For hunters who want to shoot a buck when it's antlers are at or near their full potential for size, the age of the deer is important to know. Some bucks have large racks at a younger age than others, that's why age is a better estimate of when a deer is mature or still too young.
Whether you're out in the field or reviewing photos from your trail camera, you can get a pretty close estimate at how old a deer is so you can make the right call. Here are a few techniques to help you become better at visually aging whitetailed deer.
Aging Deer by Body Size
You can identify several age characteristics of a deer just by looking at the body. Getting an accurate idea is even easier if you have quality cameras located somewhere with deer traffic, positioned at a good angle and facing a cooperative background.
When looking at photos of deer, check the:
Legs. Deer legs are disproportionately long for bucks under 2 1/2 years old. At 3 1/2, they hit proportional length and by 4 1/2, the legs look too short for the body size.
Rump-to-chest ratio. Bucks under 2 1/2 also have larger rumps than chests. 3 1/2-year-old bucks have larger chests, but by 4 1/2, a buck's chest will begin to look disproportionately bigger than the rump.
Neck size and position. The older bucks get, the larger their necks get. By 4 1/2 or older, the neck will blend into the chest and will look like one continuous line.
Stomach. Young bucks have tight stomachs and look athletic. By 3 1/2, they have tight stomachs and full chests. At 4 1/2, their bellies start to sag and give it the appearance of a gut hanging down.
The more high-quality trail camera photos you can get to examine and compare, the higher chance you'll have of making accurate estimates.
How to Age Whitetails With Greater Accuracy
Body size is a great way to get a quick idea of whether a whitetail deer is mature enough for you to hunt. However, you can get an even closer estimate by studying a few extra details.
1 1/2 Years
These young bucks are easily identified by their skinny necks, long legs and thin bodies. Most bucks in this age class will have spike antlers or small forked antlers.
2 1/2 Years
These bucks can be deceptive in the field as they can have a 6 to 8-point racks on their heads and an athletic-looking body. However, their antlers will rarely be wider than their ears and it won’t have much mass to it. While they have developed more muscle throughout their bodies, their necks are still smaller and their bellies are flat.
3 1/2 Years
These bucks have considerably larger bodies than the previous years and can have a really nice set of antlers. While their necks are larger, it still appears to stop before reaching the chest or brisket. These bucks will typically have a flat belly and no sway in the back.
4 1/2 Years
This is the age when a buck is considered mature and will have expressed nearly 90 percent of its antler potential. The neck will be large and appear to transition into the chest and belly as one smooth line. The belly will begin to sag and he’ll start to develop a sway in his back.
5 1/2 Years & Older
These bucks will appear top heavy and have shorter-looking legs. They will have large necks, sagging bellies, a swayed back and the front shoulders will have a hump over them. Regardless of what the antlers look like, this is a trophy animal and is worthy of hunting.