Tips for field judging elk.


New member
Dec 25, 2000
Now that Jimmy and I have a descent tag, we need to sharpen up our skills on judging bulls on the hoof.

Can some of you guys who are in the know post some of your tips and tricks to get a rough score on a bull.

I am well aware of the basics, tine length is #1, then beam lenght and spread kind of get fuzzy.

What I am use to is whitetails, and you start by assuming 15" to 17" to the tip of the ears, then you see how many inches past the ears it goes. Then look at tine length in relation, and see if there are any weaknesses. Main beams, you hope to get a profile to see how far out it comes and if they curl in. After looking at lots of deer, you can start pretty easily start getting within 10 inches on a final score.

Also are there any good books out there on this??????
DaleT, I to have drawn a tag for Elk for the first time and if it suits me I'm the only one I have to make Happy. Not sure what it takes to make a Trophy. I guess it would be like asking who is the best Elk hunter, To me it is in the eye of the beholder.
The easy way to know the size of an Elk, is to ask the manager of the High Fence Ranch, before you go out in the morning...

On public lands.... Any Elk is a trophy. They are an incredible animal, and each one of them should be a proud accomplishment. If you don't think you will be proud of tipping over a spike, then pass on him. If a 4x4 is not going to impress the buddies back home, then pass on him, if you care about their opinion. At least you were out, in Elk country, spending the days and nights under the open skies.

In our camp, you can be assured, if you can count to 6 when looking at the points on one side, then you will have help packing him out. But, if you dump a spike, a couple of miles away, in 2 foot of snow, you better be proud of him, as your help will come reluctantly, as you are taking away from your partner's hunting time for their Elk.

Talk it over with your partner, agree on what a trophy is for your hunt, and have fun. If a Spike on the first morning is acceptable, then you should have at it.

If you are really worried about figuring out a "good 6x6" vs. a "bad 6x6", then you have one hell of a hunting spot.
ANY fair chase elk on public land is a trophy.
Belive me, when you see a big bull, you'll know it. Look for a good fork at the top of the antler, and a rack that is in proportion to its body.
Just how big an elk are you looking for ?
Just look for one that you think will make you happy and pull the trigger.

If you are only in it for the score look for a few things. First, look for really long points. Second, really long main beams, if you can find a bull with main beams that go into the second half of his back they are long. Third, look for a really wide spread. Fourth, look for mass, even though they make the points look shorter, massive horns will score better than a wire horned rack. Last of all, look for six points on each side.
Trophy... HUMM.. a good elk.. HUMmmm And Field Judgeing them.....

Here is a bull I took that was with another toad, But the first one to step out, He was a gonner. Notice the tine lengths are short and the Thickness is Spindley. To me, A awsome bull, at the time was the Biggest I had taken.


Here is another, But look at the 5th and 6th point. Not very impressive from a HOLY CHIT standpoint. If you get a hog that has long tines all over there is no question to drop the hammer. It made up in width though for a nice look !! Here is the pic :


Plenty of Medium Bulls around !!! If you look at the beam length and the thickness you'll know right away that it's a Average bull... Liek this one :


What I do to decide a a good elk is the 4th Tine...The Sword tine (I think it's called or at least thats what I call it) has to stick out there... Then, Judge the rest of the Tine lengths off of that one.


NOW, with the luck of some/most people, And the small amounts of elk getting taken, Taking a bull like this is a good bull too :


But, since the topic was on Field Judging, I';m guessing the guestion is on whats a GOOD 6 point bull.... Quick and dirty is the 4th point and the forks in the back.. then the Width and MASS of the beams...

(Take that with the grain of salt though, I'm a spike killer, not a trophy hunter *SMILE*)
Dale, You really need to decide what a "Trophy Elk" means to you.. Last year I drew one of the best Archer Only tags in the state of Idaho which quickly forced both me and my hunting partner to decide what our goal would be on this hunt..We both ended up passing bulls on a daily basis in an effort to get Mr. Big (which we were also seeing/hearing daily)..A lot of factors come into play in making this decision:

1-Do you have a "Trophy" tag?
2-How many days will you be hunting?
3-Are you hunting alone?
4-Will there be a lot of hunting pressure?
5-Can you live with going home NOT FILLING your tag?

