ZEISS in partnership with Boone & Crockett

Field Judging - Whitetail Deer

More about Field Judging

Field Judging - Pronghorn

SHOP ZEISS products

Hunting Products

Field Evaluation for Boone and Crockett Score

Whitetail Deer

The major features that make up a B&C score for a whitetail deer are: F - main beam length, G - point lengths, H - circumferences, and D - Inside Spread (not shown).    

The whitetail deer is the most widely distributed of all North American deer species. As such, whitetail deer are hunted in more states and by more sportsmen than any other category of big game. Annually, whitetail deer also rank the highest in overall entries into the Boone and Crockett Club records book and have held this distinction for more than the past 50 years.

The Boone and Crockett Club recognizes four categories of whitetail deer and two subspecies. The larger in body and antler size and the most familiar to sportsmen is the common whitetail.

The other North American whitetail is the Coues’ whitetail deer, a small-bodied whitetail with correspondingly smaller antlers. Though locally pronounced throughout its range as “cooz,” it is named after its discoverer Elliot Coues, who pronounced his name “cows.” This species is generally found above the desert floor in the mountainous regions above roughly 5,000 feet in southwestern New Mexico, the southern half of Arizona, and northwestern Mexico. This specific habitat zone has remained isolated from the larger whitetail subspecies and the adaptation of the subspecies warrants a separate classification in the records.

Both subspecies of whitetail are scored the same by Boone and Crockett; therefore we will focus on field judging the larger, common whitetail and point out the size differences to look for when judging Coues’ whitetails.

Mature deer, those over 4.5 years and older, can vary in antler size from region to region, habitat types, and from year to year. It is very rare in the wild for bucks under 4.5 years of age to grow racks that score high enough to make Boone and Crockett. This is because in most regions the first 3.5 years of a buck’s life are spent developing body mass. Any nutritional intake left over during this time is a luxury that can go toward antler development. Extensive antler growth is a secondary characteristic that takes place only after nutritional intake satisfies body mass and health. For judging size in the field, we will be talking about mature deer and comparing antler size among mature bucks with an eye to Boone and Crockett minimums.

The typical pattern of a mature whitetail’s antler development is an unbranched main beam that normally develops from three to seven (sometimes more) unbranched points per antler at roughly spaced intervals. Any other points are considered “abnormal,” and their lengths are deducted from the score if the buck is scored as a typical or added to the score if it is being scored as a non-typical.
 

Visual Rulers

There are components of a buck’s antlers that can be quickly evaluated in the field with a few simple calculations. To do this, we need things of known sizes to visually compare the antlers to. In this regard we will use the deer’s ears, eyes, and nose. While this can be an inexact science considering the range of sizes from the diminutive Coues’ deer to the bulky giants of Canada, we are going to throw out the biggest and the smallest and take an average of the most common whitetails found in the United States. The average buck, with his ears in an alert position, has an ear tip-to-tip spread of 16 inches. His ears will measures 6 inches from the base to the tip. The circumference of his eye is 4 inches, and from the center of the eye to the end of his nose should measure about 8 inches. These will be our “rulers” for antler size estimation. If you are hunting in an area that traditionally produces huge-bodied deer, or if you are hunting the little Coues’ deer, you will need to adjust your rulers accordingly.

 

Tip: Ideally, the rack should be viewed from both the front and side, especially when judging the main beams. However, this isn’t always possible and sometimes you will just have to go with your gut feeling. But beware of the rear view, as it can be deceiving. From this angle you can get an exaggerated impression of the antler’s height and spread. As the old saying goes, “they always look bigger going away.”
 

Frame

The first thing to note in a whitetail buck’s rack is the overall height and width (frame), followed by the number of points and mass. At first glance, a buck’s overall frame should be impressive, separating him from other bucks that may be together, or from others that you have seen. Height and width are visual indicators of overall size, but these measurements also influence three of the four primary areas—tine length, inside spread, and the length of the main beams—where a buck’s score is taken. Frame is simply the outside dimensions of a buck’s rack as if you were placing a box over his antlers—small box, small frame, lower score; bigger box, bigger frame, higher score. After overall frame, you’ll want to count points next.

