Weight problem: How to accurately size up a deer
By Dave Henderson • February 17, 2010, 7:00 pm
Most hunters can tell you the number of antler points and the weight of every buck they see in the field. And most would be astonished -- and would probably back up that disbelief with belligerence -- to learn that a good-sized buck would barely reach the average man's belt buckle.
Hunters' weight estimates on deer, inflated as they invariably are by adrenaline and sheer ignorance, are worse than fishermen's claims. One cannot readily reach into a tackle box to find a scale capable of settling an argument on the size of an 8-point buck.
The rule of thumb for determining live weight is to add one-third to the field-dressed weight -- but that's of no use without a suitable set of scales.
The average buck taken in New York and Pennsylvania, for instance, is 1.5 years old and field dresses at around 120 pounds, according to wildlife biologists from those states. The heart girth is in the neighborhood of 36 inches.
Minnesota hunter-writer Jeff Murray has handicapped the measuring procedure to adapt it to various regions of the country. In his book, "For Big Bucks Only" (North American Hunting Club, 1989), Murray says the field dressed weight for a deep south buck, including Texas, is 5.6 times the heart girth, minus 94.
Field-dressed weight of the big deer of the upper Midwest can be ascertained, according to Murray, by multiplying the heart girth by 7.7 and subtracting 178. Virtually anywhere else it's a matter of multiplying the girth measurement by 6.5 and subtracting 120.
The farther from the equator a subspecies lives, the larger the body will tend to be, according to a loose interpretation of a biological law known as Bergman's Rule.
The average adult buck (they reach full skeletal size at 4.5 to 5.5 years) in the northern regions of this continent, for instance, approaches 200 pounds. Adult does, whose full development ends at 2.5 years when they begin expending their energy on pregnancy and lactating, are 130-140 pounds.
Yet a biologist on a South Texas ranch once told me that he'd never seen a Texas doe field-dress as much as 100 pounds in his 31 years of hunting and only a handful of bucks that reached 130.
On the other hand, in 1981 a 10-point buck killed on the Duluth Indian Reservation in Minnesota was weighed on certified scales at 402 pounds field dressed. Biologists estimated the live weight at 511 pounds -- and that only tied the record.
How much is meat?
Bob Wylie, an old friend from Binghamton who cut meat for more than 60 years before passing away last year, once itemized just what comes in that fur-bound container and what you can expect to get back.
Fr comparison we used the average New York-Pennsylvania whitetail, which the respective fish and wildlife staff types say is 120 pounds field-dressed.
"You can figure that the head will weigh eight to 10 pounds, depending on the size of the antlers," Bob said. "And the hide will go between 10 and 15 pounds. You'll find that the feet, cut off at the knees, will be one and a half pounds apiece. That should account for about 25-30 pounds total."
If your butcher cuts the meat on a saw, all you're apt to lose after that is 10-12 pounds of ribs and cartilage. But if the carcass is boned, consider the weight discarded with two front shoulders, a pelvis, upper legs and a six-foot vertebrae.
"With an animal that comes in clean and wasn't shot up badly, you might get between 40 and 50 pounds of boned meat."
As if to illustrate the point, Wylie cut up a 134-pound bow-killed buck that night and wrapped it as 57 pounds of boned meat.