McKean Minute: TPI – A New Way to Measure Hunting Trophies

We’ve all been there. You show a buddy a picture of your latest buck. His first question: “What’d he score?” The quantity of antler and horn has become established shorthand for the relative value of the animals that carry headgear.

Even those hunters who understand that there’s more to a hunt than a Boone and Crockett or Pope & Young score routinely assess the dimensions of an animal with a number. There’s a reason: it’s a yardstick that we all know and recognize, even if we don’t always recall how a trophy’s score is calculated. We like numbers. We like rankings. In that way, a buck’s B&C score is like a thermometer. It’s one thing to say to your buddy, “It’s nice out. Sunny and warm and seems like a great day.” It’s another to say, “It’s 72 degrees.”

I’m proposing a different scoring method, one that measures what to me is the true trophy dimensions of a game animal: its meat. The Total Palatability Index, or TPI, measures the amount and quality of meat from a wild animal. I introduced this concept last week on the On Gravel podcast (what, you say? You don’t subscribe? You must, to feed your ears the same sort of delicacies that you are right now feeding your eyes) and, since the idea was still young, I proposed calling this the TMI, or Toothsome Meat Index. I still like the acronym, but because few people know what the term “toothsome” means, I changed things up slightly.

How, you ask, does the TPI work? Know first that we’re still sorting out some of the details, including how to assess meat from wildly different critters, but here’s the ingredients of a TPI score:


This is poundage, pure and simple. A mature bull elk will have a higher TMI than a fox squirrel. But please be aware that this quantity is measured at home, after getting the meat out of the field, and after removing bloodshot or dirty or other compromised meat. And also know that a high TMI can easily be reduced through a series of deductions, detailed below.


This is the measurement of the taste and tenderness of the meat. High PQ is achieved through a number of variables, including the youth and sex of the animal. A young whitetail doe, for instance will have a high PQ, and a young whitetail doe that lived its life among the corn and soybeans of its home range will likely have a higher PQ than a similarly aged doe that lived in a cattail slough in North Dakota. But be aware that PQ is highly subjective. One hunter may like a certain funk associated with the mule deer rut, but that might reduce the PQ for another hunter, who wants a milder taste profile to their venison.


We need to account for the relative scarcity of the animal in our sights and, with luck, on our plates. A species that is relatively uncommon—think bighorn sheep or ocellated turkey—will have a higher AB than a whitetail or Eastern wild turkey simply because we have the opportunity to ingest them so infrequently. The AB can double, triple, or even quadruple both the PQ and the TMI, depending on other variables.


The SEI is simply a measure of the amount of work required to bring the meat to your table. High SEI is achieved in a backcountry hunt, in which you might have to make multiple muscle-searing hikes from the kill to your pickup, carrying your meat out of the field in a backpack. Example of a low SEI hunt: a farmland deer hunt in which you drove your pickup right up to your whitetail. Note that SEI can be inversely proportionate to both TMI and PQ.

Next week we’ll put the TPI to work in a number of theoretical scenarios, and we’ll discuss how to go about achieving trophy-class TPI.

Until then, we welcome input. As Theodore Roosevelt and William Hornady labored in the early days of the Boone and Crockett Club to develop a method of scoring and ranking trophy big-game heads, we understand the Total Palatability Index will take time, deep consideration, and disagreement to get right. So let us hear from you about how we take deductions, how we recognize trophy-class TPI candidates, but mainly how we start to turn discussions from quantities of antler to quantities of excellent, natural, and priceless quantities of wild game meat.

Bon appetite. Or, as my dear deceased father might say, “Bone Ape Tit.”


3 thoughts on “McKean Minute: TPI – A New Way to Measure Hunting Trophies”

  1. In my opinion, the “Total meat index” should not be based on weight alone. It would be more accurate to base it on the weight of useable meat as a percentage of the animal’s total weight. That way a great Turkey harvest could have a comparable score to a great Deer harvest. It takes into account the quality of the animal against its species and mirr against all animals.

    Just a thought.

  2. I don’t understand any of this scoring nonsense. I’ve bow hunted big game all over North America and horn size and antler size and body size means absolutely nothing. A larger rack animal does not mean the animal is smarter nor harder to kill. It doesn’t mean the hunter killing it is a better hunter than a hunter killing a smaller racked animal. Actually, I believe this rack size thing is a way for the industry to get hunters to buy their products and it’s fuel for anti hunters to defeat us at the voting booth.

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