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GRANT: This time of year a lot of my buddies will tag a good buck, send me a picture and say, “Hey, Grant, how old do you think he was?” But I’ve got to tell you, there’s no way to accurately estimate the age of a buck by looking at a picture of him laying on the ground and a hunter blocking half the view, holding the antlers.

GRANT: Bucks don’t look natural when they’re laying on the ground all crumpled up.

GRANT: To accurately estimate the age of a buck based on a photo, the deer needs to be perpendicular or sideways to the camera, standing normal with its head in an upright, normal position.

GRANT: This is the same posture used to estimate the age of horses. Horse buyers have been estimating a horse’s age based on its look, the sway of its back, how developed the shoulders are for decades. And it’s the same technique we use to estimate a buck’s age when they’re on the hoof.

GRANT: Let’s start with year and a half old bucks. Heck, let’s start a little earlier. You see two fawns out in the field. And one of them is about 10 or 20 percent bigger than the other one, it’s likely the bigger one is a male fawn.

GRANT: Males tend to grow quicker than female fawns. They’re typically the first deer in the field, if you’ve noticed. You’re sitting there in the late season. You need to get a few more does off the property. And one comes in by itself and it’s just active and moving on. You say, “Oh, man, I’ve got a doe.” Boom. Walk up to it; take a peek. It’s often a button buck.

GRANT: Button bucks roam more than female fawns and they get further away from the does. They’re kind of like young boys – pretty aggressive. So, if you’re trying to harvest does, you want to avoid tagging a button buck, try to get a couple of them together.

GRANT: In late season, we’ve been harvesting some does. Be careful because you get a big and a small. It could be a button buck and a female fawn.

GRANT: Moving on up to when they’ve got antlers. Let’s look at yearling bucks. Bucks that are a year and half old during the hunting season.

GRANT: Easy to identify even where there’s ag and really high-quality nutrition. Because it will appear their legs are too long. We’re used to seeing pictures of mature deer. And yearling bucks haven’t developed a full chest or even tummy. And so it’s not hanging down and we can see more of their legs.

GRANT: So, it makes them look like their legs are too long. Some people say they look gangly – long legs. And even during the rut, the swollen neck won’t even come close to merging with the chest at the brisket. It’s way high on the chest. That’s a yearling buck.

GRANT: A simple way to estimate if a buck is two or older is cover the antlers, if you will. Don’t look at the antlers and see if that body looks like a mature doe.

GRANT: Two-year-old bucks are still relatively immature as far as bucks go. And their shoulders are not fully developed. Their legs are still a little gangly; still look a little long. Not as much as a yearling, but their chest and belly are not as developed as a mature deer. So they’re not sagging down, blocking that view.

GRANT: A two-year-old buck, again, looks like a mature doe without a swayed back.

GRANT: A three-year-old buck is kind of in that prime of life. They’re physically fit unless they’ve been injured. Boy, they look good. They’re starting to get some developed shoulders. Usually, you see some muscle development in the shoulders of a three-year-old buck.

GRANT: And the neck is larger, especially during the rut. But still, it’s not swollen enough. It’s not developed enough to merge with the chest at the brisket. There’s gonna be a gap between the brisket and where that neck extends down on the chest.

GRANT: One last tip on a three-year-old buck. The shoulders and the hams will be about the same size. Kind of imagine if you took a 2×4 and put it right behind the front legs of that buck and picked up. It would probably come pretty close to balancing. It’s not leaning way back, like on a yearling buck because the shoulders are not developed.

GRANT: But a three-year-old is probably going to balance.

GRANT: You’re sitting on the edge of the field or in the timber. And boy, you see a good buck. If you can just imagine quickly. Put that 2×4 right behind the front legs and pick up and it tips forward, don’t worry about estimating the age. Just pull the trigger.

GRANT: What I’m saying is, four-year-old and older bucks have really developed front shoulders. We call that a buffalo shape. Think about a buffalo where the shoulders and the head is so much bigger than the back of the body.

GRANT: That’s what you get into when you get into a four, five-year-old age class. Those shoulders and neck are really developed and they’re obviously more mass in that area than in the tail end.

