Field Judging Mule Deer
To many hunters, especially in the West, the Holy Grail is a 30 inch mule deer.
Most mule deer hunters get caught up in the outside spread when in reality, the actual measurement taken will be on the inside spread of the main beams. The easiest method for quickly judging the spread on any mule deer is the distance from ear-tip to ear-tip which is usually very close to 20 inches. If a bucks antlers are roughly two inches past the outside of his ears on each side, then he has a 24″ spread.
When field judging mule deer, start towards the bottom and work your way up. One of the most overlooked measurements on any buck is the brow tines, or G-1’s. As a general rule, mule deer have short brow tines compared to whitetails. A good buck will usually (but not always) have 4 inch or longer brow tines. Next look at the depth of the back forks. If they meet or exceed 12-inches on the G-2, then move to the G-3, or the tine that together with the G-2, forms the back fork. The G-3 should be at least a 6 inches. The “backs” are very often the weakest part of a mule deer rack and if they resemble a “crab claw”, then he is probably a young buck. The G-4 is the tine that along with the main beam produce the front fork. As opposed to the back fork, this fork will be much deeper in appearance and should be 10+ inches. In a nutshell, if a buck has good forks, on both front and back, he is a “shooter” in most hunters’ books.
Mass has saved the lives of many, many mule deer bucks… when a buck has good mass, his tines look short, and some hunters will let him walk… oops. There really isn’t a lot I can tell you about mass, except don’t overlook it. What a mule deer lacks in tine length, he can make up for in mass. When scoring a mule deer buck, you will take four circumference measurements on his main beam, or H measurements. The H-1 will be the smallest place between the burr and first point. H-2 will be taken at the smallest place between the first and second point. H-3 is measured at the smallest place between the main beam and the third point. H-4 measurements are from the smallest place between the second and fourth point. If a buck has 35 to 40 inches if mass he is big.
When field judging mule deer, be sure to check all angles before making a decision to shoot or let him walk. Main beam length can be deceiving, especially if the only view you get is head-on. In most instances, if a buck has good width, the main beams should be good as well. Width and main beam measurements usually go hand in hand and these two measurements will usually be within an inch or so of each other. *Remember width is main beam to main beam. There are bucks out there that will blow this little theory out of the water, but they are the exception to the rule… with them you will just have to guess.
One of the most difficult aspects of field judging mule deer is symmetry, or the scoring balance between the two sides of a bucks rack. It is quite easy to judge the symmetry of tine length, but main beam, can be very difficult to judge because it swoops to the rear and then juts forward and can trick the eye. While many bucks first appear to have unbalanced antlers, when scored are quite symmetrical.
Velvet vs. Hard Antler
Velvet makes average antlers look big and big antlers look enormous, it’s that simple. Accurately field judging mule deer at this stage of the season can be tough. Although by no means a confirmed calculation, whenever I’m field judging deer on the hoof, I typically subtract about five percent from what they appear to score to estimate the actual Boone & Crockett score.
Sometimes No Decision is Needed
Usually a mule deer takes some evaluation to come up with a true estimation of its trophy quality, but every so often, if you’re lucky you will come across a buck of Boone and Crockett quality that will measure over the all-time book minimum of 190 inches. These are the bucks that require no second glance; you just know… SHOOT!
Whether it is your first mule deer hunt or you’re an old pro, hopefully these tips will help you make a “snap judgment” on your next trophy mule deer. Most trophy bucks have at least a couple of these characteristics, but very few have all of them. Consider these features as you field score deer on your next outing and you’re well on your way to knocking down a trophy. BTW, here’s a good guide to booking a mule deer hunt.