How To Quickly Estimate And Score A Buck’s Antlers Before the Shot (Episode 403 Transcript)

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GRANT: This time of year we receive a lot of images on social media and other ways from folks asking us to help them estimate a buck's antler score. Tell you the truth, I'm not that good at it. I try to really focus on how old they are, and usually, the antlers are something I'd like to have at home. After that, I'm probably taking a shot if I agree he's a certain age. But I have a friend, Richard Hale, that knows a lot about estimating and actually what buck’s score because Richard is the chair of Boone and Crockett's Record Committee. And he's a great hunter and been scoring racks forever. Richard thanks for joining us today.

RICHARD: Thank you Grant. It's nice to be here.

GRANT: Rich – yeah. And Richard and I have hunted together and talked a lot about in the field – I'm talking boots in the ground experience. So, I want Richard to share some of the tips he's developed through a career of hunting and serving with Boone and Crockett on helping us estimate a buck's score before we pull the trigger.

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GRANT: Collecting the dark antlers do make every deer look larger. They just show up…

GRANT: Before sharing Richard's techniques for estimating buck score in the field, I asked him to explain the Boone and Crockett's scoring system.

RICHARD: Eh. For a Boone and Crockett's score, the, the first measurement that's taken is the length of the beam, which is measured from the outside edge of the main beam in line with the eye, around the back and out to the point. That's one of the components of the score.

RICHARD: Another measurement that everybody is aware of is the inside spread, although, it's often confused and just, it's not the greatest spread – it's the inside spread of the main beam.

GRANT: Yup.

RICHARD: So, when we do that, that's about…

GRANT: Let's do this. So…

RICHARD: Your inside spread…

GRANT: So, we're talking in here to in here.

RICHARD: Correct. And your inside spread is on average around, to, 10% of your score.

GRANT: 40% of a buck's overall score on average is tine length. That's where all the money is.

RICHARD: If you've got three points going up, you're looking at a 10 point. If you've got four points going up, you're looking at a 12 point.

GRANT: A great tip Richard shared about 10 pointers – three points on a side – is if there's a difference between that G2 and G3 and a big step down to G4, it's gonna hurt the overall score. But if a 10 pointer carries that G4 tine way out there and it sticks up high, that buck is probably gonna score fairly well.

RICHARD: Uh, the mass – which everybody likes, including me – the mass of these beams typically is about 20% of the score on, on a buck.

GRANT: Again, there's four measurements – one measurement, two measurement, three measurements – halfway in between here – four measurement.

RICHARD: Now, another thing. You’ll see some tremendous trophy animals that have thick points, uh, and, and, I, I love those thick points. It has to be a sign of good nutrition – that's a healthy animal just forming that. Unfortunately, the Boone and Crockett system does not in any way quantify that.

GRANT: So, Richard, this is the hunt I was on a couple years ago in Kentucky, and we're gonna play it, and you can see what I saw live. I mean it came in. You know it was right over my shoulder.

RICHARD: This, this deer presents really well. It's a nice looking buck. Uh, I, I noticed that it, first off it, it has a…

GRANT: Let's roll the footage here. Let's roll it so you're going real time just like, like, (Inaudible).

RICHARD: Okay. Okay. So here's the deer.

GRANT: Yeah.

RICHARD: You're seeing a compact set of antlers. They're not real wide – not, not really. It strikes you as a smaller deer. And then you start noticing that it's got some point length and a pretty nice looking deer.

GRANT: Yeah, you taught us tine length is a big factor.

RICHARD: And this deer certainly has it. Um, so, my first number I'm going to throw out there – I'm going to say 138, just under 140 inches.

GRANT: Okay.

RICHARD: And then, you know I start thinking I'm a little off on this guy because he's got tall 2s. He's got good brows – not exceptional. He's got really nice beams. You know, I may be five, seven points short on it – maybe 145-inch deer. Um, both the 2 and the 3 have curvature, and anytime you go around the curve you're gaining length. So…

GRANT: Yeah, so like this right here.

RICHARD: Everything about those points is gonna measure better than your eye is telling you because your eye doesn't pick up all that unless you're really focused on it. So, when you see a deer with straight points, they'll disappoint you in length. When you see a deer with a curved point or even a double – some of ‘em will curve in and then back out – those deer have long points. And with the curved beam, this deer is probably gonna be a 145-inch deer.

