What is a trophy buck?

By John L. Sloan, Target Communications Outdoor Books

The term “trophy buck” has been around about as long as black powder. Or maybe a lot longer, since big antlers have been found in prehistoric campsites.

So what is a trophy deer, really? Without question, it can be a deer of many characteristics or even of either sex. Sure, there are trophy does. Ask any kid whose first deer is a fat doe – you think that isn’t a trophy to that kid?

But what do veteran hunters call a trophy. To most, it is probably a deer with antlers that score over a certain minimum. Three major scoring groups – Pope and Young Club for archery, Boone and Crocket for deer taken with any equipment that score over a higher minimum, and the Safari Club International for African or exotic game – all have different minimum scores.

Score is basically the number of inches a buck’s rack totals – length of each point on each antler beam, circumference of antlers between points on each antler beam, and inches of inside spread between antler beams. All are totaled and then the difference in measurement between left and right beams and point totals is subtracted to get a net score. The minimum typical, net score for P&Y is 125 inches; for Boone and Crockett, it is 160.

So is a trophy nothing more than a bunch of numbers? For some hunters, yes. For others, a trophy is in the age of the animal, not the antlers. If you subscribe to the thinking that the older a buck gets, the more difficult it is to kill, then yes, age is the measure of a trophy.  And put as much pressure on a doe as on a big-antlered buck and she becomes every bit as hard to kill as an old buck. Maybe harder.

Now, let’s add another factor. How about success?

Give some thought to the hunter who has spent three or for autumns trying to kill one particular deer. Doesn’t matter whether it is a big buck, medium buck, doe, whatever.  Finally, he is successful. You think that deer isn’t a trophy?

I once heard a biologist say, “If squirrels had antlers, there would not be one left in the woods.” I think he was probably right. Go back to cave paintings and what is always accentuated in the drawings of animals? The antlers or horns. And so it is with every antlered or horned animal hunted. Why? Why do those growths define “trophy”?

Well, it doesn’t always. At least, it hasn’t always. Current television outdoor programming has started to change, for the poorer, how a trophy is defined. Products are developed just to grow trophy animals. Trail cameras help hunters evaluate a buck months before the antler velvet is shed.

Hunting in general and deer hunting in particular has become trophy hunting. It has reached the point that a hunter desiring a trophy, and with enough money, can buy one of just about any size. This has hurt hunting. Too much emphasis has been placed on the total number of inches and, as a result, the true sport of hunting has been wounded.

A trophy is whatever the hunter desires it to be. It is an animal fairly taken, perhaps one long hunted or outsmarted, or one killed due to some exceptional woodsmanship on the hunter’s part.

To the veteran with scores of bucks to his credit, a 110-pound forkie may not be a trophy. But it sure is to the 12-year-old kid when it is his or her first or even fourth deer. To the bowhunter, a 120-inch eight-pointer may be a trophy, but perhaps not to the veteran rifle hunter.

There’s a related aspect here regarding beginning hunters. So often they hear the “big-antlers-are-a-trophy” concept that they decide they won’t shoot a deer unless it is a big-antlered trophy. In so doing, unless they are extremely lucky, they fail to gain the necessary experience involved in successfully handling the moment of truth. They don’t learn what to do and what not to do, and when to do it or not do it. They don’t give themselves a chance to settle their nerves, to say “been there, done that." You can guess how tight that hunter’s mainspring will be wound when he or she finally does get a chance for a good shot at a big-antlered buck. Nerves that taut may cause the hunter to come unglued at the moment of truth as well as, over the years, depriving him or her and the family of some fine eating. Venison is, after all, an original natural food.

The definition of “what is a trophy?” is personal. Each hunter must choose what a trophy is to him or her. Maybe 50 pounds of good meat in the freezer is the trophy. After all, you can’t eat antlers.

John L. Sloan logs more than 100 days a year in the deer woods. In addition to hunting and writing, Sloan also has owned his own guide and outfitting business and has worked with many outfitters throughout the United States and Canada. Go to www.targetcommbooks.com for related deer, bear and turkey hunting how-to information.

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