Being able to tell a deer’s age is a valuable skill for any outdoor enthusiast. While many hunters prefer to grade bucks based on antler size and point, shooting older deer while sparing the younger is a common practice for protecting a population.
Age matters for rack size as well. If the goal of your hunting is bigger racks, then strong nutrition and available food won’t do any good without the age to support it.
It’s not a perfect science, but with practice and research, you can estimate a buck’s age with fairly consistent accuracy.
One and a Half Years
At a year and a half, a buck will have smooth, small antlers with few sticker points, if any at all. The face will look short and doe-like, with a tapered muzzle that should be easy to spot. When looking at the body, the rump will be higher than the shoulders, with thin legs and a slim torso. One of the best practices when aging a buck is to picture the animal without antlers; at a year and a half, it would basically look like a doe.
Two and a Half Years
The next year, a buck will have a wider antler base, reaching about three to four inches in circumference. During the rut, the buck’s neck will begin to swell visibly, and it will essentially start to look like a yearling that has hit the weight room all summer. Perhaps the biggest change will be in the shoulders and rump, which will now have similar heights. It will keep its doe-like face, but it will have a noticeably larger body.
Three and a Half Years
If the buck makes it to year three, it will now have a heavy, rough antler base and much larger neck and shoulders. The back is still a straight line but the belly will start to look larger. The buck should now have a fuller rack that is hard for hunters to pass up. It’s easy to differentiate a one or two-year-old compared from a three-year-old, but determining age from here on out becomes more challenging.
Four and a Half Years
When the buck reaches four and a half, it’s now wise, savvy, and strong. The neck and chest will look like they seamlessly flow together and the legs will take on a short, stocky appearance. They are now reaching full antler growth and will have thick haunches that make them look more powerful and heavy.
Five and a Half Years
If you spot a buck over 5 years, consider yourself lucky. They can be hard to tell from a four-year-old, but they should have even thicker, bulkier chests and will sport glorious antlers that you won’t be able to forget. They will have a sagging gut and drooping back line.
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