MISSOULA, Mont. — In the world of big game and whitetail deer hunting, numbers seem to mean everything to hunters dreaming of the ultimate wallhanger.
As in "Nice buck — what did he score?"
But today, arguably, no collection of numbers in the last century has meant more to the health and well-being of North America's rich and abundant horned and antlered game animal resources than those of 1887.
That was the year that future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt founded the Boone & Crockett Club, a conservation organization designed to help save North American wildlife species that were disappearing at an alarming rate.
Today, 121 years later, the Boone & Crockett Club stands as one of the primary guardians of wildlife conservation, fair chase hunting ethics, conservation education, and the continuing chronicling of the best big game specimens that the continent has ever offered up.
"If you remember back in the 1800s, it was a free-for-all on big game species with no limits, no restrictions, no seasons, no laws, and there was also market hunting. As a result, big-game species and wildlife numbers plummeted," said Jack Reneau, director of the B&C Club's Big Game Records program.
"Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell were alarmed about the problem and they put together the Boone & Crockett Club.
"Can you imagine what a daunting task they faced?"
"The original purpose of the Boone & Crockett Club's records was to document what was there (at the time) and to save that information for future generations," he said. "It wasn't for bragging purposes; it was to record what was there before they went extinct."
Reneau says that the first-known effort to score big-game specimens occurred at an 1895 sportsman's exhibition held in New York City at Madison Square Garden.
In 1902, a committee — including Roosevelt — was set up to devise a scoring system by which all big-game animals could be measured. That system was unveiled in 1906 as the Bronx Zoo was attempting to obtain hunter harvested specimens of big-game animals to display to future generations.
"You've got to think about how gloomy this must have been since they were dedicated to preserving a record of vanishing big-game species," Reneau said.
"Basically, the National Collection (at the Bronx Zoo) was going to be a collection of extinct animals so that people would be able to come to the zoo in the future and see what animals there were around the world in the past that don't exist anymore."
But that was then, and this is now, a time when thankfully, big-game species are thriving all around the continent and even across many portions of the world.
"Because of wildlife conservation, that didn't happen fortunately, and what it (the Boone & Crockett Club's record keeping system) is now is a recording of the successes of wildlife conservation," Reneau said.
In fact, today, with some big game species at modern highs and with world record class animals being taken every few years, Reneau is concerned that North American hunters may not have a complete understanding of the history of wildlife species and hunting on this continent.
"I don't think that a lot of people have a real sense of where we've been," he said.
But what Reneau is sure of is that Roosevelt and Grinnell and other B&C founding fathers would be very pleased to know how wildlife species have been brought back from the verge of extinction.
Especially in a modern world complete with roadways jam packed with automobiles, rapid air travel, development and urban sprawl, and high-tech industries that all compete for land that serves as valuable wildlife habitat.
"I think that today they would be very pleased with the success of the club," Reneau said. "They were the right people at the right time to make a difference.
"They had a blank slate with no laws, no rules, and no regulations — I don't know if they made them up as they went, but however they did it, it has obviously worked."
While most hunters think of the Boone & Crockett Club as the holy grail for bagging a trophy specimen, Reneau states that record keeping remains only a small fraction of what the B&C Club is and does.
"We could quit record keeping tomorrow and the Boone & Crockett Club would still be the Boone & Crockett Club," he said.
In addition to the records program, the B&C Club is heavily involved in the educating of the next generation of conservation heroes with the development of a K-12 national grade school program and the establishment of several endowed professorships at various universities around the nation including Colorado State University, the University of Montana, Oregon State, and Texas A&M among others.
Likewise, B&C is heavily involved in the ongoing legislative process at the government level.
"Since its founding, the Boone & Crockett Club has been at the head of every major piece of conservation legislation," Reneau said.
"From duck stamps to the Pittman-Robertson Act to various hunting laws and regulations, that work continues to this day.
"Today, we may take for granted refuges, national forests, and national parks, but the creation of every one of those initiatives had club members involved in them with Theodore Roosevelt right at the top."
Along with the Club's "Fair Chase" quarterly publication and its' "Big Game Profiles" television segments, Reneau points out that the Club was heavily involved in last week's White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy and a Conservation Education School for Leaders event this week.
Not content to rest on its laurels, the Club will continue to look for other ways to ensure that a century from now, the work that Teddy Roosevelt and others started in the late 1800s remains a gleaming success.
"We're worried about 'Am I going to get a permit this year,'" Reneau said. "Thank goodness the permits are even there.
"We're lucky that we have anything because some guys came along at the right time and started the Boone & Crockett Club."