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Quick and Easy Field Judging Bull Elk

In this day and age with the aggressive management work of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, harvesting a trophy bull elk is within the realm of most hunters and finally you have secured a once in a decade tag. It could be your one shot in your hunting career at harvesting a really big, trophy class bull. It might be that each day in the field you’re glassing up a dozen or more satellite bulls along with several herd bulls. Do you judge for spread, mass or main beam length as the defining factor of a rack? Or maybe if he is a six point, that’s good enough. Everyone should have a B&C benchmark before heading into the land of the bull elk. But how do you quickly field judge a bull for that mark? Will you harvest a bull packing a great rack or make a judging decision you will regret for many falls to come?

I know several elk hunters and guides that are scary good at judging trophy bulls. Those men can tell you within two inches on the hoof the net B&C score of any bull. But they spend thousands of hours year-round documenting big bulls and picking up these bulls’ sheds to score. Most of us can’t devote that much time to studying or scoring bull elk. For us, just knowing what class of bull we’re looking at is close enough. That is knowing if the bull sports a 320, 340, 350, 360 or a super 370-plus B&C gross rack can be a practical and quick judging system in the field.

While growing up in the early 1960s, I lived next to the federal elk refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 elk drop in each year to spend the winter. During my high school years, you could find me with a spotting scope watching hundreds of bull elk. Let me tell you, it became quite taxing trying to determine what B&C class rack each bull was packing. However, spending time in those years scoring winter kills and local hunter’s bulls, I developed a general field judging system I call “rack bracketing.” It’s a simple visual way to determine general rack size. And with some knowledge of rack size and a little practice it becomes easy to master. Using it, a hunter in the field can quickly determine if that bull is packing a 320, 340 or maybe a 350 gross rack. It’s pretty simple to use because 90% of the B&C scoring system for elk is made up of inside spread, main beam and point length. However, keep in mind the biggest factor and number one rule is, the longer the points, higher the rack scores…

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