Feature Image Credit: Talus Creative | Remaining Images Credit: Boone & Crockett Club
To classify all hunters with one broad stroke of a brush would be akin to using the term “mammal” as a descriptor for every ungulate in British Columbia. Certainly this term is not incorrect; it simply lacks the appropriate nuance. Unsurprisingly, the majority of my friends are hunters, though some of them couldn’t be further apart in their views. Many of them are casual hunters, heading afield a few days a year in deer or turkey season, never straying too far into the backcountry. Some of them haven’t — and likely never will — hunt or eat bear; others consider it a staple of their diet and would not dream of missing the season. A good number of them are guides, dedicated to chasing mature creatures at the risk of eating tag soup; while a few would describe themselves as meat hunters.
While we all identify loosely under the moniker of “hunter,” there is as much diversity in our culture as there is in the food scene of a major city in the developed world — one of the many beautiful things about hunting. One can choose to become a traditional archery purist, or perhaps strictly an avid waterfowler. The world of hunting is a vast canvas, devoid of corners to be painted into, and open to one’s own artistic interpretation.
Alas, everything in this world is not sunshine and roses, and with freedom of expression comes the inevitability of conflict. The great diversity in our pursuits gives rise to equally great internal divides; bowhunters pitted against rifle hunters, treestand versus spot-and-stalk, and so on and so forth. Perhaps the greatest of conflicts we have is that which occurs between the trophy hunter and the rest, as it pertains to scoring animals.
While this debate likely will carry on as long as humans hunt, meaningful discourse and cross-examination of our lives can lead to a deeper understanding — and, ultimately, an evolution — of our practices. You’ve most certainly heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” but it could be argued that some terms as well are worth, or represent, a thousand words. Trophy hunting represents one such term within our culture and can be a heavily-loaded term. To understand the conversation of trophy hunting — and score — better, we first must unpack the meaning behind it.
So what exactly is trophy hunting, and what is a trophy? Certainly this word has different meanings depending on whom you ask, and in which period of hunting history you asked them. For our purposes, we will deal solely with the time period in which we currently live, and will focus on the more widely accepted version of trophy hunting as outlined by the Boone and Crockett Club (B&C), as their scoring system is the most prevalent amongst North American hunters. In their official position statement, Boone and Crockett outlines trophy hunting as:
Trophy hunting—the selective taking of mature male animals—began as a critical component of the Club’s early efforts to establish the concept of wildlife conservation at the end of the 19th century, when many species of wildlife were on the brink of extinction. To aid in their recovery and to ensure these species would never be threatened again, the Club believed several things needed to happen, one of which was to encourage a sustainable harvest by protecting the core of a wild breeding population (primarily females and younger males).
Taken in its purest form, as it was intended to be, trophy hunting is simple: the selective taking of mature male animals. As stated above, a large focus of this definition, and B&C’s push to implement it, was for conservation purposes; allowing hunters the opportunity to harvest game while still protecting the future of the species. You may be wondering what all this has to do with scoring, and why we are focused on the definition of trophy hunting. The reason is twofold: first, I consider education to be of great importance when it comes to hunting and discussing hunting; and second, I feel that there is significant misinformation and emotion driving the stigma behind the term trophy hunting, and score of course is closely linked to that.
The Boone & Crockett Club, founded in 1887, created their records and scoring system in 1949, when they were tasked with developing a scoring method for North American wild game. Prior to this, many states and provinces kept score of animals, although it was wildly inconsistent and subjective. Through the implementation of the B&C scoring system, they created a standardized approach, allowing one to more accurately compare and contrast wildlife data throughout North America. Now there seems to be some confusion as to their scoring methodology, and what their mandatory minimums represent. To this, B&C states:
The idea of recording only mature males taken within the rules of fair chase is twofold. First, it incentivizes hunters to be selective and to ensure their take is not leading to the overconsumption of the resource. Selective hunting takes pressure off immature and female members of the species—which, at the time the system was developed, was paramount to facilitating the recovery of North American big game. The second is the promotion of an ethic to which hunters could hold themselves accountable, ensuring consumption of the resource is not overindulgent.
– The Science Behind Keeping Records, Justin Spring
Now make no mistake, B&C scoring is not all-inclusive; but should it be? I found myself recently amongst the company of fellow mountain hunters — as well as a bottle of bourbon — and the topic of scoring came about. One of these fellows was strongly dispassionate toward the Boone and Crockett system, with the belief that they (B&C) represent only the select few and promote a negative image — to the broader non-hunting public — of what hunting stands for. While the bourbon may have helped to stoke the passionate fires of our conversation, it didn’t affect the clarity with which I grasped the other side of the debate. This feeling of inclusivity — or lack thereof — often comes up in conversations regarding score and trophy hunting, with a general distaste towards the “ranking” of an animal as a trophy. I am of the opinion that this is largely a fact of human nature. We are hardwired to recognize patterns and establish a hierarchy in our mind. Is this not similar to the establishment of the Olympic Games for athletes, the three-star Michelin rating for restaurants, and even ranked buyer’s guides for the automotive industry? The B&C scoring system mandatory minimum is in place to act as a reference for hunters, as it represents a threshold of mature specimens exhibiting the strongest traits of the species. While possible, it is unlikely that an individual animal will realize B&C potential before entering prime breeding age and maturity. This not only gives us a universal language — a set of standards by which we can all be held to — but it also gives us perspective and context in our communication.
If I were to tell you I harvested a beautiful eleven-year-old Stone sheep, you might be elated for me and engaged with the story to a point. If, in this story I mentioned that said ram had horns 36” long with 13” bases and scored in the mid 150s, given proper understanding of scoring, you would then be able to visualize that animal, creating greater context for the story.
The B&C system aside, the language of score exists throughout almost all North American hunters. How many times have you heard the old timers in your hometown deer camp tell you, “You can’t eat the horns sonny…”? Likely you’ve heard the same folks tell you about the monster eight-point they couldn’t get a shot on, running a doe through the alfalfa field at last light. In British Columbia, we often talk about bears in terms of their size using feet and inches. In other parts of North America they use weight in pounds. Whether you talk about the age of your ancient ram, the length of a mountain goat’s horns, or the weight of the doe you harvested, these still represent a “score” and more importantly a language to convey certain physical aspects of that animal that you find noteworthy.
So what of the morality of score, of one’s own personal beliefs and feelings that this language we use represents everything wrong in our culture? To score or not to score; that is the question. Just as the world of hunting itself has many nuances, so does this topic. Personally, I see scoring and the keeping of record books as something that, while having certain negative attributes in today’s popular culture, provides a net positive for our hunting culture, and more importantly for the species themselves. I can accept the bad — the instances where my client walks up to an animal with a tape in hand before so much as uttering some form of admiration or thanks — for I am of the belief that these people are the minority. To me a score is not about etching one’s name into the record books, braggadocio, or chest thumping. It is a crucial data point in the overarching study of the landscapes and populations of our wildlife, and in certain instances a tribute to the majesty of the exemplary capabilities of the specimens.
One of the most beautiful aspects of hunting is that it’s a truly dynamic pursuit. It’s as diverse, complex and emotional as life itself. Methods, morals, experiences, and therefore opinions, vary greatly from one hunter to the next. Whether you choose to submit an animal into a scoring system is simply that: a choice. And should you wonder where I stand with that fellow I referenced earlier who so strongly rejects the systems we use to keep records and score animals? We will be on the mountain this February chasing goats off the North coast of British Columbia, sharing the rich, dynamic experiences that hunting provides. Score be damned.