Have you ever wondered if there are any real benefits to big game scoring? Or is it just a bunch of egotists that want to see their name in a record book?
Big game scoring systems like those developed by Safari Club International, Boone and Crockett, and Pope and Young have had many positive impacts on on wildlife populations and on the sport of hunting.
Before I get started, please understand that I’m not trying to convert anyone to trophy hunting or intending to trash any other form of hunting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not caring what a particular animal scores or hunting mainly for meat (full disclosure: I eat the meat from every big game animal I hunt, even from so called “trophies”). I’ve hunted many does and other “non-trophy” animals myself and had a great time doing so. If hunting primarily for meat, to spend time with family, or to enjoy the outdoors is your primary motivation, then more power to you. My goal is to explain some of the more often overlooked positive byproducts of the big game measuring and scoring systems, not degrade hunting for other reasons.
The first, and probably the most obvious, effect of widespread scoring of big game animals is the tremendous amount of money that it generates for conservation efforts. For as long as people have hunted, there has always been competition between hunters as to who killed the bigger animal. Organized big game scoring systems and their associated record books provide a consistent way to measure and compare animals of the same species. Over the years, the major hunting organizations, like the Boone and Crockett Club and SCI, have all generated considerable amounts of publicity for hunting in general with their record books and scoring systems. This has in turn, greatly helped increase the popularity of the sport. As a result, hunters around the world will pay a considerable sum of money for an animal that meets “trophy” criteria for one of those record books, regardless of whether they officially enroll their animal in a record book or not.
While many people around the world used to regard wild game as meat on the hoof at best, or a nuisance animal to be eliminated at worst, trophy hunting has given these animals significant monetary value. Over the past few decades, the sport has grown in popularity to the point that hunters will now pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to hunt a given animal, a large percentage of which stays in the local community. The local population gets most of the meat and the money spent on the hunt is circulated in the community. As a result, sustainable hunting helps prevent poaching by giving tangible benefits to the locals to ensure conservation of wildlife.
Additionally, money used to purchase hunting licenses goes towards wildlife conservation efforts in the area of the hunt. In the United States, the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act funneled revenue generated by a tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment to the Department of the Interior in order to distribute to the various states for wildlife management. This helps create a self fulfilling prophecy where hunters fund conservation efforts, which increase the populations and quality of game in an area, which draws more hunters with more money, which continues to further conservation efforts and so on.
Another positive benefit of a formal big game scoring system is that for the most part, the popular scoring systems are weighted in such a manner as to encourage hunting the oldest, most mature male animals of a given species. Since older males usually have the most developed horns, tusks, or antlers, this encourages hunters to be very selective when choosing a trophy and discourages the harvesting of females and young animals.
Since only a small percentage of animals are well developed trophies, and those animals are usually older and therefore warier and more difficult to hunt, this has the effect of limiting harvests each year and tends to skew the proportion of animals harvested towards the older age groups. As a result, the animals with the best quality genes usually have ample time to breed multiple times and pass their genetics onto their young before being harvested, thereby preserving desirable genes in the population. Additionally, harvesting older males, who may be near the end of their natural life anyway, tends to have a much less significant long term effect on the overall population of a species than if females or young males were taken.
Additionally, scoring and recording trophy size and quality can provide a useful barometer of the health of a population of animals in a given area. For instance, once a baseline has been established for a given area, a significant decrease in the trophy quality of the animals taken there can serve as an indicator that there is something bad happening in the area and vice versa. This information is useful to wildlife biologists and scientists in order to make good recommendations for regulating hunting seasons and bag limits to appropriately.
Finally, all of the major record keeping organizations have strict codes of ethics that hunters must meet in order to enroll animals in the record books. So, animals taken illegally or during the course of a canned shoot are not eligible for entry. Only animals taken in accordance with the principles of fair chase may be entered into the major record books.
Once again, I’m not knocking those who do not score their trophies and who do not care to do so. However, I’m a firm believer in some of the good things that can come from utilizing the big game scoring that exist and encourage you to do so as well. While it is certainly nice to see you name in a record book, it is also great to know the benefits for conservation that can come from submitting trophies for record with an organization like Safari Club International or the Boone and Crockett Club.