GRANT: Five-year-olds take that even more to an extreme. And if you see a five, six, seven-year-old during the rut, well, that neck it’s gonna merge with the chest at the brisket. It’s like there is no neck. You just chest up and then a head setting on top. Almost like an NFL lineman. I mean, that chest is big and full. The neck is big and full and then there’s a head setting on top.

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GRANT: Years ago, I was taught that if you’re a hunter that really enjoys harvesting mature deer you’re passing up some younger bucks, waiting on that mature deer. And you’re out hunting and you see a buck and you’re kind of, “Well is it old enough? Is it not?” Well, it’s probably not. Because they all look bigger and more mature on the hoof than when you walk up to them on the ground.

GRANT: I want to back up just a moment and put emphasis on a word I’ve been using – estimated age. These are estimates. They’re not the exact known age. We don’t have a birth certificate. We weren’t’ there when the fawn was born.

GRANT: You see a wild, free-ranging buck out there and you’re trying to estimate the age, it is that. It’s an estimate. Hopefully, it works out.

GRANT: If you’re a hunter that’s really particular about what age class buck you harvest, then give the buck the benefit of the doubt. If you’re on the line, wait and find one that the criteria really pushes you over the edge and you believe that that buck is certainly that old or older.

GRANT: I’d also like to draw your attention to the fact that I haven’t mentioned antlers as part of my age estimating technique. There’s some general trends, right?

GRANT: It’s rare we’re going to see a spiked buck with a small frame and it’s seven years old. That’s probably not going to happen.

GRANT: But, when you’re talking about in general. You know, 120, 150, 160 class deer, there’s no reference to an age.

GRANT: You may be in an area – south Florida – really poor soil – and you saw a deer that’s 130 or 40; really good chance that’s not a yearling or a two-year-old buck. But certainly, in big ag areas, it happens every year that people harvest 130, 140, even a 160-inch deer that’s two years old.

GRANT: In fact, throughout the whitetails’ range, oftentimes the super bucks – the Michael Jordan of bucks – is harvested as an immature deer.

GRANT: You know, who is going to pass up a 160 walking by? Not many, to be honest. Some guys may say so, but not many. But this year already, I’ve seen a jawbone that clearly indicated that buck was two and a half years old and he scored over 160 inches.

GRANT: Most of us get way more trail camera pictures of bucks than we see in the field. And it’s easy to understand why. Our trail cameras are out there working 24/7 while we’ve got to go to work every now and then.

GRANT: So, if you want to estimate the age of bucks where you’re hunting using your trail camera pictures, it’s important to place that trail camera where you’ll get that broadside or perpendicular view and the deer’s head is up in that position. And a great way to do that is position trail cameras where they’re overlooking a scrape.

GRANT: When deer come into a scrape, they’ll certainly smell the ground and their head’s bent down. And you can’t really use that to get an accurate estimate of their age.

GRANT: But they’ll also lift that head up, smell the overhanging limb; maybe lick it or mess with it with their antlers. Somewhere in between there where that head is not all stretched up, but in that natural position, is a great frame or a great picture to use to estimate the buck’s age.

GRANT: I believe with good training and experience, most hunters can become very accurate at estimating the age of a buck on the hoof. But not 100%.

GRANT: The same is true with estimating a deer’s age using a jawbone.

GRANT: Both of them have some flaws.

GRANT: The bottom line is hunting should be fun. If you see a buck that makes you happy and you have permission from the landowner to harvest that deer, then take the shot, enjoy the venison and celebrate the moment.

GRANT: Don’t get hung up on, “Well, gosh. My deer is not quite as old as my buddy’s on Facebook.” Or something like that. Keep hunting fun, enjoy every moment.

GRANT: Even after all the years of being a hunter and a wildlife biologist, I still get excited at seeing any deer – buck, doe or fawn. But I’ve got to tell you, I get more excited at seeing a big antlered buck because they’re rare. And I think that’s why we seek them more.

GRANT: You can go all the way back to caveman paintings. And they rarely were painting a spike. They were painting big antlers for whatever species their art represented.

GRANT: If you’d like to learn more about deer biology, check out our social media.

GRANT: Hunting is a great way to get outside and enjoy Creation. Just think about it a minute. It’s exercise, the potential to bringing great quality venison home and providing nutrition for our family.

GRANT: But, more importantly than that experience, make sure you take time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.