Aging Bucks in the Field
Learning to age bucks in the field has become an essential skill for hunters successfully practicing Quality Deer Management (QDM). "Antler restrictions" (such as the number of points, inside spread, main beam length, or Boone & Crockett score) are commonly used to help hunters identify and protect young bucks. However, because of the wide variation in antler characteristics within age classes, many hunters now assess bucks based on body characteristics and behavior as a more objective way of determining the age of a buck. In many cases hunters use both antler and body characteristics as part of their "buck harvest criteria." For example, to be a candidate for harvest a buck must have a 14" spread and be at least 3 years old.
To help you learn how to age bucks in the field, Westervelt biologists have provided key characteristics of each buck age class. Keep in mind that even under the best circumstances, aging bucks in the field is still a calculated guess. It is also important to understand that every deer herd is unique, every buck is an individual, and that many factors can influence body characteristics of deer. Factors to consider include (but not limited to) location of property, soil quality of property, habitat quality, available nutrition, breeding stress, time of year, angle of deer, visibility (daylight), etc. The characteristics of each age class provided are geared toward aging deer during the fall/winter when the rut and hunting season occur.
The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) prints a column called Age This in each issue of Quality Whitetails Magazine. Members of the QDMA send in photographs of bucks they would like aged and a panel of wildlife biologists independently provides their assessment and opinion of the buck's age and how it was derived. One of Westervelt's biologists, Dave Edwards, is a panel member. This has been a popular and educational column for QDMA members learning to age bucks.