One of the most inexact sciences out there is aging a deer. You don’t use any kind of equipment. There is no laboratory, no number crunching on a calculator, and no measuring device of any kind. There’s just you, your ability to physically observe, and your experience.
How to age a whitetail buck is more of an art, whose canvas is constructed over years of experience watching, tracking, and hunting whitetail bucks. Someone laying eyes on a buck for the first time will find it more challenging to age the buck than a veteran hunter.
It’s not the most accurate thing in the world. But you will find that the more you observe, the better you get. Aging a buck is useful in population management. Whitetail bucks don’t live more than 4½ years on average, so it’s information worth taking the time to collect.
How to Age a Whitetail Buck
Your goal is to establish a rough estimate, not to calculate the exact day the buck was born until the moment that it’s standing in front of you right now. The Wildlife Society Bulletin published a study on the accuracy of hunters and observers attempting to age whitetail bucks.
The results were a mixed bag, with the highest accuracy among young whitetail bucks that were 1½ years old. The accuracy percentage was 62%. Not exactly something that would survive heavy scientific scrutiny. Fortunately, you’re not trying to write a peer-reviewed, scientific study.
When you’re aging a buck, you’re looking at a few characteristics and coming up with a number based on your years of observations either hunting or just out in the field. It’s best to take your notes when the buck is presenting itself broadside, rather than head-on or from behind.
- Length of the buck’s legs
- The sway of the chest
- The shape and sway of the back
- The belly
If you’re wondering why the antlers aren’t included in the list, it’s because antlers aren’t a reliable aging factor. A lot of hunters may disagree, and that’s fine, but it is what it is. The best time of the year to age a whitetail buck is in the month of November.
Younger bucks will be more slender and occasionally gangly looking than their more seasoned peers. They have smaller heads at 1½ years and heads that equal their neck width at 2½ years.
Once you get into three years and beyond, bucks take on a more blocky appearance, becoming more and more shaped like a horse, in form, if not in actual size.
What’s the Most Accurate Way to Age a Deer
The most accurate method is to use a reference point. Judging by the antlers or the head is often a waste of time because every buck is different. One thing that bucks all share in common, however, assuming that they are well-fed, is their body proportions.
That makes your camera your new best friend. The idea is to take photos throughout all of your exploits, mostly trying to capture bucks at varying ages with broadside shots. If you can find one, purchase a poster with aging references alongside a photo.
Charts are great, but nothing beats a good photo reference. Good photographs of the buck in your neck of the woods are the best. That’s because these are your bucks. They’re the ones you see every day. You know what they’re eating, and you’re in the best position to either manage or observe their management.
Can you Tell a Deer’s Age by its Antlers
Judging a buck’s age by its antlers is probably the least accurate and dependable method for aging whitetail bucks. That’s because every buck is different. They go through different experiences. They may be eating something different.
It’s like trying to tell the difference between a man and a woman by observing a pair of sneakers from a distance. There are more telling features to look for, and they all reside in the body and form of the buck.
If there is one thing that is alike with all bucks, assuming they are all getting plenty of food and aren’t starved, it’s the body. If a buck reaches the age of five, it will have the same broad chest, rectangular body, slightly swayed back, and sag in the belly.
Aging whitetail bucks is not something you can be good at right off the bat unless you’re some sort of animal prodigy. It takes time and a lot of observation. You will improve as time goes on.
This is especially true once you learn to eliminate or altogether ignore factors that aren’t contributing ones, such as antlers. We all know that a typical, senior buck is going to have a large rack, but the rack differs enough from buck to buck that it’s an unreliable gauge.
Find yourself a good, visual reference, even if you have to create your own. With that in hand, you’ll move forward in leaps and bounds in terms of your ability to look at a buck and estimate its age.
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