PA: Picture this: Computer scores buck’s antlers

Greensburg, Pa. – Some deer, like fish, are prone to
shrinkage.

See them while small-game hunting, out the truck window or in the
glow of a spotlight, and they can look huge, like record-book
quality monsters. Shoot them, though, and they turn out to be nice,
but far smaller than expected.

But what if you could tell for sure – to an almost dead certainty –
just how big a buck was and how high its antlers would score before
every drawing back your bowstring or pulling a trigger?

Well, now you can.

A Westmoreland County native is the creator of Buckscore, a
computer program that can take a picture of a deer – from, say, a
trail camera – and tell you what its gross Boone & Crockett
score would be.

Jeremy Flinn, who grew up in Manor, perfected the program as part
of his master’s degree project in wildlife biology at Mississippi
State University.

One of his professors, Steve Demarais, had tinkered with the system
for a while, but couldn’t get it to work, Flinn said. Demarais did
not return a call seeking comment.

But Flinn perfected it, and now serves as general manager for
Buckscore, which shares part of its royalties with the
university.

“It’s a fun tool,” said the 26-year-old Flinn. “People are always
talking about seeing this deer or that deer and guessing how big it
is and what it might score. This can give you that answer, while
the deer is still alive.”

The program works using photos. You enter the program, then trace
the deer’s main beams, its points and its inside spread. Buckscore
turns that into a three-dimensional image, “as if you had that rack
in your hands,” said Flinn, who now lives in Kentucky.

From there, it gives you a score.

With a single picture from either the side, front or a 45 angle,
the program can be 95 percent accurate, Flinn said. With all three
photos, it can be 98 percent accurate.

The system is based on deer’s facial features. Flinn and others
measured the racks and faces of 600 mounted deer and dozens more
sedated deer from a research facility. Pennsylvania Game Commission
biologists even chipped in by supplying measurements from 110 deer
from this state. The result was a program that can be amazingly
accurate, Flinn said.

“I always tell guys, the first time you score a deer, you might not
be right on. But once you do two or three deer, you start to get
more accurate. You get the hang of it and can fly right through,”
he said.

Scoring a deer typically takes less than five minutes, he
said.

Purchasers of the program – it’s $10 at www.buckscore.com – get
unlimited use of it, so you can gets lots of practice, measuring
one deer or 1,000.

The program has real-life applications, too, said Toxie Givens, a
website developer, hunter and blogger. He lives in Jacksonville,
Fla., but is a member of a hunt club in Macon, Ga., and has been
using Buckscore.

“It’s a real good tool for managing your herd or for just looking
at the size of deer you have,” said Givens. “To be able to look at
your deer and score them pretty accurately, it’s
educational.”

He and his hunting partners are especially looking forward to using
Buckscore to tell how their deer are responding to food plots
they’ve developed. They believe they’ve got three bucks in the
150-class who survived this year’s hunting season. They’re looking
forward to measuring them – before killing them – if they make it
to next fall.

“We’ll be able to tell while the deer are still roaming out there
if they’re still getting bigger and maybe approaching the 170-class
or better,” he said.

Flinn marketed Buckscore at the Quality Deer Management
Association’s fall convention, at the SHOT Show – the hunting
industry’s annual convention in Las Vegas – in January, and will be
at the QDMA booth at the Eastern Sports, Travel and Outdoors Show
in Harrisburg Feb. 5 to 7.

The big push to sell Buckscore will begin this summer, in the
run-up to deer season, he said.

Bushnell Outdoor Products, an industry giant best known for its
optics, has agreed to partner in its promotion, as has QDMA and Jim
Shockey, host of “Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures” on the Outdoor
Channel.

Plans to expand Buckscore are in the works, too. Right now it works
on any Windows platform. A version applicable to Mac computers,
iPhones and iPads is in the works, Flinn said.

All will work the same way. Once you’ve initially downloaded the
program, you no longer need to be connected to the Internet to make
it work, so you can score deer at home, at camp or anywhere else,
Flinn said.

Also in development is an addition to the program that will
estimate the age of deer in photos. That needs a bit of fine-tuning
yet, Flinn said. But it’s already close.

Flinn and his associates showed photos of deer of known age to deer
biologists from around the country at a convention. They were asked
to guess the ages of those animals. Buckscore was then asked to do
the same.

“It actually scored better than the average professional
biologist,” Flinn said. “And I was one of the people who took the
test and it beat me.”

Flinn is hoping – and expecting – the program to do well.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re scoring record-book-quality bucks or
typical 8-points you’re getting on your property, everyone can use
it and still have fun figuring out just what’s out there,” he
said.

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