Golden Antlers

By M. R. James, Founder/Editor Emeritus

I BECAME AN OFFICIAL SCORER for the Pope and Young Club on October 10, 1978. Over the past quarter century I've measured hundreds of antlers, horns, and skulls. Not surprisingly, I've scored more big whitetail racks than all other North American species combined. Many of these fine trophies have ended up listed in the bowhunting record books; many have failed to meet minimum entry standards. Others have never been submitted for a wide variety of personal reasons known only to the hunter.

Mostly I've enjoyed my volunteer measuring work. It's a great way to handle a variety of outstanding big game trophies and to hear excited hunters tell how they took their exceptional animals. About the only negative I've experienced occurs when an occasional jerk gets pouty after being told his buck, bull, or bear won't make "the book." I never cease to be amazed how anyone fortunate enough to tag an outstanding big game animal can be elated one minute and disappointed the next. All because of a numerical rating. The animal itself certainly hasn't changed, only the hunter's attitude. What difference does an inch or two - or even a few fractions of an inch - really make? Must be strictly an ego thing.

The way I see it, a "trophy" should be defined in terms beyond its official score. Always! For example, time and personal effort expended, legal and fair chase pursuit, the hunt's degree of difficulty, and similar considerations must be taken into account. I, for one, readily admit that some of my smaller bucks have proved harder to come by than a couple of my P&Y trophies. And based on my 40-plus years of deer hunting, I know that some of the old does I've encountered deserve designation as true trophy animals!

Regardless, I guess it's human nature for many people to want only the biggest and best, whether it's an outsized 4X4, house, bass boat, bow, buck, or whatever. And it's true that some outdoor writers and magazines - not to mention record keeping organizations themselves - must share some of the responsibility for the national preoccupation with proportions and exact official measurements of certain trophies.

This interest in big antlers is nothing new, really. Back in 1696, the King of Prussia, Frederick I, arrowed a 66-point stag whose antlers he later swapped to Frederick Augustus of Saxony for 200 grenadier guards. The reason? Apparently ol' Freddie Augustus simply wanted to add the rack to his antler collection back at the home castle near Dresden.

Much more recently, the bowhunting world was all atwitter with the possibility of a new world record whitetail. Wayne Zaft's Alberta buck had been taped at 206 7/8 inches, 2 full inches larger than Mel Johnson's "Beanfield Buck," which was tagged in Illinois way back in 1965. Then came the news in early 2003 that P&Y panel judges had determined a major scoring error had been made when Zaft's buck was initially measured. Seems a judgment call by the original scorers credited an unmatched nontypical point to the score, when in fact it should have been deducted. The end result was an official P&Y score of "only" 172 5/8.

Sadly, a few bowhunters who once admired Zaft's great whitetail - when it was a potential world record - suddenly regarded the very same animal as unworthy of their respect or honor. This in spite of the fact that very few deer hunters will ever glimpse, much less place their own tags on, any 172-class whitetails.

A big part of the problem, of course, is that taking a world record whitetail is perhaps the next best thing to winning the lottery. It can mean instant fame - not to mention a small fortune - for the lucky hunter. For instance, knowledgeable antler collectors appraise the value of a Boone and Crockett world record rack like that worn by Milo Hansen's Saskatchewan giant between $100,000 and $150,000. Toss in money produced by the owner's personal appearances at deer shows and hunting seminars; select product endorsements; how-to-do it articles and books; antler reproductions, and so forth, and you can see that there's gold in them thar oversized antlers.

Like it or not, giant whitetail antlers immediately attract widespread fascination and the offer of big bucks - as in dollars. That's a fact of modern hunting life. It's also a fact that some hunters are always willing to sell their deer racks, just as some "horn buyers" are always willing to buy them.

But despite what some successful hunters - and greedy deer poachers - may want to believe, most "book" racks are worth considerably less than they think. Even extraordinary racks generally are valued from only a few hundred to several thousand dollars, at best. It takes truly exceptional, unique antlers - proved to be legally taken - to generate widespread interest and serious cash offers.

The bottom line? More often than not the true value of any antlers or horns is found in the heart and mind of the successful deer hunter who relives the magic of a special outdoor moment each time he looks up at the rack he has taken - and remembers.

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