GRANT: You’ll notice that I actually passed this deer – certainly not ‘cause – I would've been proud to have those antlers on my wall. That's a great set of antlers for me. But his body didn't appear to be four years old. He's sleek; his back is not sagging; his belly is not sagging. We're not talking about aging right now, but I estimated this deer to be three years old.

GRANT: When a deer turns away – like it looks bigger there – it just gained 10 inches on me there.

RICHARD: Right. Well, part of it is you're seeing that curvature.

GRANT: Right. It, it's really not bigger folks but deer going away from you almost always look bigger and that gets some deer shot that shouldn't be shot.

GRANT: Alright. So Richard here's a different setup. This is actually at my place here at The Proving Grounds. Uh, one of my guests was hunting. And, of course, you get a situation like this. Maybe it's wet – it looks kind of wet and damp – you don't know there's a deer coming, and it steps out all at once. I mean we're talking now…

RICHARD: Right.

GRANT: …a few seconds to work. So, what's going through your mind right off the bat? Let's just go ahead and start this slide, Daniel; and Richard, you tell us what's going through your mind. I see something you've taught us right off the bat – I'll go before you start this. I see a big stair step here. I see – I can't see the brow very good. Richard's taught us to look at the brow.

RICHARD: Right.

GRANT: You tell me if I'm getting this right.

RICHARD: That's correct.

GRANT: I can't see the brow. Pretty decent G2; decent G3. I'm gonna say the G2 probably scores more – it's a little bit longer…

RICHARD: Correct.

GRANT: … just because of the curvature of the beam.

RICHARD: It's an inch and a half longer.

GRANT: Yeah, because the beam is going down – even though it look the same height here. But my G4 is one of those tiny points – inch or two.

RICHARD: Grant, that's correct, and, I, those things jump out at me. Don't see the brows. Usually, that's a bad sign at this angle. We should see something if they were adequate length to score well. So, we've got a lot of negative factors on this deer just right off.

GRANT: Yep. And I just want to stress again. We're not saying shoot, don't shoot. This is all about helping you estimate the score of a buck in a hunting situation.

RICHARD: Exactly. It's, it’s, no, it’s no issue at all whether you shoot this deer or not. I’m just trying to help you evaluate the deer to make your own decision.

GRANT: Okay, so let's run this real time and go through it.

RICHARD: Okay.

GRANT: It’s just stepped out. Here we go.

RICHARD: So, Grant it, it seems like each thing against this deer works against it. You've got tiny brows – almost nonexistent – 4 on one side – no 4 on the other side. You've got light mass. This is not a deer that's gonna score well.

GRANT: So, your quick estimate on this thing. He's, he’s getting out of shot range real quick.

RICHARD: I'm, I’m thinking possibly 100 inches without doing any math. Just maybe 100, 100-inch deer.

GRANT: Yeah, yeah, 100, 110-inch deer.

RICHARD: Right. I'd say no more than 100. Easy.

GRANT: Well, it's on my place, so I'm gonna give him 10. I'm just teasing you.

RICHARD: Well, I told Grant that. I said when a deer is on your property, you always have to deduct 10 inches because of your inherent enthusiasm.

GRANT: Richard, this was a hunt I was actually on here on my property. So, again, I'm biased. This drops off really steep, so I did not hear this deer coming. He's actually out of bow range right now and he just stepped out in the field. So, you're getting some of the first glances, just like I really did when this occurred.

RICHARD: Well, that, that’s, that's a neat situation Grant. I see two things here off the bat – really three – that just strike you right off. One, is you got two points going up. You're looking at, you're looking at an eight point.

GRANT: Yup.

RICHARD: So, the second thing I notice is that these beams come high off the head. I mean that, that’s remarkable. You know, most of ‘em will turn out to the sides Grant. But these are, these beams are coming high off the head. So, that's telling you this, this deer is gonna fool you a little bit. Then you look up the beam just a little bit and you're seeing – for a deer of this size – very good brow tines. They've got to be four inches. They might be four and a half. So, the deer is gonna score a little better than you think – um, probably 115-inch deer.

GRANT: Okay. Let's roll it and see what we do now that we're rolling.

RICHARD: Okay.

GRANT: This is what I'm seeing. I see that, and I go “Ooh, look at that tine length there.”

RICHARD: Right. You've got a great 2. That, that bumps a little bit. You know this deer may be getting close to 120. Um, mass is ordinary for a rack of this size. Um, but.

GRANT: So, what are you giving it on mass?

RICHARD: Fourteen.

