The upcoming deer season has me thinking about antlers. It should come as no surprise that quite a few of my co-workers at the Conservation Department are deer hunters. Like me, several of them have deer mounts on their office walls. All of them have stories, and in some cases it is more the story than the deer itself that earned it a place on the wall. On my coffee break yesterday, I took a walk around the Central Office and filled my head with the images before sitting down to write this item.
There are wide, slender racks and a tall one with main beams nearly as thick as a person’s wrist. There is a gnarly one with tines flattened like spatulas and others with holes in the tines or acorn-shaped nubs at the tips. I was fascinated to discover that one of the highest-scoring deer is a narrow little basket-rack buck that happens to have fairly good thickness and near-perfect symmetry.
This illustrates how arbitrary scoring is. The Boone & Crockett Club system places considerable emphasis on symmetry and width. Why? Because that is what the founders of the club found aesthetically pleasing. They could just as well have emphasized antler height or the number of oddball little “sticker” points around the base of each antler. For that matter, why not award points for body weight, as the National Wild Turkey Federation does when scoring gobblers? Surely the actual size of the deer should matter as much as the size of his headgear.
When you get right down to it, scoring is almost meaningless, exactly because it is so arbitrary. What do Boone & Crockett points really mean? Does symmetry make bucks more attractive to does? Do wide-antlered bucks have a competitive edge over tall-antlered ones when sparring? Does the strength of thick antlers compensate a buck for the energy it spends hauling them around all fall? And if thick, broad, symmetrical antlers are “better,” in the evolutionary sense, why are they so rare?
If it’s all about aesthetics, then everyone should decide for him or herself which antlers are the “best.” On the other hand, if scoring antlers is evidence of humans’ competitive nature, I think we could devise a more objective way to pick winners. Antler weight, for example. Or maybe the Boone & Crockett system minus credit for width, so only size matters. An alternative is to forget about scoring and simply admire the natural, organic design in each set of antlers.
Any way you measure them, antlers are cool and awe-inspiring. Here are photos of some of the deer hanging around Central Office to contemplate as firearms deer season approaches.