You’ve spent all year to get to this moment, a mature deer walks into your shooting lane. You are ready to draw your bow, but the thought crosses your mind, what would this buck look like next year? Many of us have rolled the dice on this proposition and lost. We let a nice deer walk never to be seen again. Maybe this isn’t your situation, but you are looking through pics on your trail cameras. You are looking at all these deer and you are curious as to how much more the buck can grow.
A great way of knowing whether to harvest that buck is to be able to get a rough estimate of its age. How can you age a deer in the field? Are there any easy indicators of a whitetail’s age? Whether you want to know these questions because you want a trophy buck, or just because you are curious, keep reading as we answer these questions.
Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!
One of the most common and accurate ways of aging deer is by examining their teeth from their lower jaw. That is great, but how is that going to work in the field in a split-second shoot or don’t shoot scenario? Luckily for whitetail hunters everywhere, there are several ways you can get a rough estimate of a deer’s age quickly and relatively accurately. One of the best ways to do this is to keep track of the characteristics of whitetail age classes.
Whitetail deer are separated into different age groups in increments of one year as soon as they hit six months and are done being fawns. The reason to use whitetail age characteristics is because it is uniform and very efficient. Since there are several characteristics to each age group, you can check several different bodily features very quickly and make your estimate. There is not that much to remember for each age group, so it will be well worth your time to memorize a few characteristics for each specific age group.
Almost everyone can recognize a fawn. They are much smaller than adult deer, and if they are young enough, they will still have white spots on them. No hunter likes to shoot a fawn instead of a doe, so it is worth memorizing these characteristics. They generally have skinny legs, short necks, larger ears, in addition to appearing more carefree. They might not be as cautious as they move, so this is another characteristic to keep in mind. Almost everyone can recognize fawns, though it can get trickier when they have matured enough to look like a doe.
1.5 Yr Old Bucks
It is a safe bet that most hunters can tell these young bucks apart from more mature bucks very easily. It is always better to be safe than sorry, as these bucks have a long time to grow and mature. Easy ways to see a 1 ½ year buck include long looking legs, long and thin necks, and virtually no brisket hanging off their neck.
With these yearling bucks, there will be very little visible muscle, as you will see the separation between bones easily. Their antlers are very small, as they have not had enough time to mature and grow yet. Except in rare cases, the antlers should not be as wide as their ears yet. A common adage you will hear is that 1 ½ year bucks look like a doe with antlers. If you are a discriminating trophy hunter, you will let these young bucks pass. If you are not so picky, these are not bad deer to shoot, but you will get more meat from an older deer.
2.5 Yr Old Bucks
Many hunters will still be able to tell that 2 ½ year old bucks are not mature yet, as they are not defined like more mature bucks. The legs on these deer will still look too long for their body because their body has not been filled in yet. Muscles are becoming visible in the shoulders and neck, but they still are not defined muscles like older bucks. Their waist is still thin, though it can start to curve upwards towards their back legs. There will be a good amount of tarsal gland staining while the rut is on. Finally, their antlers will be at least as wide and possibly wider than their ears.
3.5 Yr Old Bucks
When a deer hunter pictures a whitetail buck, a three-year-old is probably what pops into their mind. At this age, bucks are strong, yet agile. They look like the best of both worlds and appear to be in their prime. This age group has grown into their legs very well. They have heavily defined muscles in their shoulders and neck and they look very powerful. People often liken three-year-old bucks to racehorses, as they look strong, lean, and fast. Look for heavy tarsal gland staining, as these bad boys are in their prime.
4.5 + Yr Old Bucks
After reaching three and half years, it can be hard to tell how old a buck is. Whitetail bucks all mature differently, and this can lead to a wide range of physical characteristics. In general, any buck over three and a half years will appear very muscle bound. They won’t look like racehorses, as they look more muscular than fast.
At four to six years old, bucks will have their maximum antler size, and it is quite rare that bucks ever reach their maximum size, as they often die of disease, hunting, or car accidents by that point. All bucks past three and a half years will have tons of tarsal gland staining during the rut, be highly muscular, and have waists that hang down at the same level as their chests. These bucks are very mature and most hunters would be thrilled to harvest one.
Keep in mind that aging whitetail deer can vary greatly from region to region. A 3.5 year old buck in Saskatchewan will look completely different compared to a 3.5 year old south Texas buck. If you are happy with the deer that is front of you, go full send and don’t look back. They are all tasty treats in my opinion. We hope this How To Age A Deer in the field guide helps you in the field both hunting and scouting.