GRANT: Fourteen. Fourteen on the side. So, we would double that, it’d be 28 inches.

RICHARD: 28. A lot of symmetry; not a lot of spread; probably 12 inches inside.

GRANT: Yup.

RICHARD: Um, boy, look at that 2 now. That, that, that jumps out at you.

GRANT: Yup.

RICHARD: Um, the deer has no odd unusual points; no breakage – uh, just, just, just a beautiful deer.

GRANT: Yup.

RICHARD: Now, here, here’s a great picture, Grant, because this shows how, how tall beams will fool you. The beams come so high off the head that you look up the top of the 2, and it's so far over the nose, that you're thinking this is a giant deer.

GRANT: Right.

RICHARD: But as, as you go through your system, you realize that this is a young deer. It's got a beautiful set of antlers. They're not gonna score over 120 inches.

GRANT: Yup. So, I think that's a critical point. This buck is what we call a high-rack buck. My generic term is a high-rack buck.

RICHARD: Right.

GRANT: And there's only, again, eight scoreable points on here. It just doesn't add up to much. This is nowhere close, folks. When I look at this right off the bat, I'm nowhere thinking 140, 150, 160. That's not even in that world.

RICHARD: No, no.

GRANT: Yeah. But a great deer and got a lot of, a lot of room to grow.

RICHARD: I want to emphasize you want to look at this brow as soon as you get the chance. Because it's the first point that goes away when there's brush; there's bad light; there's a bad angle on the deer.

GRANT: Twisting around, can't see it.

RICHARD: Right. It, it, when you get a chance to look at that brow, you want to look at it and then once you've done that, move on.

GRANT: Richard here's a different situation. And, you know, I live in the Ozark Mountains. I have some food plots but there's no ag fields around. A lot of guys hunt in places like I do. And we see deer in timber like this. I mean here's the buck – a lot of people probably didn't pick it up from home. You know, looking at the monitor here. But we can't see a whole lot; we don't get that perfect view. So, I want to play this real time, and you just start sharing with me what's going on.

RICHARD: Okay Grant. Thank you.

GRANT: Okay, so here we go.

RICHARD: Uh, the first thing I would notice is you're probably gonna hear this deer coming in these dry leaves. Is, so, I'm, I’m evaluating the deer before I can see it. Is it dragging its feet? An old buck will make more noise walking through the leaves when it's on alert. It is, when its feet hit the ground, does it sound like a big deer? Um, and then you start seeing it. If you can't see the antlers, start looking at the body. Gather, gather whatever information is presented itself to you because it may be all you're gonna get.

RICHARD: So, you've got a missing brow. You really don't have a G3 on the right beam – the deer, on the deer’s right beam…

GRANT: Yeah.

RICHARD: …what we're seeing on the left side. You've got a non-typical point coming out of the base of, of the G2. Um. Nothing really extraordinary about this deer. It’s uh. If you had to put a number to this deer, you're probably looking at 90, 90-inch deer.

GRANT: Yup. And I, I wanted to share this one because a lot of guys in the heat of the battle; coming through timber – branches, sticks, everything in the way, see this long tine, say, “Ooh, that's a good deer.”

RICHARD: But, but you know a hunt like that Grant can be just as fun as a hunt for a giant deer, too. You know, you get an arrow through there and get it in the right spot, and that deer goes 30 yards and piles up, and you've had a great time.

GRANT: Well, Richard you've been in my shop. I've got a whole bunch of those out there, right? And I can re-tell and relive all those moments, my family enjoyed the venison. So again, not knocking a deer, but we get all these questions about, “What's this buck's score?” And I write folks back and I'll say, you know, 110, whatever. And they go, “Oh no, it's a 150-inch deer.” Well, I don't want to hurt your feelings folks, but there's some math to this, and Richard is here to tell us his formula of how that goes together.

GRANT: Richard this was a great hunt. This was actually my daughter, Raleigh. I've taught my kids – we're all worried about age and, and then we’ll figure out the score later. But let's look. A lot of hunters want to know the score. So, as we run this real time – because things happen quick here – I want you again to share with us what's going through your mind.

RICHARD: First thing I would say here is you're looking – it’s just great deer. You know, mature buck; big antlers. That's just the first thing that pops in your mind.

GRANT: Okay.

