Judging deer on the hoof can be tough. So many times hunters suffer from “ground shrinkage syndrome” when they shoot what they thought was a big buck only to put their hands on the antlers and think they’ve found the wrong animal.
Here are a few tips on judging mule deer quickly and accurately –
—Tip # 1 — Rear Fork Assessment
Now here is a good buck still in velvet but it’s not a record book buck. Why? Records are made by measurements of tine length and while lots of bucks have deep front forks early in life, the rear forks take a while to catch up. When judging big mule deer look for deep rear forks. If they aren’t there the buck isn’t mature. A close look at this buck shows a neat sticker point off the back of the right main beam – a quality of interest for sure.
—Tip #2 —Width Assessment
Now one of the bucks on the right is a dandy but how good? The buck on the lower right of the pic looks heavier, but heavier doesn’t necessarily mean it will score better. Regardless, judging a buck from a side profile doesn’t let the hunter know how wide it is. And when there are two bucks together it can make the bigger of the two look bigger than it is even if it isn’t. Never judge a buck for quality only from a side or rear profile because your assessment will likely be skewed.
—Tip #3— Remember Tips #1 and #2 and add symmetry
Now, finally all the trophy hunters in the crowd are thinking we are getting closer. This buck has deep rear forks, and front forks. I can’t tell how wide it is from this view point but it’s looking good so far. The length of each tine front and back are fairly symmetrical. Now for one final look…
—Tip #4— Look at the buck from a face on view.
Now you can really tell how wide this buck is. He’s just past his ears and we’ll judge him at a solid 25 inches wide but the back tines are deep and tall. The narrow face tells me that this buck isn’t a really old deer but he’s getting there. For the tape measure fans in the crowd I’m going to guess him at between 184 and 190 inches gross score. (Let the argument begin!)
This buck is a shooter in my book and he’ll surely make the record books too. Pope and Young record book minimum for typical mule deer (archery) is 145 inches and Boone and Crockett record book minimum for typical mule deer is 180 inches with an All Time minimum entry score of 190 inches. While this buck is likely lacking the necessary width to make the all time record book it is close. Regardless this is a sure fire trophy buck by any standards.
Remember to judge your trophies by the quality of the hunt and your integrity as a sportsman. But if you happen to have a record book buck walk into range, you’ll know just how good he is before you pull the trigger or release an arrow. God luck this season!