I’ve received tons of requests to estimate the age of bucks on the GrowingDeer.tv Facebook page recently. It seems one of the toughest bucks to accurately estimate the age of is a 3 ½ year old. On most properties a 3 ½ year old buck appears more mature than most bucks. There will always be some natural mortality– so there will usually be fewer 3 year olds than bucks that are 1 ½ or 2 ½. The shoulders of three year old bucks often appear much more developed than younger bucks.
Another complicating factor is that typically 3 ½ year old bucks have expressed approximately 75% of their antler growth potential. So they are carrying a nice rack! All the above factors make it easy to overestimate the age of 3 ½ year old bucks.
When evaluating a camera survey or – even more importantly – when making a shoot or don’t shoot decision while hunting (Watch GDTV #103), I try to focus on body characteristics and not the antlers. I look to see if the buck’s back is straight or bowed (like an old saddle horse). A straight back is an indication that the buck is 3 ½ years old or younger. Likewise I look at his belly. A flat, tight belly is another sign the buck is 3 ½ or younger.
Bucks that are 4 years old or older often have a distinct hump over their shoulders. Three year old bucks can look like they have a hump over their shoulder in some postures – but 4 year old and older bucks almost always appear to have a hump over their shoulders in all postures.
Finally, I imagine placing a 2” x 4” tucked tight right behind their front legs and under their chest. Think of this as a balance rod. If the buck obviously tilts toward his rear, he’s most likely 2 years old or younger. If he balances on the 2” x 4” he’s probably 3 ½ years old. If the buck has the shape of a buffalo and would tip toward his head he’s most likely 4 years old or older.
The 2” x 4” technique of aging deer on the hoof has worked very well for me. I hope you have an opportunity to try it from a stand soon!
Growing Deer together,