Both me and my partner came home without killing BIG 6x6 Bulls which we both decided on going after, nothing less...I personally had the best Elk hunting experiance of my life by getting close and PASSING on the smaller bulls. Can't say the same for my partner as he still reminds me of the day he passed on the small 6x6 during the last week of the hunt (we hunted for 25 days)...

Only YOU can make up your mind on this "Trophy" question.

I had to go back and read Dale's question again. He is asking how to judge a bull, not to determine if it is a trophy.
How can you judge length from body references like ear width, body length, etc? I would like to know also.
Guy's I understand where you are coming from on a trophy is in the eye of the beholder. But I think it's a natural progression to learn how to field judge an animal on the hoof. Granted it's not likely, but if everything comes together, (Weather, migration, hunting pressure, etc.) It would be awesome to be able to make an informed descision on which bull to shoot.

Moosie, Thanks a bunch, that is the kind of info I am looking for.

I am thinking about putting together a spread sheet that would be a B&C score sheet of say bulls scoring (250, 275, 300, 325, 350)and then I could hopefully get closer to estimating the score.

What did those two bulls of yours gross score.

You always see these 350 Plus bulls with scores, but no one really publishes the really nice bulls that are below 330.

Does anyone have some pic of some bulls that have been scored and are between 250 and 300??????

If you could post them please. It would be nice to see some of these bulls that I have a more realist chance of killing.
I don't know of any way to judge them by thier ear or bady part.. doubt that will work. Also, that "rack bracketing" stuff is bs too. Should call it a swag instead.

I'd say if you are judging by B&C scoring methods.. learn how to score them, score a lot of them, guess before and confirm with a score.

Things to "add up" in your head when judgeing are beam length, tine length, mass, and inside spread.

Long beams.. look for big spaces between the tines, 50" is exceptional. Long tines are obvious, and note any curl adds length, any 20" tine is abnormally long. Mass is usually only a small component of score, 24-30" per side on a mature bull.

I'd say the best advice is to learn how to score them, adding those components up quick, and then really taping a lot of bulls. asked to see a bull between 250 and 300. Here is one I killed last year.
While I didn't have him officially scored, Greenhorn said he would go between 270 and 280. He knew the spread and tine lengths as soon as I posted the pic.


Here's a biggie. Just officially scored Saturday. 381 2/8 gross, 370 4/8 net. Biggest one I've ever seen taken. Some dirtball shot him.

Thanks guys,

That's a good point about looking for lots of space between the tines. Very good point about doing lots of scoring. I am sure that's the only way you will ever be very good at it. Scoring is how I got to be a pretty descent judge of whitetails. But I am at a big disadvantage on the availability of elk racks to practice scoring on. The few descent elk racks in this country are usually pretty high up on the wall and Mounted.

DS, Thanks for posting the pic of the mid range elk. From the pic, it looks like he's got real good tine length, but is loses some on beam length and inside spread.
Yeah, I wish he'd been longer and wider Dale.....but for a Colorado over-the-counter bull tag, I weren't a waitin'!

I totally agree with whacking that bull, and I still don't have one that good. I was trying to show that everything is in relation and you can't just look at one thing to judge score. I believe I have seen 300 class bulls that didn't have tines that good, but they made up the difference somewhere else. Which reinforces what Greenie said, you need to learn how to score and be able to do the math in you head, because no 2 bulls are the same.

You really need to see a bunch of them on the hoof, then kill them and tape them before you get a good feel for field judging. If you are pressed for time, I would take your rifle, note pad and pencil to the elk refuge in Jackson, or Yellowstone (depending on what time of the year it is).
Guess the score of one of the big ones, right it down, kill it, measure it, compare numbers. Keep doing this until you are consistently within 5 inches. It may take a few dozen, but this is the best way to get good in a short amount of time.
I couldn't agree more. Learning how to score them after they are dead is just a waste of time. Pre-score - shoot - final score. That's the ticket.
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