Judging a trophy mule deer

Q: I am going to visit a relative in Canada. He lives in the bush and has told me that I can hunt mule deer and black bear during the time I’m there.

He will lend me his rifle, a Model 70 Winchester in .300 WSM and 180gn ammunition.

Never having hunted mule deer I would like you to tell me what to look for and how to evaluate the antlers?
— Peter Dixon

A: Antler spread is the first thing to look for. Any buck with antlers that spread beyond his ears is a keeper.

A typical mule deer head will have four points on each antler and a brow tine or eye guard. Some Canadian hunters call this a ten point buck, but in the west hunters will rate it a four pointer.

Some bucks may have two, three or four, or even an unequal number of points on each antler. The brow tine is usually absent.

From the trophy point of view the median antler spread is between 17 and 18 inches. If you take one wider than this, it’s better than ordinary.

An antler spread of 28 inches puts your trophy in the upper 10 percent class; only one buck in 100 has an antler spread of 35 inches or better. Anything wider than this is exceptional.

My mule deer trophy from Wyoming is non-typical. It has 12 points and a spread of 22 inches. I took that buck on the run with my old BSA Hunter .284 Winchester shooting a handload consisting of the Barnes 140gn X Bullet driven at 3000fps by 62gn of WMR.

Image: Mule deer, Leavenworth, Kansas, photographed by Christina Bergquist




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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.