A buck is a male deer, and in hunting terminology, the points on a buck are the individual tines of the buck's antlers. Generally speaking, the more points a buck has, the more prestige for the hunter who manages to kill him. Many hunters keep antlers from their kills as a trophy, prizing especially large “racks,” as they are called. People other than hunters may discuss points as well; biologists, for example, record information about the points on the bucks they study.
Antlers are very interesting and quite unique physical structures. In most deer species, they only develop on the male, and they are shed every year after the mating season. While the antlers grow in, they are covered in an extremely soft living tissue that is known as velvet; as the velvet dies, the bucks rub it off, and eventually the antlers come off as well. The older a deer is, the more branches develop in the antlers.
There are several main parts to an antler. The main beam is the main branch of the antler, and the tip of the main beam is counted as one of the points. Near where the antler emerges from the head, it is common to see a brow tine, a small tine that protrudes straight up, and it is also treated as a point. The antler also produces a number of branches called tines, and the total points on a buck represent the sum of all of these individual tines on both antlers.
When antlers are taken as a trophy, the points aren't the only consideration. Many hunters also look for antlers that are very symmetrical, with no broken or misshaped tines. Hunters also tend to prefer big sets of antlers, looking for sheer size in addition to individual points. People can also collect fallen antlers as the deer shed, although this carries less mystique than hunting in many regions of the world. In certain cases, the points are especially notable; bagging a 14 point buck, for example, is considered to be quite an accomplishment for a hunter.
The points aren't just used to calculate the value of a trophy. In some areas, wildlife management agencies have instituted “point limits,” meaning that bucks must have a certain number of points in order to be taken. These point limits usually refer to the points on one antler only, and they are designed to keep deer populations strong. Points are also researched by some biologists who are intrigued about the process of antler formation and the impact of various environmental changes on deer antlers.
How To Count the Points on a Buck
Since there is so much prestige in finding a buck with a large rack, a specific system exists to count the points. Here are the steps to follow when counting points:
- Using a flexible measuring tape, you must measure the length of each tip from the main beam. You can consider it a point if the tip is longer than one inch in length.
- Additionally, add another point for the tip of the main beam.
- If the antlers have additional branches that extend off of the points, those are measured similarly. Measure the extra tip at the base of the point, not the main beam. Include any tip that's greater than an inch in length.
- Brow tines are small antlers that angle forward over the deers’ eyes. These smaller points are included in the score for whitetail deer but not for mule deer.
- Once you have measured all the points, count up the total for both racks, and that is the final number for how many points the deer has.
Scoring a Rack Using the Boone and Crocket System
Counting the points on a rack is just one way to score a buck’s antlers. With thousands of hunters participating in the sport every year, competitors often find multiple deer with the same number of points. The Boone and Crocket Club devised a new system in 1949 to make it fair for all hunters to score their racks in more detail. The annual statistics are published each year and make it easy for hunters to compare their prizes. Here’s how to evaluate a rack using the Boone and Crocket System.
Take Circumference Measurements
The thickness of the main beam antler, not just the number of points, is an essential part of scoring. This requires four separate measurements regardless of how many points the rack has. Take the first measurement at the thinnest part between the antler's base and the first point. Each additional circumference is measured at the center spot between the remaining points. If a buck doesn’t have at least three points, then the fourth reading is done between the third point and the tip of the main beam.
Calculate the Spread
The width of the antlers is the last measurement needed in calculating the final score: the wider the rack, the more prestigious the prize. For Boone and Crocket scoring, measure the width at the widest points between the main beams.
Identify the Symmetry Category
Above all else, hunters seek a rack that is nearly identical on both sides. Therefore, a buck with the same number of points on each side falls into the typical category. In contrast, non-typical antlers with an unequal number on each side are graded in a separate category.
Measure the Points
Main Beam – The first task is to use a flexible steel cable to measure down the middle of the main beam. Starting on the outside edge of the main beam, follow it up to the tip. Measure to the closest one-eighth of an inch. Record the length for both main beams.
Main Points – Each point that breaks off from the main beam is also measured using a steel cable. Align the line at the base of the main point where it connects to the main beam. Placing the cable down the center of the main point, measure the point and count it if it is longer than one inch.
Abnormal Points – Any additional points that branch off the main points or are different from the typical points pattern are measured and added separately on the scoring sheet.
Compare the Differences
Once all the measurements are complete, review the differences between the two sides. Since symmetry represents the highest rating, all measures of length and circumference are compared between each side. Take the largest of the two measurements and subtract the smaller number to determine how different one side is from the other.
Calculate the Score
All measurements are added up for the final score. Any differences are then subtracted from that number. If the buck falls in the non-typical category, the measures of abnormal points are included in the final score, while in the typical class, these measurements are subtracted from the last number.
Once you tally your numbers, you have your "green score." This is not official until the racks have dried, which takes 60 days. Officials redo the measurements after the antlers are dry, and that becomes your official score.