How To Age Whitetail Bucks on the Hoof
Aging deer on the hoof (AOH) is difficult, period. Whitetail hunters are usually in two distinct camps when it comes to AOH; those claiming they can age any deer from 1.5 to 7.5 years old and those saying aging beyond 2.5 years old is virtually impossible. This article will likely spur some chatter from both camps.
Even Biologist Struggle with AOH
Genetics can also make a difference. Consider our own differences as humans. Think back to your high school locker room days. Everyone can probably remember their freshman year. All your classmates were about the same age. However, physical differences ran the spectrum of ultra skinny, tall, short, and built well enough to see starting time on the varsity football team. Some boys didn’t have a single whisker while a few could already grow a full beard. There is a wide variance in the timing of maturity of humans, and the same phenomenon occurs in other animals as well, including deer.
- 1.5-year-old deer are fairly easy to distinguish. These bucks typically have thin necks and minimal to no tarsal staining. Their legs appear too long for their body, and they have narrow chests and skinny waists. Basically they look like does with antlers.
- 2.5-year-old deer still have long legs. Most will have some swelling of the neck, but nothing compared to a truly mature deer. They will have some minor staining on their tarsal glands. Their chest is filling out, but they still have a narrow waist.
- 3.5-year-old deer are beginning to appear athletic. They have swollen necks, a muscular chest but still have not filled out in the hips. Think of this age as looking like a racehorse. They will have significant staining on their tarsal glands.
- 4.5-year-old deer have usually filled out in the hips and waist. Their waist is even with their chest. They have abnormally swollen necks and very dark stained tarsal glands.
- 5.5-year-old and older deer are getting lumped into one category. Specific features can be very difficult to distinguish beyond 4.5 years old and are not reliable and aging accuracy is difficult. Most will agree deer over 5 years old begin to have a pot belly look. They are getting their “dad bod” at this point. Their legs may even appear short for their body. However, some deer 5.5 years and older will still look like they are in peak shape. Therein lies the issues with accurately aging deer in this category.