RICHARD: And then you're seeing it's got three points up. Now, it's going away. So, as you noted, when a deer is going away, it's gonna look a little bigger. Right now you're saying 150-inch deer. Uh, but then you put a little math to it. And you realize it's a little short out on the 4s. Brows look good. Um, I’m, my feeling right now is that that buck’s gonna get away anyway because he's, he’s moving right along and nobody's shooting him.

RICHARD: Um. The buck has dark antlers. Dark antlers always show up better. Uh, they will, they will make you over judge 'em a little bit. So, you, you have to say that deer is a little less than 150. Um, you know, got good 2s – not exceptional; good 3s – not exceptional. Nice spread. Spread is probably 17 inch inside, average mass. This is just a great deer.

GRANT: Um-hm.

RICHARD: Um, if, to put a number to it at this point right now I'm gonna say it's 140 plus.

GRANT: Okay.

RICHARD: Uh, it's every bit of it. You know, that deer…

GRANT: So, let’s let this play out here. Raleigh finally gets him stopped – boom. Done. Hugging; celebrating and all that. I actually did put a tape on this deer – and I'm not saying I’m 100% accurate because I'm not a certified scorer. But I come up with like 142. You called this a low 140, so your field estimate was spot on.

RICHARD: Well, thank you, and what a beautiful deer.

RICHARD: Interesting thing about brow tines is they can be measured from the front or the back. So, you measure ‘em over the longest way. So you – sometimes you'll see a deer that scores best coming up the front of one beam, and it will always, of course, score longest over the curve. With this one, it kind of has a double curve. And I don't know, I'm gonna think the front. But what you know is this is a nice brow. It's a very good brow for a good scoring deer. It's, it’s approximately 5 inches, which is the norm on 140 to 160-inch deer.

GRANT: Richard, this is a little cheating for you because I was hunting with you on your farm. But this was a stranger deer to me. I didn't see this deer ahead of time. I don't think you showed me trail camera pictures or anything. So, I'm in a tree. Uh, but I want you to walk through when we start playing this. What's going through your mind?

RICHARD: Okay.

GRANT: Alright, so this deer steps out. I'm a stranger now at a guest's property. I don't know this deer. So, what am I looking at Richard?

RICHARD: Well, when he was turned sideways, you noticed tall points right off.

GRANT: Yup.

RICHARD: Beams come high off the head. It's, it’s a five point on one side but four-typical on the other, so that's gonna hurt the score.

GRANT: Right.

RICHARD: As he turns toward you, you notice that the brows are good – not exceptionally long. One of ‘em appears to be split on the right. Um, and the tall points strike you again and the spread of about – it's gonna be just under 16 inches.

GRANT: Okay.

RICHARD: So, those are the things I noticed. And then now – as the deer is turning his head there, look at that G2 on the left. That, that G2 is probably over 12 inches long but not 13 – matched pretty closely on the other side — just a real nice looking deer. Um, the 4 is a little weak. It's gonna keep it from scoring real well, and it's non-existent on the other side. A little odd point going off the left G2. Um, a great deer. I'm gonna say that, again, that deer is gonna come in there low 140s. And I don't remember. I'm sure we probably scored it at the time. But low 140s kind of deer. The beams aren't exceptional. Also, it's a mature buck.

GRANT: Yeah.

RICHARD: Being a mature buck, you know, certainly something in that size range, a person would want to consider harvesting.

GRANT: Yeah. Uh, I don't remember exactly – several years ago since Richard allowed me to have this hunt. But I believe it was like 149 kind of high one 140s– gross score, gross score.

RICHARD: That could have been. I may have been a little low on it. Um.

GRANT: It had a kicker, also, coming off that you didn't address. So we gained two or three inches off that one side there.

RICHARD: Right.

GRANT: When you start going through the math – and Richard is giving us some great points. Okay. Average beams – 20; start adding if they're exceptional.

RICHARD: Right.

GRANT: Taking off if they're less; spread 15 – unless it's really exceptional or really narrow. Mass, we're gonna call an average good buck…

RICHARD: 17, 18 inches.

GRANT: 17 inches on a side. So we double that. We're 36, 37 inches, somewhere in there. Okay? You starting doing the math, and all of a sudden they starts coming down a little bit.

RICHARD: That's right. It's a, it’s a numeric thing.

GRANT: Richard, years ago there was a buck on our property that was a clean 12 pointer. And, and I had watched him all summer through trail camera pictures, video. And I just knew this was a good deer.

RICHARD: Hmm. Hmm.

