Sep 10, 2018
Aging and scoring whitetail bucks a hallmark of quality deer management in Wisconsin
By Allison Rauscher
Quality deer management is quickly becoming the way of the hunting world. Learning to age and score deer is just the beginning.
You can age a deer in a field based on behavior and characteristics, but scoring antlers is a bit trickier. There are numerous books in which hunters strive to get their harvests entered, and different methods of how to score those harvests. Scoring can vary from typical or nontypical, bow or firearm. Below I'll describe how to age a whitetail buck based on some behavior and characteristics of the body, how to score them, and the tools you'll need to do so.
Typically born the spring before hunting season, fawns are often thought to look like mature does regardless of sex. You can recognize fawns by their smaller body, shorter neck and head, larger ears, and slim legs.
Male fawns, or what some hunters refer to as "nubbin’ bucks," may have prominent bumps where antlers will eventually appear. If you don't look closely, these can be hard to spot. In general, fawns are typically oblivious and unaware of danger.
* The following season, at 1½ years in age, a buck’s body is similar in size and shape to that of a mature doe. There's typically little to no tarsal gland staining. The brisket is not yet prominent, the neck and legs still appear to be long and skinny, muscles aren't very defined, and the stomach is still tight to the body.
At this age, the antlers are visible but only about a quarter of the size they will be at maximum growth. They'll keep their distance around more mature aggressive bucks.
* Two and a half-year-olds don't look much different from the one and a half-year-olds, they just look like they’ve filled out more. The stomach, back, chest and shoulders will be more leveled out and look more proportional to each other.
The gut looks as if it has dropped slightly towards the rear, and the shoulders and hindquarters all line up and start to match in size. The neck width will match the width of the head, but during the rut may swell slightly. The antlers will be about as wide as the ears, and tarsal glands will be slightly more stained during the rut as well. Bucks at this age are typically doing the most breeding.
* At 3½ years, a buck will look more muscular in the body and legs, and the stomach and back will still look flat. The neck will be wider than the face, but still have a definitive line separating shoulder and neck. The tarsal glands have a darker stain to them during the rut as well. At this point, the antlers are halfway to their maximum size, if not even closer. Three and a half-year-olds will make scrapes and rubs, and overall be more aggressive during the rut.
* Four and a half-year-olds start to take on the features of the bucks of which most hunters dream. The big, dominant, bad-boy booners are in their prime as far as health and overall strength. The body is incredibly muscular and filled out, including the belly, which by now is in line with the chest and makes the legs look shorter. During the rut, the neck of a 4½-year-old buck will be extremely swollen outside of the width of the face and tarsal glands are dark and large. At this age, a buck's antlers are about 75 to 90 percent of their full size.
* Four and 5½ -year-olds look similar, but their back and stomach appear like they sag more. This is when their antlers will be as big as they will ever become. After 5½ years old, a buck's body and antler size begin to diminish. The muzzle starts to get gray and the forehead looks darker. The belly will look more like a "pot belly," and the skin becomes less elastic and appears to almost ripple.
Characteristics and behavior throughout a buck's lifetime – pre- and post-rut – change. However, these should be helpful to indicate how old a buck is without having to look at their teeth.
Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club bases it's scoring on the Boone and Crockett system, which is similar to that of Pope and Young. The following directions give an idea of how to get an estimate on scoring your whitetail. You can use several tools including a pencil, masking or different colored electrical tape, measuring cable with an alligator clip, 6-foot quarter-inch flexible steel tape that will measure up to an eighth of an inch, and a 6-foot carpenter's ruler.
To get an accurate score, most clubs will want your skull dried out for at least 60 days at room temperature because the skull plates shrink. This allows for the most accurate measurement for getting a gross score of your whitetail. If measurements are taken before the 60-day drying period, it's known as a "green score."
* To start, count and document the number of points total, and match the normal points (G1, G2, etc.) on both sides of the antlers. Document any abnormal points such as drop tines or points coming off normal points. The only ones that count are points longer than an inch.
* After documenting points, measure the spread at the tips of the main beams, as well as the spread at the widest space between the main beams. Typically, the wider the spread, the higher the score.
For an exact measurement, find the widest point between the two main beams, but make sure your measuring tape is perpendicular to the skull’s length, while also being parallel to the top of the skull. The inside spread can be equal but cannot surpass the longest main beam's length.
* To measure the main beams, start at the center of the lowest outside edge of the burr – the very base of the main beam – to the outside of the most distant point on each main beam. Here is where you want to use a flexible measuring tool to hug the curve of the main beam for the most precise measurement.
* To score tines, start with measuring the outside curvature where they surface off the main beam. Start at the brow tines, also known as G1, then move down the main beam to the G2, G3, and so on. Make sure to confirm the bases of each point to get your most accurate measurement, again, using the outside curvature of the tines.
Use a pencil or masking/electrical tape to mark bases where the cable or tape crosses the base of the points so you know where to start your measurement. Measure and document tine lengths using flexible steel tape from the tip to the base along the center of the tine.
* Circumference, or the mass of each antler, is also taken into consideration. This is measured in four spots, classified as the H1, H2, H3 and H4.
The H1 is measured halfway between the burr and the brow tine, the H2 is measured between the brow tine and G2, and so on. If your buck is an 8-pointer and does not have a fourth tine, measure the H4 circumference starting in the center of the base of your G3 tine to the end of the main beam.
* For typical whitetails, symmetry is important. If there are any variations – including abnormal points – on whichever side of the antlers, those numbers will have to be subtracted from the final gross score. For nontypical whitetails however, you would add the measurement of abnormal points rather than subtracting them.
To start calculating the final gross score, find the differences between all corresponding tine measurements. So if G1 is longer on one side, you'll subtract the length of the shorter G1 on the opposite side. Then do the same for all H measurements. When all of these have been subtracted, document your final number with the deductions.
Now, add up the remaining measurements such as your main beam lengths, inside spread, G-point lengths, and H-circumference measurements. Round to the nearest eighth of an inch and subtract your deduction number to get your final gross score estimate.
Using these tips for aging and scoring whitetails, you can start on the road to quality deer management. Scoring sheets and other helpful resources can be found online.
If you're interested in having your harvest scored and entered into the record books, you can contact measurers through Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club, Boone and Crockett Club, or Pope and Young Club.
Allison Rauscher is a freelance outdoor writer and outdoorsman from Lake Mills, Wis. Rauscher has been an outdoorsman for 17 years, learning how to hunt from her father and grandfather. She also enjoys fishing and bowfishing, however her greatest passion is bowhunting whitetails. You can find more of her work on her blog at allisonrauscher.squarespace.com.