Brush, trees, tall grass, corn and rolling terrain can block a clear view of whitetail racks. This big boy prefers to stand with his beautiful rack hidden in the branches of a pine tree. Kenny Darwin photos

December 01, 2014
With high anticipation, you are in your stand before daylight. All the scouting, practicing and hard work are about to be rewarded when you hear brush breaking and a dandy buck comes crashing your direction at first light. He looks fantastic as the big buck steps into your shooting lane, you hesitate. Does he have at least 4 points on one side or will he meet your personal standard for antler size?

Making instantaneous decisions on whether a buck is a shooter is a scenario that will be repeated often on upcoming whitetail hunts. Making decisions at lightning speed is crucial, especially in low light conditions, rain, fog, snow or when the animal is moving through cover quickly. But how do you quickly field judge antler size of whitetail bucks?

Most Michigan hunters know scoring a buck involves a number of variables like number of points, tine height, mass, length of main beams and more. That’s a lot to take in as a dandy buck prances past you in thick brush. However, I’ve got a quick scoring system that is simple, fast and very accurate.

Bucks have a nasty habit of holding their head close to the ground as they search for the scent of a hot doe. They look like a bird dog hot on the trail of a grouse or pheasant as they prance through the forest moving head side to side with their nose inches from the ground and antlers camouflaged from view. When this happens get ready for the shot and give ’em a loud grunt or burp that will stop them in their tracks with head held high.

Now, concentrate on counting tines only on one side. Don’t make the common mistake of trying to count all the tines, kicker points or brow tines. Only concentrate on points you can see on the antler that is closest to you. More importantly concentrate on counting the open space between tines. If you see one open space he is probably a 6-point. If you see two main holes he is more than likely an 8-point. Three visible holes is a 10-point. It’s that simple.

See what I’m talking about?

Just hold up two fingers, which have one hole between; add in the brow tine and you have six points. Two holes are made by holding up 3 fingers. You see two points sticking up make one hole between them; which means the buck probably has brow tines and he is a 6-point. Three large main points make two holes between them and he’s an 8-pont. If you hold up 4 fingers you have three holes between them and counting the brow tine thus 10-points.

I’ve learned this quick scoring strategy after years of stalking and jump shooting bucks. Often you only get a split second glance of a running deer and judging antlers can be difficult. However, if you concentrate on determining holes between points you can get an accurate field judge on number of tines at lightning speed.

Determining tine length is easy if you compare the overall tine length with face size. Don’t try to score every tine, just generalize their length when compared with the face. If the overall tine length is shorter than the face he has less than 10 inch tines. Tine length needs to be 1½ taller than the size of the head to be a good shooter.

You can only judge main beam length when the deer turns his head broadside. Again this can be done in seconds if you focus on the tip of the main beam and the nose. If the main beam only extends to the eye it is a low scoring buck. If it extends to the white muzzle around the nose, then the buck has good main beam length. Main beam length is excellent if it extends to the black nose or beyond.

Mass can make a big difference in scoring. A heavy massed buck can make up for short tines or narrow spread. If the beam base is ¼ the size of the ear base it is a low scoring deer. Big massed bucks often have antler bases ¾ as big as the ear base.

Antler width is a piece of cake to measure but the buck must again be looking at you. The antler spread always looks much wider if the animal is walking away because often the ears are pointing backwards. Are his antlers wider than the width of his ears? If so, he is at least 17 inches wide. Big bucks commonly have antlers that are 18-20 inch wide and are wider than the ear spread. But you gotta love those Texas-looking racks that are wider than 23 inches. Man, when the deer looks at you his rack appears to be much wider than his ears and he appears like a deer that has such a wide rack he needs to walk backwards through the woods to maneuver around trees. Ha! Just kidding but you have to wonder exactly how a wide racked beauty makes it through thick brush and trees with main beams that appear far apart.

Most Michigan hunters just want to quick score a buck to meet DNR requirements for antler points. Sometimes determining number of tines can be difficult in thick brush, tall grass, corn or low light conditions. In order to meet 8-point requirements a deer must have two holes between tines on one side.

Now if you are a trophy hunter looking for a Booner for the wall make certain the deer has at least 10 antler points. Tines need to be over 12 inches tall, including the G4s and he needs exceptional mass. Most hunters will get such an adrenalin rush when they spot a Booner that scoring is simply out of the question. Most have difficulty holding the sights on the kill zone of a trophy buck to mess with scoring. I just want to tell you that close encounters with Booner bucks tend to give you such a rush of adrenalin that keeping the telephoto camera steady or sights on the vitals makes exact scoring simply out of the question.

Come to think of it, shooting just about any buck can make scoring difficult because when your primal kill urge kicks into high gear you get damned excited. When those distant jungle drums are beating loud and clear and you become sort of shell shocked from the rush of adrenalin pumping through your veins, counting tines can be sort of irrelevant. Sometimes when you finally see antlers and you can feel your heart beat in your finger tip the last thing on your mind is antler size. It requires discipline and commitment to concentrate on antler points when the opportunity to finally harvest fresh venison arrives after patiently waiting in the freezing cold for long hours.

Determining whether a buck is a shooter can be hindered by terrain or cover which can conceal the rack and make quick scoring difficult. But if you practice the technique of holding up fingers and counting openings between them you are on the road to accurately judging antler points on a deer.