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The Tyranny of Score

March 05, 2014
The Tyranny of Score - 3

I'm not a trained deer scorer, but working for Outdoor Life I see a ton of bucks each season and it's our job to track down their story. Part of that involves getting the score. By running down these trophy bucks each year, I thought I had a pretty good handle on eyeing up a buck and estimating its score.

But then I spent three days hanging out behind the scenes in the scorers' room and the Deer and Turkey Expo in Illinois. There were about 11 official scorers measuring hundreds of trophy bucks for the big buck competition. Most of the time I could eye up a typical buck and get within 10 or so points of its score. But some bucks absolutely threw me for a loop. 

I found out that when an average deer hunter (like me) eyes up a buck and estimates its score, many times he'll end up way, way off. For example, the two bucks in the photo above. The buck on the left is clearly carrying more bone than the one on the right. He has heavier antlers, and it seems that he has higher tines. He should have a higher score, right?

Nope. The buck on the left scores 161 4/8 and the buck on the right scores 175 3/8. The two photos at the bottom of this post are even more interesting. The buck on the right outscores the buck on the left even though it looks significantly smaller. They scored 160 inches (right) and 159 2/8 (left) inches.

After talking with the expo scorers for awhile, I found out why… In both cases, the bigger looking bucks on the left obviously got hurt by deductions. The extra stickers and and forks are cool, but they kill the score when it comes to symmetry. Also, while both bucks on the left are "heavy" they are not especially wide. Heavy racks can look like they are going to score higher than they actually do.

The top buck on the right scores surprisingly well because he's wide, symmetrical, and has 12 scoreable points. The bottom buck on the right looks small because he has short tines, but he's symmetrical and has 12 scoreable points too.

The takeaway? It's probably a bad idea to use score as a benchmark for whether a buck is a "shooter" or not. In both photo series the buck on the right outscores the buck on the left, but I would bet my deer rifle that if you polled your hunting buddies they would all prefer to shoot the buck on left (they probably wouldn't guess that it scores lower either).

After all, score is just a number and as one of the veteran measures at the expo eloquently put it: "Big is big."

Comments (3)

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from elkslayer wrote 19 weeks 2 days ago

I agree, big is big and when I do score my deer I really only care about gross scores.

The worst sign of the tyranny of scores is the guy who shoots a big buck and is very happy with it and excited to kill a big buck, and then it scores low. And because it scores low he no longer feels as good about the deer or the hunt.

Scoring is fun and provides a pretty good way to compare antlers but it definitely is not the end al be all of deciding the worth of a buck.

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from 6phunter wrote 19 weeks 2 days ago

I fig this was were you were going when I seen the heads , gross score both and see which is bigger ?net scores are for club entry , big means bigger . your wrong

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from huntfishtrap wrote 19 weeks 2 days ago

First off, you should've specified that you were talking about NET scores, not gross. I'm not surprised that both bucks on the right netted higher, because they have fewer deductions. You don't say, but I would guess that the bucks on the left grossed as much or more than the ones on the right, and gross scores are the only true way to determine how much antler a buck is carrying. Either Gene or Barry Wenzel (sorry, can't remember which) said it best in a magazine article I read years ago: "Nets are for fish".

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from huntfishtrap wrote 19 weeks 2 days ago

First off, you should've specified that you were talking about NET scores, not gross. I'm not surprised that both bucks on the right netted higher, because they have fewer deductions. You don't say, but I would guess that the bucks on the left grossed as much or more than the ones on the right, and gross scores are the only true way to determine how much antler a buck is carrying. Either Gene or Barry Wenzel (sorry, can't remember which) said it best in a magazine article I read years ago: "Nets are for fish".

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from elkslayer wrote 19 weeks 2 days ago

I agree, big is big and when I do score my deer I really only care about gross scores.

The worst sign of the tyranny of scores is the guy who shoots a big buck and is very happy with it and excited to kill a big buck, and then it scores low. And because it scores low he no longer feels as good about the deer or the hunt.

Scoring is fun and provides a pretty good way to compare antlers but it definitely is not the end al be all of deciding the worth of a buck.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 6phunter wrote 19 weeks 2 days ago

I fig this was were you were going when I seen the heads , gross score both and see which is bigger ?net scores are for club entry , big means bigger . your wrong

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