 

Tine Length

The number of points and length of these points will tell you a lot about a buck’s scoring potential. To be as accurate as possible, you must determine if you are looking at a 5x5 or 4x4 (or a 10-point or an 8-point by Eastern standards). With the rare exception, typical whitetail bucks meeting the Boone and Crockett minimum of 160-inches are 5x5 or better bucks. Currently out of 10,038 accepted typical whitetail deer on record only 263 are 8-point framed bucks.

For field judging, it is helpful to become familiar with Boone and Crockett nomenclature. Points on a deer’s rack are given a designation of G or G1, G2, G3 and so on. These are counted from the base of the antler out toward the end of the main beam, with G1 representing the first point or eye guard. A question often asked is why G and why not P1 or T1? The answer is, on an official Boone and Crockett score chart, measurements are recorded in order starting with A. Recording the length of each point is section G on the score chart.

 

Definition of a Point: The old “if you can hang a ring on it” doesn’t work for scoring. To be counted, a point has to be at least 1-inch long, and length must exceed width at least 1 inch or greater down the tine.

To quickly determine the number of points in the field, look at the G2 or first long point on the back of the main beam after the G1 (eye guard) from a side view. Then look at the tip of the main beam. If there is one point in between, you’re looking at an 8-point. If there are two points between the G2 and the beam tip, you’re looking at a 10-point. This is assuming that both G1 eye guards are present and both sides match up for number of points. Closer inspection of both sides of the rack will confirm the presence of eye guards, and if both sides have one or two up-points, this means a balanced-symmetrical rack.

Tip: Be aware, lightly colored antlers judged against a dark background will appear bigger, while darker antlers against the same background can appear smaller. Conversely, light antler against a light background like snow can appear smaller, and darker antlers bigger.

 

After the number of points, the next determinations to make become more detailed. Since the length of points make up 41 percent of a buck’s final score, here’s where to look next. From your first evaluation of height and width, a tall rack translates into long points that drive up the score. Conversely, a short frame means shorter points. Keep in mind, some points can tip or curve inward, which may take away from a rack looking tall, yet these points can still be long when measured with a tape.

A good rule of thumb when judging height is sizing up G2 points that are at least twice the height or more of a buck’s ears, which measure about 6 inches. The most common characteristic of a whitetail’s rack is a cascading down in length of points from the G2 out to the end of the main beam at the G4. If tine length carries from the G2 to the G3, which is typically shorter, and the G4 is at least half that of the G3, you’re looking at a tall rack with long points that will score high.

 

Tip: Eye guards or G1s are a bonus that can certainly add to the final score, especially if they are extra long, making a 155-buck a 160. The average on a mature buck is 5-inches, 10-inches is exceptional.
 

Spread

Inside spread is one measurement that accounts for 12 percent of a buck’s final score. It is also a quick reference indicator in the field as to what a buck might have for main beams. Narrow inside spread typically translates to shorter main beams. Conversely, a wide spread can mean longer main beams.

Inside spread is different than greatest spread, yet greatest spread is what is most easily recognizable in the field. Typically, an inside spread is 2½ inches less than the greatest spread. To apply a number to the inside spread, an ear-tip-to-ear-tip reference is the only way to eliminate factors that can throw you off like viewing a buck from the rear, varying deer body sizes, sleek summer coats versus heavy winter coats, and the swollen necks of rutting bucks in the fall.

On a mature whitetail, when erect or on alert, and viewed from the front, a buck’s tip-to-tip spread between the ears will be 16 inches. If his rack extends right to his ear tips, then the inside spread will be 14½ inches. If he is two inches outside his ears, he’s 20-inches wide with an inside spread of about 17 inches. The average inside spread of a B&C-caliber deer is 19-7/8.

 

Tip: The overall height of a rack can compensate for a narrow spread. There are many bucks that make the records book with inside spreads of 17 inches and less. The narrowest on record scores 166-3/8 with an inside spread of just 12-6/8.
 

Beams

We’ve mentioned that antler spread is an indicator of the length of main beams, which account for 30 percent of a buck’s final score. A general rule of thumb is to look for a buck whose main beams appear to extend forward as far as the tip of his nose. However, by using this criterion alone, a long-beamed buck might be passed over if you only have a side view and the buck has a wide spread and/or its antlers turn sharply in so that the beam tips nearly touch. Also, be aware of the buck whose beams tower above its head before sweeping forward as this adds valuable inches to an otherwise average looking main beam. Using our ear-length- and eye-to-nose rulers, you can usually get pretty close when viewing from multiple angles.

