Not all deer antlers are the same; here's how they are scored

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoor Columnist

One of the attractions of whitetail hunting is the unique characteristics found on each set of antlers.

For example, a 1½-year-old buck might have eight points that have tines just a couple inches long with a 10-inch wide spread. Another hunter’s eight-point might be been an older buck with eight points with some tines standing 10 or more inches high and have a spread about 20 inches wide. Just saying you shot an eight-point can make seasoned hunters want to know more about the trophy caliber of your deer.

Will Leonard, left, Buckmasters Master Scorer, left, measures the antlers Jan. 7, 2021 of a buck harvested by Ralph Fretts Jr. of Acme, Westmoreland County, while he was hunting in Nebraska.

For those keeping track of monster-size racks, there’s an inch-count system that is used by a variety of organizations. You measure the length of beams, tines and the spread, plus the circumference of the antlers in four different spots. When you add up the measurements, you can see how your deer fares to trophy standards.

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An example of the Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Records Scoring sheet being used in 2022. The scorer measures the inches of a buck's antlers in multiple locations.

Will Leonard of Portersville, Lawrence County, has measured more than 300 deer for the Buckmasters Trophy Record program. About 200 of them have qualified for the company’s classification of trophy bucks. If that seems like a lot of deer, realize he only started in June 2020.  “It’s all volunteer,” he said about driving over the region to meet successful hunters with their trophy antlers. It does cost $25 if the sportsman wants to have the buck included in the organization’s book that’s published every five years.

“I’ve always been intrigued by deer,” he said, noting that each set of antlers is unique.

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Since 1994, Buckmasters has been recognizing trophy deer that were taken with all types of weapons ranging from long bows, compound bows, rifles, shotguns, black powder and – in some states where it’s legal – air rifles. There are also recognitions for finding a shed antler or a dead deer. They also note whether the deer was free roaming or in a high-fenced area.

“We give full to credit to everything the deer grew,” he said about not making deductions for abnormalities or having a drying period before measurements.

The bucks are classified in perfect, typical, semi-irregular and irregular based on normal growth standards.

Ralph Fretts Jr., 53, of Acme, Westmoreland County, shot his largest buck on Nov. 13 in Nebraska with a gun at about 50 yards. I was able to watch as Leonard measured the antlers Friday for the scoring system. ‘It’s unreal. It’s what you shoot for,” Fretts said about finally getting an older deer with 15 scorable points. He also hunts Pennsylvania and is happy about the larger bucks that have been found over recent years.

Leonard uses a pliable cable to measure the curve areas of the deer and to mark the baseline areas of each tine. A piece of masking tape is applied to the spot and a measurement is drawn on the tape.

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Buckmasters doesn’t add the spread into the calculation of a trophy, only the full measurements of each beam and tine. 

Fretts’ buck ended up scoring 156⅝ inches qualifying it for the Buckmasters book that requires a minimum of 140 inches without the spread for rifle hunters. The official Buckmasters score is 172⅛ that includes a measurement of the spread. Fretts was pleased his buck qualified. He said deer like this one is “what’s makes me drive out 15 hours (to Nebraska) and do it again.”

Leonard said if someone wants to have a deer scored for Buckmasters, he can be contacted through Facebook Messenger. You can also find a scorer in your area and order their 2022 record book online through Buckmasters.com/BTR8 for $49.95.

The Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Records book is published every five years. A new edition will be released in April.

There are other organizations that score bucks as well.

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The Boone and Crockett scoring system has been in place for fair chase big game animals since 1895. A buck would need a net score of 160 inches to qualify as a typical rack and 185 as a non-typical. Deductions are made for antlers that are not symmetrical to the other antler on the deer. The goal is an even length of beams and tines.

For those shooting bows, the Pope and Young organization requires the buck to have 125 inches for a typical rack and 155 inches if the deer has a non-typical growth of antlers. Both organizations have a drying period 60 days before the antlers can be measured.

Brian Whipkey is the Pennsylvania Outdoors columnist for the USA TODAY Network.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennslvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.