards and Al Brothers.

Jeremy Flinn, who recently graduated from Mississippi State University College of Forest Resources, developed a software program that allows you to accurately score a buck from a trail camera picture. You can sample the software at www.buckscore.com

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