We all know how the conservation movement that began in the late years of the 1800s and continued to develop in the early 20th Century with game laws, the Forest System, and the code of the sportsman, took several decades to really start showing progress. The Boone and Crockett Club’s interest in records can be traced to 1895 and the 1st Annual Sportsmen’s Exposition in New York City with Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell and Archibald Rogers serving as competition judges. Later, in 1902 a Committee on Game Measurements was appointed and included Roosevelt, Rogers and Caspar Whitney. Nothing appeared to result from that effort until a previously unknown pocket-sized booklet, dated 1906, was discovered about six years ago in 2008. The booklet attempted to create written instructions for measuring game.
In the teens and twenties of the 1900s, the outlook for most North American big game species remained very bleak. To that end, a team of Boone and Crockett Club members, primarily William Hornaday and Madison Grant, established the National Collection of Heads and Horns at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. The collection was “dedicated to the vanishing big game animals of the world.” The collection opened in 1922 and spurred a social interest in the developing conservation movement and spurred a scientific need to catalog these specimen in some record.
In 1932, Prentiss Gray, a long-time B&C member, authored the first record book of the Club, with the assistance of the National Collection. It crudely ranked animals by one single length of horn measurement. It precipitated much argument and debate as a manner of properly ranking trophy quality. This was followed by the second edition in 1939 which included spread measurements. Most notable in this publication is the identification of two developing, but diverse and competing, scoring systems. Dr. James Clark, with the American Museum of Natural History, had developed a system of recording and ranking animals that was thorough, but quite subjective and imaginative. The book includes a lengthy chapter by Grancel Fitz in which he details a very comprehensive collection of measurements to produce the total score.
After World War II, the Boone and Crockett Club refocused attention on big game record keeping. They began annual Big Game Competitions, with the winners being chosen by a Judges Panel. These proved popular, but they also clearly were of a subjective nature, with the awards presented based solely on the judges’ opinions. Again, there was a call for an objective system that could be applied uniformly, consistently and could be understood by sportsmen, themselves.
In 1949, the Club appointed a committee of experts to tackle the project of a unified scoring system. Samuel Webb, well-known among B&C members, and a close friend of both Fitz and Clark, was chosen to chair the committee. The committee’s charge was to devise an equitable, objective measurement system for North American big game—a standardized, mathematical-based system of authority that would automatically stand the test of rating trophies in accordance with their overall excellence, rather than by one measurement, one characteristic or subjective personal opinion. Along with Webb, Fitz and Clark, the committee included Dr. Harold Anthony, Milford Baker, and Frederick Barbour. All committee members were experienced big game hunters and had a strong knowledge and desire to solve the issue at hand. By late 1950, the committee had arrived at a system that was immediately adopted by the Boone and Crockett Club. Prior to publication, the system was vetted to over 250 sportsmen, biologists, scientists and other interested parties for comment. When adopted, the system quickly became established as the universally accepted system for native North American big game.
One by one, the committee had assessed each native big game species and noted the most desired characteristics and lasting attributes for trophy quality. Once concluded, measurements were designed to reward those characteristics and then score forms were built for each species. As an example, it was and is generally agreed that spread, length of palm, width of palm and number of points are all attributes that create trophy quality for moose. Similarly for mule deer, it was agreed that the specific pattern of five normal points (small brow tine, and the bifurcated situation of a top fork and a forward fork) represent the normal structure of a mule deer.
The comprehensive system meshed the best points of both Fitz’s and Clark’s system into a formulation that is so objective and fair that it continues today in essentially the same form as originally crafted.
The scoring system depends upon a series of carefully taken measurements of the enduring trophy characteristics of a given big game animal to arrive at a numerical final score that provides instant ability to rank and sort a trophy by category. By measuring and recording the enduring qualities of an animal, with an articulated set of instructions, both the measurements and the ranking can be repeated or checked at a later time. Anyone doubting the correctness can then verify by a simple replication of the measurements.
The system, fundamentally, is a 50-50 split between mass and symmetry. The system places heavy emphasis on symmetry. This results in even, well-matched trophies scoring better and placing higher in the rankings than equally developed, but mismatched, trophies. This point was strongly endorsed and continues to be readily agreed to by the majority of hunters. For those antlered trophies with unusual amounts of abnormal antler material, non-typical categories were developed to give these freaks or oddities recognition, as they would be unduly penalized in the typical categories.
At its root, the scoring system established an ideal “perfect” representative for a given species category. The collection of measurements, producing the final score, then simply compares each specimen to the established ideal for that species. For instance, it was agreed that the “perfect” whitetail deer would have long main beams, many long matched points, significant mass of the main beam, and a spread that was wide, but not too wide. The system, therefore, gives that structure the most credit.
The system takes and records corresponding measurements on specific features for a given species on the right antler/horn and on the left antler/horn and then subtracts the difference for each corresponding measurement. Freak situations and abnormalities would be deducted/discredited. As Grancel Fitz pointed out “antlers of this type (freak heads or significant amounts of abnormal development) are caused by abnormal condition of disease or [genetic] unbalance, and they can no more logically be thought of as splendid examples of their species than a circus fat lady can be considered a fine figure of a woman because she weighs seven hundred pounds.” Though politically incorrect, or even offensive, Fitz’s comment strongly reinforces their point that big game animals that are freaks or monstrosities should not be considered well in the scoring system. There is no doubt that there is interest in the freakiness of these types of heads; therefore, the non-typical category is an appropriate place for them to be compared, but in no way are they comparable on the same scale as typical animals. To be clear, freaks may be noteworthy and interesting, even highly prized by some, but they are not comparable to the standard for their respective species and should be considered simply unique and curious.
The Boone and Crockett scoring system, formed in 1950, and used with permission by the Pope and Young Club since 1958, has certainly stood the test of time. It has value. That value comes from its well-thought-out formation, it’s choices of ideal characteristics, its uniformity and consistency in time and space. It IS the gold standard and has a solid reputation as such!
For information on the Pope and Young Club, please contact: Pope and Young Club, Box 548, Chatfield, MN 55923 Ph: 507.867.4144 or online at Pope & Young Club
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