Field-Judging Trophy Animals

Most hunters seek trophy-class animals. Yet many aren’t really sure how to judge whether an animal is a trophy or not, especially when hunting a certain species for the first time, or in the excitement of a fleeting encounter.

There are some tricks that can make field judging of trophies quick and easy. There are certain guidelines to follow for each species. Of course, different people have different ideas of what constitutes a trophy — it might be one that will make the Boone & Crockett or Pope & Young record books, or an unusual specimen, or just anything that would make a nice mount or rug. Shown here are some good guidelines to follow when you’re after an impressive whitetail, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, or black bear.

Whitetails are traditionally among the toughest animals to field judge, but Glenn Hisey, executive secretary of the Pope & Young Club, has recently put together a good method. He says to pick the small side of the rack and estimate the total length of the tines on that side (including the brow tine, but not the end of the main beam). If they add up to about 19 inches and the rack is of otherwise healthy dimensions, you’re almost certainly looking at a P&Y recordbook buck for bowhunting — one scoring 125 inches or better, typical, 155 inches non-typical. For Boone And Crockett, to make the book for firearm hunters, it’s 160 inches for typical, 185 for non-typical.

Mule Deer
Mule deer are fairly easy to field judge. Normally, a 4×4 mulie with a fairly high rack and tines that form deep Vs will make the bowhunting recordbook. Keep in mind that a big 3×3 rack may make book, too. Width is an important characteristic for mule deer, and a good gauge for that is the deer’s ears, which are typically about 18 inches wide, tip to tip, in the alert position. Minimum P&Y score for a typical mule deer is 145, non-typical is 170 inches. To make the B & C book, it’s 180 for typical, 215 for non-typical.

Black Bear
Bears are the hardest animals to judge because even the little ones look big. Some bowhunters are most interested in a large, thick hide, while others are looking for a bear with a large skull of recordbook dimensions. To spot a big one, look for a bear that seems to have a belly close to the ground. Bears that appear to have long legs are on the small side.

Bears are probably the toughest animals to field judge. This hunter did well; his trophy weighed in at 360 pounds.

There’s another method of judging a bear, but it contains a paradox. Look for a bear that appears to have a small head and ears. Usually, this means a bear with a body so huge it makes its head look small. On the other hand, it could be an average bear that really does have a small head that won’t qualify for the recordbook. The Pope & Young minimum for black bear is 18 inches — the combined width and length skull dimensions. For B & C, it’s 20 inches.

Pronghorns are among the easiest animals to “get in the book.” They also are among the easier ones to judge and you usually get a good look at them. The basic guideline to follow is to look for horns with prongs that start above the ear tips. Also look for pronounced prongs and horn tips with a lot of curl. Unlike other species, pronghorn trophies are deducted for having an unusually wide spread. The minimum Pope & Young score is 67 inches, and for B & C it is 80 inches.

The minimum Pope & Young recordbook score is 260 for Yellowstone elk (from the Rocky Mountain region) and 225 for Roosevelt elk from the West Coast. It will take a score of 275 inches to get in the B & C recordbook for Roosevelt elk. Most bowhunters after a trophy bull elk are looking for a 6×6, meaning six points to a side. There’s a quick way to tell if a bull in thick brush (usually how you see them) is a six. Look for the royal, or dagger tine, which is the long, fourth point up the antler, usually very obvious, and count how many points are above it. If there is one additional point past the dagger, it’s a 5-point; if there are two, it’s a 6-point; if there are more, quit counting and shoot!

If you want to get more precise, get a copy of measuring guidelines from the Pope & Young Club, visit The site also lists official measurers from across the United States. Or you can write P.O. Box 548, Chatfield, MN 55923, or call 507-867-4144.

To contact the Boone & Crockett Club, visit The site has an online scoring guide. Or you can write Boone and Crockett Club, 250 Station Drive, Missoula, MT 5980; call 406-542-1888.

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