Deer Hunting: Estimating A Buck’s Age

By GrowingDeer,

  Filed under: Deer Hunting, Hunting Blog, White-tailed Deer

I’ve received tons of requests to estimate the age of bucks on the 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.

This is a great example of a 3 1/2 year old buck.

This is a great example of a 3 1/2 year old buck.

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,