CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A guy walked around a crowded convention hall carrying a set of deer antlers. It probably would draw a few odd stares anywhere else, but not in West Virginia and not at the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show. The 32nd year for the show gets started on Friday at what is now called the Charleston Convention Center. Back for another year will be the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources with a team of biologist to score antlers brought to them by hunters.
“Many of the deer that come in don’t meet the minimum qualifications (for trophy status). But we’re happy to score any deer that comes in,” said Tyler Evans who heads up the Division of Natural Resources Big Buck Program.
The minimum standard for “trophy status” in West Virginia is a score of 125 under the Pope and Young system and 160 under the Boone and Crockett scoring system. Several biologists from the West Virginia DNR are certified to take the official measurements of a deer’s antlers. Deer killed with a bow are scored under Pope and Young. Any deer can be scored under Boone and Crockett, but typically it is a deer killed with a gun or muzzleloader. A lot of people are just curious if they killed a big buck.
“A lot of times we end up scoring somebody’s first deer so they get to see the full process of how it works,” Evans said. “We’re still happy to have them come in and have it scored. We also usually end up having a few bear skulls brought in for scoring as well, so you never know whose going to bring in what.”
The scoring data is valuable to the DNR. Years ago the scoring program in West Virginia started as a big buck contest created by the DNR in an effort to judge the size of antlers on bucks killed across the state. Over the years it evolved from a contest into a data collection and it’s given the agency an opportunity to learn more over time about the evolution of big deer. The biggest number of trophy bucks originate in the four southern West Virginia counties with a bow hunting restriction, but Evans explained big bucks are killed all over West Virginia in places you may not have expected.
“Everybody talks about the bow kills in Logan and Mingo that go 170 or 180, but a lot of times you’ll have deer from other parts of the state that turn heads,” he said. “There have been ones killed in Randolph County or over along the river in the western part of the state. It won’t necessarily come from a place you’d expect, but every year there’s a deer or two to prove it can be done there as well.”
The scores are based on measurements of the deer’s rack. The strength of the score comes from not only antler size–but also uniformity, at least in the case of the “typical” rack.
“We’re looking at beam length, point length, and circumferences of antlers in four different locations,” said Evans. “Those are the biggest factors, but if you’re talking about a typical animal, things like drop tines will deduct from the score.”
Oh the other hand if a deer’s rack has 15 inches or more of those “abnormal” points it can be classified as non-typical rack. On a non-typical score the drop tines and unusual breaks in the symmetry of the rack actually add to the score. The rules also state for a rack to be “officially scored” it must have endured a 60 day drying period from the day it was killed. Occasionally as the rack dries there will be some minor shrinkage.
Many of those deer which are scored or have been scored at the show in previous years are on display in the West Virginia Whitetail Hall of Fame which is run in conjunction with the show by the West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association.
“It’s first come first serve,” said Evans. “We’re going to be scoring deer Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There’s no size requirement or anything like that, if you want to get the deer scored come on out and we’ll be happy to have you.”
Scoring times are Friday 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.