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Age and Aging

Photo by Hardy Jackson
Photo By Hardy Jackson
Most folks know biologists can age deer after the harvest by examining the lower jaw for tooth wear and replacement. But, many hunters don’t realize that they also need to be able to age deer – and not just dead ones, but live ones in the field! You see, aging before pulling the trigger is critical to making good harvest decisions.

While aging harvested or live deer takes practice, managers and hunters alike need to learn to how. As for aging by tooth wear and replacement, there are many good go-bys that will illustrate how to go about it. We’re not going to go into that here, but we will take a look at aging in the field.

Every hunter needs to be fairly good at field-aging 1.5 to 3.5-year-old bucks. Serious managers need to be reasonably accurate through 6.5 and pretty decent at aging does. All this takes familiarity with the local herd, a basic knowledge of the year-classes and practice.

Yearlings, or 1.5’s, are the easiest to age. Slender-necked, thin-bodied and long-legged, they look like does with antlers. Their racks range from spikes to tiny 8-pointers and will usually fit inside a baseball cap.

A 2.5 is bigger and thicker in the neck and chest than a yearling but still is relatively slender-bodied, long-legged and retains the big-eyed look of innocence. A 2.5’s rack can be decent sized, commonly sporting 8-points or more, but is typically ear-width or less and noticeably lacking in mass.

When a buck reaches 3.5, he is considered mature, though he is a couple of years away from reaching his full antler and body size. While he still retains some characteristics of youth – elongated face, big eyes and straight belly and back, signs of maturity are clearly evident – a thick neck and chest, aggressive attitude and well-developed rack. The goal of most quality buck management programs is to grow bucks to at least 3.5 before harvesting them as “trophies.”

A 4.5 is a prime athlete – thick-necked, deep-chested, well-muscled and sporting an attitude. About the only remaining sign of his passing youth is his relatively straight back and belly, which is absent the sag that’ll come later. His face is blocky now, and he has lost the big-eyed look of youth. His rack is “full-sized” and can be of record-book dimensions…if he has the right food and genetics. Often, this is the age when a buck grows his best “net” typical rack since non-typical points tend to start showing up in the years to follow.

A 5.5 is the stereotypical healthy, virile prime-breeder and will be sporting one of the best racks of his life. He is a little bulkier, his belly is fuller, his face a bit blockier than a 4.5. He almost surely will have a noticeable flap of lose skin under his chin. In intensively managed programs aimed at growing the biggest bucks possible, 5.5 is often the minimum age at which top-end bucks are harvested.

At 6.5, age is starting to show – belly and back sag noticeably, eyes are squinty, the face is blocky and a chin flap is obvious. Because they are so deep in the chest and belly and so bulked up, they often have a short-legged look. This is also one of their best antler years, and if genetically so dispositioned, non-typical points – stickers, drops, forks, burr points, etc. – often add interest to their rack.

Bucks 7.5 and older show their age – sagging belly and back, lost muscle tone, chin flap, “dewlap,” graying face, squinty eyes, Roman nose. They have a stiff, arthritic walk. Good mass but shorter tines and beams often mark older age, and non-typical points are common. No matter their rack size, these old survivors are rare “trophies” to be prized and appreciated.

Next time, were going to look at the data you need to manage your deer herd and how to get it. I’m David Morris. See you then.


Posted by David Morris on 09/08 at 12:47 AM
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