Antlers are unique proof of what is possible

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — Whitetail deer are very common in North America. In fact, they are so common that these critters get a lot of attention by a lot of people who observe them, whether hunters or not, because they may show up almost anywhere from rural landscapes, forested areas, golf courses or backyard settings. Managing whitetail population numbers to find a balance between biological carrying capacity and social carrying capacity is a full time job for more than just a few biologists employed by the natural resource departments of every lower 48 state DNR’s. As this fall’s deer hunting seasons begin, archers and gun hunters will be making plans for their own special deer hunts.

WHITETAIL DEER ANTLERS always draw the admiration of people, whether those antlers are small, medium or large. Each antler set grown by a buck deer is unique. No two are ever exactly alike. Similar yes; perfect matches, no. And periodically a hunter, archer or gun hunter, will be in the right place at the right time to become very fortunate if an animal, as depicted in today’s images, should happen to pass by. Understanding habitats where these deer live is one thing. Locating oneself in the correct place where the likelihood of observing deer is another. In addition to the above, good luck and good timing can make or break the deal. Hunting never has a guaranteed outcome especially for deer or other large game animals.

When all the factors align that make it possible to legally, ethically and in fair chase take a true trophy whitetail, one can be most proud of that accomplishment. Most hunts do not end with big whitetail deer as illustrated in these photos. But when it happens, a celebration is in order.

My photos featured today represent two fantastic whitetail deer, one from Wisconsin and the other from Illinois. They were part of a display of big game animals taken by archers during recent years and were presented awards at the Pope and Young Club’s annual convention held last July in Reno, Nev. The typical whitetail, the one with all of its antler points coming off the top of the main beam, was arrowed by Charles Bocook in Columbia County, Wis. on Nov. 15, 2018. It was officially scored at 192 6/8. The other deer has non-typical antler configurations with many points growing at odd angles and positions. This deer was bow hunted by Luke Brewster in Edgar County, Ill. and taken on Nov. 2, 2018. It was officially scored at 327 1/8 and verified by a panel of select measurers to confirm its classification as a new world record. Congrats to both archers.

Each year at the IOWA DEER CLASSIC show held in Des Moines, antlered deer of all representative antler sizes are submitted by their owners for scoring, display and comparison purposes. Many thousands of admirers attend the show to look at what Iowa hunters, young and old, male and female, have taken in the past several years. No matter how those antler sets have grown for that particular deer, there is a story behind each one. For example these stories range from the first deer taken by a young hunter who is very proud of their accomplishment. And other stories tell of the mom, who after sending the kids off to school, hiked into a forest area and sat down next to a tree to enjoy the day, and watch for deer. Well, she was rewarded by a right time, right place chance encounter that ended up with a very respectful buck deer to bring home. Once the kids got home from school and dad came home from work, guess what came next? This story gets told and retold about the excitement of a hunt where all the factors lined up in favor of mom. Congrats again.

So what goes into the comparison process to score deer antlers? There is a system for measuring whitetail deer antlers that was devised by the leaders of the Boone & Crockett Club as far back as 1895. Official records became more structured in the 1920’s. The first B&C record book was released in 1932. A second record book segment just for archery taken big game began in 1957. And the strictly archery records program by the Pope and Young Club began in 1961. Refinements of policy and general policies for both organizations has now led to the combining of the official measurers manuals for each club into one manual, the how to score methodologies that use exactly the same process.

Why do hunters and others measure the horns of horned animals and the antlers of deer family animals? It is as simple as providing a unbiased method of comparison and ranking. The numbers associated with officially derived scores represent size and scale, uniformity to the species type, and give high priority to symmetry and mass. Symmetry and mass are key components for typical antlers. Once those criteria are established, then adjustments are made to define the differences, or to add back in on non-typical antlers, all those other than normal antler tine projections. Since whitetail deer are such a common big game animal taken by hunters in all the lower 48 states, it stands to reason that those sections of B&C and/or P&Y record books have a lot of pages devoted just to deer.

In general, the antlers of deer when measured get a right side and left side score. Those scores make a preliminary total, or gross score, and then the final step is to subtract differences in comparable point lengths to obtain a net, or final score. This can be very close to identical but never exactly the same on typical antler configurations. Non-typical antlers may have unusual extra points, drop tines, or just weird angular projections of points off points. Non-typical tine lengths are added back into the scoring calculations to give credit to all that extra mass. That is why typical antlers are compared only within their own category. There is an overall gross score on non-typical antlers but to avoid overly rewarding oddities, a calculated net score is also made for non-typical antler sets. It is a time tested methodology that works.

I noted previously that mass and symmetry are highly sought after and rewarded in the scoring process. This is just one indicator of an individual animal’s health which in turn reflects on the health of the entire deer population. The Boone & Crockett Club cooperates with the Pope and Young Club, and vise-versa, to maintain the integrity of the scoring system. That way there is a recognized standard to antler comparisons. And both organizations hold in high regard the fact that record book eligible big game animals is a valid way of painting a mental picture or what that animal possessed during its lifetime. Those records also reflect on long term conservation efforts to prove that big game animals are not endangered in any way. Hunting under controlled and scientifically based wildlife management policy results in regulations that guide long term population sustainability.

OCTOBER HAPPENINGS will be soon upon us. Tree leaves turning brilliant colors is inevitable. Cooler air temperatures are another. A killing frost will happen when a sustained air temperature of about 28 or 29 degrees for three hours or more takes hold. That can happen any day during October but mid-month is more likely. Frosty mornings happen even with mid 30’s air temps due to radiational cooling. A hard frost will kill many plant types with green stems or leaves. However, below ground the root systems will take over to store nutrients toward next year’s growth.

Iowa experienced in 1925 an air temperature on Oct. 28 with -5 degrees, the earliest sub-zero temp. This happened at Little Sioux. And on Oct. 31,, 1991, a blizzard with 16 inches of snow and 60 mph hour winds struck the western and northern parts of Iowa. More normal temps will dominate with great segments of “Indian Summer” to welcome our outside activities. Day length on Oct. 1 was 11 hours and 46 minutes. By the 31st our day length will have shrunken to 10 hours and 25 minutes, a loss of one hour 21 minutes.

SPORTING CLAY SHOOT is scheduled for today, Sunday, Oct. 3, at the Izaak Walton League. Registration begins at 9 a.m. Shooters can go to 10 stations of ten birds per station under simulated bird hunting conditions. Fast flying clay targets will fling a “bird” out of the station while the shotgunner attempts to bring the gun and his/her sights in line with that target. Yes, scores are tallied and the numbers tell a story of hits and misses. All is good practice for quail or pheasant season opening date of Oct. 30. This is an open shoot to anyone who wants to participate. A fee of $40 per adult shooter will get you ready to go. Shooting sports are a very popular form of outdoor recreation.


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