Learn How to Age a Deer in the Right Way
As an experienced hunter, one thing I’ve worked hard at improving over the years is knowing how to age a deer.
We all want to shoot the biggest buck possible, with the best set of antlers, and with years in the field comes the wisdom to which age class a deer is part of.
I manage a small whitetail property, and the last thing I want to do is take out all of the 2 ½-year-old bucks before they age and reach prime antler range. Here, we’ll discuss tips on how to age a deer.
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How to age a deer
1. Young bucks (1 ½ years)
You can tell a young buck as their antlers won’t extend past the ears. They also tend to have a slim, tight body shape as judged by looking at their belly, and at the fact that during the rut they won’t have a bulky Here are some great photos of deer in different age ranges
Take a look at the body size. If it looks about average and has only those small antlers, it’s a young one. The tarsal glands will appear fresh and clean, along with the buck’s facial features.
Its stride may appear a bit clumsy and nervous as well
2. 2 ½ to 3 years
This is the age when it can be a bit confusing because the deer’s body size is approaching what it will be for the remainder of its life. Here’s a hint: look at its belly.
How close it hanging to the ribs and organs? At 2 ½ years, it will still appear thin and youthful. The buck’s movement and stance may still appear a bit awkward and frail, as it hasn’t yet acquired a life’s worth of muscle
Without looking at the antlers, if the buck looks like a full-grown doe but not quite an adult buck, you’re dealing with a buck in the 2-3 year range and its best to let it walk.
I encourage hunters to give themselves that extra second before shooting to look at the antlers and body shape, whenever possible, in order to spare the young ones and make sure they are bagging a trophy. Here is a video about aging deer in the wild:
3. 3 ½ to 4 years
At this point in the buck’s life, it is beginning to develop defining muscle characteristics and appear as a full-fledged adult.
The neck is beginning to swell during the rut and tarsals will show some wear and tear. The stomach will begin to sag a bit, and the neck will begin to meld itself into the shoulder with muscle in a noticeable fashion.
It’s stance and movement have stabilized and are beginning to resemble that of an older buck
The best way to tell if the buck is in this age range is to look at its rack and body characteristics.
Size wise, it will appear older and more fully developed, but by honing in on specific features a hunter can tell that this animal still has a couple years to go before its fully ready
4. 4 ½ years
By this point, the rack and body are developed to the point of resembling a fully aged buck.
When learning how to age a deer in this range, look at the legs first. Instead of the frail and weak stance of younger bucks, those in this age range will feature muscle and strength in their legs and stance, which will also be reflected in their noticeably intentional movement.
The stomach has begun to sag quite a bit, and the entire body weighs enough that the buck will appear to lean backward or have to settle itself when standing still
5. 5 ½-year-old bucks (Primetime!)
This is what we’ve been waiting for, and the reason why we pass on younger bucks.
Take photos of the buck, particularly its developed rack and fully shaped body. A buck that is this old will likely have a full-fledged pot belly and legs that are stocky enough at the top to resemble those of a much less agile creature.
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At this point, you’ll want to take your shot whenever you have the opportunity.
Look for a bulbous nose, muscles protruding the entire body and loose skin. Their movements are direct and well thought out, making these bucks quite a prize for those of us lucky enough to find one
Just writing about older bucks gets me excited for hunting season. Discussing how to age a deer is one of my favorite pastimes, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments.
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With that in mind, please share this article on social media if you found it helpful. Remember, next time you’re in the field, take that extra moment to appreciate that you are hunting an aged buck and let the younger ones scurry along. It benefits us all in the end.