If you've ever wondered how to age a deer, here are 3 things to keep in mind the next time you sit in a tree.
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Learning how to age a deer like this may not be as easy as you think. Image via wikicommons
For a variety of reasons deer are the most talked about big game hunting target in America, specifically whitetail deer. In many regions around the world, deer and man have sought the same habitat for eons and coincidentally deer have always been part of the human story. These days not as many folks are obligated to hunt deer as their main source of food, but deer are still a major part of our lives. Some people spend much of their spare time throughout the year planting for, scouting for, practicing with their hunting equipment
, and hunting for deer. To say deer and man share a strong bond is an understatement.
Due to this strong bond, there are many hunters out there who seek to learn as much as possible about deer and their lives. We learn their travel habits, their diet preferences, how they grow and move, and how to manage their populations. One thing that is important to know is how to age a deer. Learning to age a deer lets you know more about the deer you are seeing and can help you better identify a certain buck as a shooter or one to let grow for another year.
For those of you out there who may need a refresher about how to age a deer, here are 3 things to keep in mind for the task.
When aging a deer the first thing to examine is the body shape. You can begin by comparing the legs to the rest of the body. If the deer looks gangly with long legs it is most likely a young deer. In yearlings this will be most pronounced and gradually diminish as they reach maturity at age 5 1/2. Really, by the age 4 1/2 the legs look to be much shorter when compared against the body.
Another thing to look at is the body shape. Young deer have a bit of rounding where their belly meets the back leg. As they age deer lose the sleek look and appear more square. The belly of mature deer is flat from the front leg to the back leg and their body really starts to look like a rectangle.
Finally, when studying the body characteristics of a deer look at the neck. An old deer will have a thicker neck, even outside of the rut, and will appear to be more full overall. Young deer's necks are thin and go along with their gangly appearance.
One of the biggest indicators people use to age deer are the antlers. Although this is by no means an exact science, there are a few general guidelines to follow. The starting point is generally to look at the points of the rack. Yearling bucks have antler growth we are all familiar with. Spikes, forks, even small basket racks are all dead giveaways you are looking at a young deer. When a deer hits 2 1/2 you begin to see the makings of real head gear. The antlers have grown significantly from their size as a yearling and have begun to take shape. A 2 1/2 year old deer will have all the points you would expect to have in a deer, but just not the mass. "Crab claws" are another indication you are seeing a young deer.
As the buck continues to grow into a 3 1/2 year old deer the rack will start to show real growth. The tines will be longer, forks are very defined, and mass will begin to develop. These deer can appear to have fully developed antlers. At this age they also start to develop any points that will define them later on. From here on out bucks typically start to add on more mass than anything and starting at 4 1/2 they have reached 90% of their potential
. By the time they hit 6 1/2 years old they will likely be sporting the largest rack they are capable of and will be fully mature. Although the headgear of each deer is different, those are a few rules to follow.
The last step in learning how to age a deer can only occur after the animal is down. Some say aging a deer by their teeth is the only way to really tell for sure how old the animal is. Aging a deer by their teeth can be a tricky process to explain without the help of pictures though. Generally speaking there are a few big rules to follow.
As yearling, the deer will likely still have small "milk teeth" on their bottom jaw. Also if a deer has three cusps on their third premolar it is a young deer for sure. Eventually a deer will have six permanent teeth on each bottom jaw. The wear on a deer's teeth offers the biggest clues to how old the deer is. The more wear you are seeing, the older the deer is. Here is a great resource
for detailed information and pictures on the subject.
Learning how to age a deer is a good skill for hunters to know. Although each of these steps taken individually will make it difficult to judge the age of your deer, all three of these steps used together can give you a very good indication of the deer's age. By comparing the shape of a deer's body to the antler growth, and then examining the wear of a deer's teeth, you can feel confident in getting the approximate age of a deer.
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