Field Judging Elk
by PJ Delhomme
Draw that once-in-a-lifetime tag? Want a 390-bull for the book? Let us help.
For me, a 6x6 is a good bull, and it’s going in the freezer. I have nothing against raghorns or cows filling the freezer either.
But what happens when you draw the trophy unit you’ve waited 20 years to hunt? Chances are you’re going to see more bulls than you’ve ever seen on a hunt, and you can be picky. You might even want a typical bull to score the minimum 375 inches to get in the Boone & Crockett records. If you have the option to be selective, then it pays to brush up on field judging racks. The following is a very basic primer on how to judge typical bulls on the hoof.
A big bull’s measurements feature four key elements: long points, long main beams, wide inside spread and mass. A bull for the book needs to have the complete package. You’re looking for the most symmetrical bull you can find because you’re going for a net score on typicals, not gross. A 6x7 bull is great, but that extra point will be a deduction from the net.
According to Boone & Crockett’s Measuring and Judging Big Game, long points account for 40 percent of the overall score. When a bull is half a mile away, it’s tough to get a feel for how long a tine is, but use the bull’s body as a reference. The average length from the tip of a bull’s nose to the base of its antler burr is 16 inches. If brow tines go out to his nose, and then swing up, all you need to guess is the portion of those tines pointing skyward. Once you have that, judge other tines off of it.
Look for tines with some curves as they are measured along the outside curve. The straighter the point, the smaller the score.
John Caid, former director of the White Mountain Apache Tribe Game and Fish Department says their general rule is that each tine on reservation bulls needs to average 17 inches to make the book. He stresses that this is specific to the White Mountain herd’s genes, but it should give you a good idea of what you need. And be careful about including that last or “sixth” point. On a 6x6, that point is part of the main beam and will be scored with the main beam. Don’t count it twice. As for main beam length, you’re likely to know a good set when you see them. How far back do they reach when the bull bugles or tips his head back? If the beams go to its gut or farther, that’s a good bull.
If a mature bull has good tine length, it’s likely the inside spread will be ample. You only need to be concerned with a rack that looks unusually narrow. Bulls in the book average 45 inches. Get a face-on view and note how far the antlers go past the bull’s ears. The tip-to-tip ear spread is usually 26 inches.
Mass is tough to field judge. Most old bulls will have mass, but do they have enough? How much space is between the burrs on their forehead? Not much? That’s good. Also, compare the mass at the base with the base of the points along the main beams. If it’s consistent, that’s good too.
After long experience, Caid offers two rules to live by.
“Don’t ever judge a bull walking away. They look so big at that angle. And don’t switch to higher power binoculars right before your hunt. Every bull is going to look bigger.”