 

Weight

Here we’re not talking literally about how much a rack weights, but rather the mass or circumference measurements of the antler. In field terms, this can be thin or skinny, to medium, to heavy. To estimate mass, this is where we use our deer’s 4-inch eye circumference as the ruler. B&C score sheet nomenclature uses “H” designations to account for mass measurements, as in H1, H2, H3 and H4. Compare the antler at H-1, H-2, etc., to the eye. How much bigger is the antler? If it is equal around as his eye, the circumference measurement at that point would be about 4 inches. If bigger by half an eye, the circumference would be 6 inches.

Total mass is calculated by taking four circumference measurements per antler starting at the base, or burr, then at the smallest point between the G1 and G2, G2 and G3, and G3 and G4. An average mass buck would go 5, 4, 4 and 3 inches, respectively—times two—or 32 inches. Heavy would be 6, 6, 5 and 4 inches, or 42 inches. The average B&C deer has 36-2/8 inches of mass accounting for 21 percent of his score.

 

NOTE: If you have been tallying up our percentage as we go, you will realize we are at 104 percent. When field judging a deer, a safe bet on a typical is to assume about 4-percent deduction. If you add the above criteria and land right at 160, that deer most likely will score in the 153-154 range.

 

Maximum vs. Minimum

A comparison of two records-book typical whitetail deer

Top – World's Record typical whitetail deer scoring 213-5/8 points

  • Symmetrical 6x6
  • Inside spread over 27 inches
  • Main beams measuring over 28 inches
  • Above-average G1s
  • Above-average point length
     

Bottom – Typical whitetail deer scoring 160 points

  • Typical 5x5 frame
  • Inside spread just over 21 inches
  • Not lacking in anything: mass, point lengths, or long beams
  • This is a great 5x5 buck that has deductions totaling over 10 points. Notice the abnormal points on the bases and a small deduction for symmetry in the G2s.
 

Field Judging Coues’ Whitetail

Coues’ deer are miniature, desert-dwelling cousins of the common whitetail. For judging in the field you’re looking for the same features as in whitetails, only reduced in expression. Coues’ deer antlers tend to form semi-circles, with the antler tips often pointing toward each other. Seldom will a Coues’ deer show the “wide-open” look that is fairly common in whitetails. Often, there is very little distance between the antler tips, and some may nearly touch each other. A mature Coues’ deer antler set may well look like a small whitetail set, although usually developed to a more “finished” look overall. Interestingly, the antler beams of Coues’ deer may well be nearly as thick as those on a mature whitetail. The average mass for record-book Coues’ deer is 78 percent of that of the whitetail, yet the minimum entry score for a Coues’ deer is only 62 percent of the minimum entry score of 160 inches for a whitetail or 100 inches for a typical Coues’ deer. All said and done, 25 percent of the score comes from mass on Coues’ deer.

Tine length is still important as 33 percent of the score comes from this measurement.
In terms of main beams, the average for a 100-inch deer will have to be 18 inches or better. While similar to the whitetail, the percentage of final score from the main beams bumps up one percentage point to 32 percent for Coues’.

There will be at least three well-developed points (plus beam tip) on each antler for a near-book typical Coues’ deer. In fact, no book deer in the typical category sport fewer than 8 typical points, and the inside spread will need to be slightly above 14 inches; the average inside spread of a book deer is 14-1/8. This inside spread is the remaining 13 percent of the score. The general look of the rack will be mature, with the second point (G2) on each antler being usually the longest of the side and the antler tips pointing toward each other.

As a final not the Coues’ deer is generally a little more symmetrical for a book deer with only around 3 percent in deductions of your total.
 

Guess the Score

Whitetail Deer

Typical Whitetail

Hunter: Chad Wildness
7x5
Final Score: 190-1/8
Gross Score: 225-1/8
Location: Otter Tail County, MN
2010
 

Typical Coues’ Whitetail

Hunter: Devin Beck
4x4
Final Score: 110-5/8
Gross Score: 113-7/8
Location: Sonora, MX
2017