No single factor can be used
to conclusively judge the age of a deer in the field. The picture at right
illustrates the main indicators that should be evaluated overall to get
a good estimate for a buck. The individual indicators will often vary a
little from one region of Texas to the next, and sometimes even within
an individual herd. If you can view known age bucks (ear tagged as fawns)
in the area, you can quickly get a better read on your local herd's distinguishing
Using the Rack as Indication
Notice that the rack (antlers) is
not depicted above as an indicator. While some very general statements
can be made about antler developmental characteristics at certain ages
of a buck, the rack is the least reliable of any indicator. Remembering
that these statements have MANY EXCEPTIONS, antlers generally gain mass
as the buck ages, generally get darker as the buck ages, generally get
wider as the buck ages, and will get any nontypical points in it's genetics
once the buck has matured body wise. So, if a buck's antlers are wider
than it's ears, dark in color, seem thick in the beam circumferences, and
have some nontypical points, chances are good that the buck is mature.
Because of the tooth wear, a post mature buck's rack may actually start
getting smaller from year to year, but they usually keep the basal circumference,
then it will thin out quickly from there.
Many people think they could
never mistake a buck fawn for a doe, but every year we have too many of
those same folks wind up doing just that. On the head, the pedicels (nubs)
are the most obvious clue. The ears will appear long, and the nose will
appear short. The body will be smaller than the adult doe's, but is bigger
than a doe fawn, so be careful. The legs look long and skinny, and the
gait is usually frisky, often frolicking. The tarsal glands will be small
and snow white. Does seldom travel alone, so give it a few minutes to see
if more deer show up for comparison. I've seen many buck fawns by themselves.
1 AND 1/2 YEARS
At this age, a buck looks like a
doe with antlers. There will usually be a slight dip in the back. They
have a thin neck, no defined brisket, white tarsal glands, and the belly
line has a distinct up turn near the hams. This gives it a greyhound racing
dog sort of look. The legs still look very long, and the gait is still
pretty frisky. They will make unwanted sexual advances on does, but are
very timid in the presence of older bucks.
2 AND 1/2 YEARS
At two and a half, the animal starts
bulking up a tad, but just a tad. The neck will be bigger than a doe or
yearling buck, but not much. The legs still look fairly long. The face
looks long and the skin tight. Eyes are near perfectly round. Slightly
developed brisket. The belly still has somewhat of an upturn near the hams.
The tarsal gland may have some color to it. The rump appears squared off.
3 AND 1/2 YEARS
A three and a half year old buck
reminds me of a racehorse. They are usually very lean muscle, and act ready
for action. They may make rubs and scrapes if no bigger bucks are present.
The nose lengthens and broadens, The head will look as long as it's going
to look during their life. Eyes are still very round. The brisket is noticeable
but not pronounced. Legs look the right length now. The belly line is flat,
with just a little up turn at the rear. The tarsal gland will be dark in
rut. Rump starts looking more rounded at times and squared off at times,
depending on stance. Back line is flat.
4 AND 1/2 YEARS
If fed well, a 4 and a half
year old buck really starts looking like a buck. The giveaways now are
the back and belly lines, and the head. On level ground, the back will
have a slight dip only, and the belly will not hang below the chest line.
The head skin will not look tight or loose, and the eyes aren't quite round
anymore. When one of these bucks walk, they still pick their feet up pretty
good, and the front knees won't look bent in when the deer is walking toward
you. Rump is getting pretty round, and tarsal glands will be black when
near or in rut. Nontypical points may start to show up now.
5 AND 1/2 YEARS
This one gets hard to pass up. Unless
your herd is well managed, most bucks don't make it to this old, but you
should actually let a buck get at least 6 before you hammer them to achieve
maximum antler potential. Now, the eye will obviously not be round anymore,
it starts to look squinty. The brisket is obvious where it joins the neck.
The belly hangs even with the chest or starts to hang below it a bit. They
start walking a bit knock kneed. They seem more deliberate in their actions.
Skin on head starts looking a bit loose. Often have nontypical points.
6 AND 1/2 YEARS
When a six year old walks out,
it's usually pretty obvious who is boss. All other deer pay attention.
He is on top of his game and knows it. Actions are very deliberate, like
a big bull swaggering in. The front knees bend in to handle the weight
of the neck and rack. The belly and back sags from years of fighting gravity.
When relaxed, the ears tend to droop down a bit for the same reason. The
rump is well rounded. The brisket obvious. Eyes are squinted; almost mean
looking. With good nutrition, all nontypical points in his genes will pop
out now. This is what you've waited for. TAKE HIM!
PAST 6 AND 1/2 YEARS
When a buck's teeth wear out, somewhere
between 7 and 9 years old in normal habitat, antler and body conditions
deteriorate. It is actually fairly easy to mistake a 9 year old deer for
a 3 or 4 year old deer. The giveaway indicators though are the head,
neck and rump. Also, muscle tone. The head will continue to have the loose
skin, and the eyes will still be squinty, as in other mature bucks. The
rump, however, will lose mass, not appearing rounded anymore. It won't
be smoothly squared off like a young buck, either. It will be bony looking.
The back may also be bony looking. Even the shoulders won't look so well
muscled, and the neck certainly won't. I've noticed also that just like
old men tend to get gray hair, an old buck tends to look lighter in color
than other deer in the area. Not gray so much, but more of a lighter brown.
Often, the hair also appears course.