GRANT: And sure enough in October, I saw this deer moving through the woods, and I grunted, and of course he's shed out velvet now, and he comes up, and I make a great shot, and he piles up, and I get down there. My heart just sunk because I had memories of velvet score basically in my head, and when I got the real antlers in my hand…

GRANT: Based on his experience, Richard shared that when the velvet is removed off antlers, the score can decrease by 10 to 20%. Summertime bucks – when that velvet is really full and looking big – gosh, we can easily overestimate the score by 20%.

GRANT: Richard, this has been great because you've taught me a lot and I've been doing this a long time. I'm sure you've helped everyone at home. But, but summarize with just, again, your overall quick field judging tips, so they can use this in their situation. ‘Cause they're not seeing it on a video. They can't play it back five times like we can. They're making a five-second decision.

RICHARD: Right.

GRANT: So, we're looking at a deer. Kind of let’s – what’s the first thing you're thinking?

RICHARD: I'm looking at a big, mature deer with what I consider a large set of antlers. You don't, you don’t see anything wrong with it. Uh, so, you, you throw out a number. You're gonna say 160-inch deer. Then, the next thing I would look at – I would try to get a little numerical about it to see if this actually is a really good scoring deer.

GRANT: Hmm. Hmm.

RICHARD: The, the first thing I notice is the spread. The spread is just ordinary for a big deer. You know 18, 18-1/2 inches inside – nothing exceptional about the beams – not exceptionally short or long – just a great looking deer.

RICHARD: So, next I'm gonna look at mass – 20% of the score. And I'm gonna call that average mass for a 160-inch deer.

GRANT: Yup.

RICHARD: So, we're gonna call it 18 inches per side.

GRANT: Seconds are ticking away. What's the next thing you're looking at here?

RICHARD: Grant, Grant, the next thing I'm looking at is, is the beams. And, again, the beams are just exactly what you want to see on a 160-inch deer. They come high off the head; they, they go out; they turn back in a little bit at the tips. They don't strike you as extraordinarily long, but they're, they’re solid, so you're, your just gonna say 25 inches. Um, and that’s…

GRANT: And that's per side, per beam.

RICHARD: Correct, yeah. The brow on the deer's left antler is short. There's just no question about it. It's two to three inches. It really needs to be close to six inches to get a big score out of that deer.

RICHARD: Then we get to the 4s, and you're thinking those 4s are good. They're gonna offset the brows a little bit because they're close to seven inches.

GRANT: Yeah. And you like anything over six inches on the 4s.

RICHARD: Five to six inches is gonna put you in that 160 inch range. So, um, all in all, I'd, I’d just stick with that number. You know, it's a 160-inch deer – give or take two inches – and, and really a beautiful, big deer, so.

GRANT: Yeah, yeah. And so, this is just a great example. You know, if you're hunting 150-, 160-inch deer – this is actually ended up being 160 and a little change. This is what you want to see. You want to see that spread Richard talked about; that mass. And really importantly, that tine length.

GRANT: Richard, you've spent a lifetime hunting deer, just like I have, and you've really specialized in the antler score. Your contributions to Boone and Crockett Club and whatnot. So, you actually donated a chapter to this book. You contributed a chapter just really highlighting in greater detail than what we shared today – all your field estimating tips.

RICHARD: Yes I did. Thank you.

GRANT: Yeah.

RICHARD: And there's also some other methods outlined in there in one or two other chapters, um, which, which have merits of their own, so.

GRANT: Yeah.

RICHARD: Just because this is how I do it, doesn't mean it's, it’s the only way or even the best way.

GRANT: Yeah. So I would do what I do. If you're into this stuff, go to Boone and Crockett's website, get a copy of this book, and really study it before you get into the field this fall.

GRANT: Richard, it's hard to do, but you've changed my opinion on a few things today. So thanks for being patient with me and giving me time. And I really look forward to hunting with you again this fall.

RICHARD: Great. Thank you Grant; enjoyed it.

GRANT: Hey, if you'd like to visit in person about food plots, habitat management, estimating a buck's age or score, I'll be at the Springfield Bass Pro store August 19th from 10:00 to 5:00. I’ll probably spend most of my time in the hunting department, and I look forward to visiting with you there.

GRANT: Daniel and I are blessed to have an elk hunt scheduled about a month and a half from now. And I'm super excited and preparing for that hunt. But it's just as important that I slow down every day and enjoy Creation and take time and listen to what the Creator is saying to me. I hope you do the same. Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.