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The amazing, shrinking fireplace buck

September 09, 2011 at 09:26 AM

The State Journal-Register

“I thought he was bigger.”

We’ve all heard or said that when ground shrinkage has transformed our fireplace buck into one that is merely ordinary — or worse yet, drastically undersized.

Field-scoring a buck while he is still on the hoof, standing still, walking toward you, trotting broadside, or running away from you is tough enough when your heart isn’t pounding. In a hunting situation, where shooting decisions are made quickly, it’s harder than last Thursday’s biscuits.

There’s no time to yell, “Whoa,” and get out a tape measure. You have only a few seconds to determine if you’re looking at a “shooter” or a “let him grow.” If you are hunting where antler restrictions are enforced, overestimating just a few inches could prove costly.

In a hunting situation, one obvious scoring indicator that can be easily determined is whether the deer’s rack spreads past his ears. The distance, ear-to-ear tip, when a buck is alert and has his ears facing forward, is about 16 inches. If his antler spread is wider than his ears, start counting points. Do it quickly. Be careful. This step can signal the onset of buck fever. A 14-point buck may be reduced to an eight in the next few seconds.

If you’ve completed steps one and two and the deer is still standing around, look at the length of the tines. Some experts say to use length of one ear as a benchmark. A buck’s ear is about seven inches long. If his tines are shorter than an ear is long, he’s borderline — unless he has more than 10 points. If your abacus is still working, if you haven’t fallen out of the tree and if the buck remains cooperative, you should consider taking a shot — if you still remember how.

My favorite of these “expert” guidelines is, when you can see antlers on both sides of a deer’s backside, he is a shooter. The bad news with that perspective is you have probably waited too long to shoot, and he’s high-tailing it out of there.

There’s an easier way to get some visual reinforcement that doesn’t require snap decisions and might eliminate postseason second-guessing.

Visit a local taxidermy shop or a big-box sporting goods store. Look at the mounts on display and note how many inches they scored. That can help you decide how much deer it takes to be a wall-hanger in your eyes. You’re going to find that a 140-inch deer is a lot bigger than you think it is. Many hunters never even see one.

Hunting is an individual sport. Each of us defines our own success. A 130-inch buck is a lot of deer to a young hunter. Someone with a few more seasons under his belt, with a 160-class deer over the fireplace, might not look twice at the same animal.

Contact George Little at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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