Scoring a buck in the field is a skill that most hunters need to be good at in order to determine which bucks to shoot and which ones are off limits.
You would think that scoring a buck from a trail camera image would be easier but I can tell you from experience it’s tougher than you think.
Test Yourself – Try scoring the buck in the image above – at the end of the article we’ll reveal it’s actual score.
Scoring a buck from a trail camera image can be deceiving. Many factors come into play like lighting, positioning, angle, foreground, background, type of camera and so on.
We’ve had the opportunity to score many bucks from a trail camera only to find out once the buck was harvested that we were a little off – and maybe more than a little in some cases.
If you have a new buck on trail camera that you’ve never seen and want to size him up here are a few tips that may help.
Is it a mature buck? Before jumping right into antler size, first determine if the buck is mature. There are certain body characteristics that a mature buck will have that a young buck won’t.
A young buck will look like a doe with antlers. They appear more tall and lanky than a mature buck. They have smaller necks and their antlers lack mass.
A mature buck has a bigger chest and neck. On a very large mature buck it can be hard to determine where the chest ends and the neck begins.
A mature buck’s legs appear shorter due to a thicker body and they may have a bit of a pot belly. Study the image or images you have of the buck and using these tips try to determine if he’s a mature animal.
This is important because you know the saying, “the camera can add a few pounds” goes for trail camera images as well. A small bodied young buck’s antlers may look big on camera but it’s only because they’re in comparison to his small framed body.
Scoring the antlers – Once you’ve determined the approximate age of the buck you can now move onto antler score. Scoring antlers from an image can be tricky. Try using some of the same scoring tips from this Field Scoring Tips article.
Using the deer’s ears as a reference you can determine a lot. If the buck is looking at the camera you can figure out the inside spread knowing that his ears on average will be 16 inches apart from tip to tip.
Also remember that a buck’s ear on average is about 6 – 6 1/2 inches long. You can use that as a guide to help you determine main beam and tine length.
If a buck’s main beams extend out to his nose or past, that usually means they have great main beam length. But I have seen good scoring deer that didn’t have main beams that extended out as much as they extended upwards.
The best tip yet for scoring a trail camera image. Compare the antlers to another set of antlers. If you have another set of antlers, figure out what they score if you don’t already know for sure.
Take the antlers with you to where the trail camera is. After studying the image of the new buck, you should be able to determine where the buck was standing and what direction and angle he was at.
Holding the antlers, stand in the same position and allow the trail camera to take a few images of you. Take as many images as you want. Try turning the antlers at slightly different angles and heights to be sure you end up with a similar image.
Now go back and find the image of you holding the antlers that best mimics the image of the new buck you are trying to score. Knowing the score of the antlers you possess should help you determine the size and score of the new buck.
It also helps to show other hunters your images and let them give you their opinion. Besides, drooling over buck images with your hunting buddies is half the fun.
Trail cameras are a great tool and I fully recommend them to all hunters. But don’t be fooled by deceiving images into shooting a buck that wasn’t quite as big as you thought.
Did you try scoring the buck in the above image? This image was taken early in the year while the buck was still in velvet. It was harvested later that season and only scored 125. I say “only” because most of us over scored it.