If your managing your property for quality whitetail deer, the best way to get more trophy bucks is to pass on the smaller bucks. A whitetail buck will hit full maturity around 4 1/2 years of age or older. With good genetics, quality feed and age comes great mature big bucks that most dream about. Aging a whitetail buck on the hoof can be complicated at first but here are the tell tale signs to look for when aging a buck on the hoof.
Bucks in the 1-1/2-year-old age class are often characterized as “does with antlers” due to their body characteristics. A yearling typically has a thin neck, taut stomach, long legs and a thin body. Antler size can vary dramatically among individual yearlings, but on average they reach about 25 percent of their maximum antler size at this age. Although the number of antler points on yearlings can vary widely, from spike to 10 points, the inside spread of a yearling’s antlers is often less than 13 inches. Also, yearlings tend to be less cautious and will often enter openings before mature bucks.
Bucks in the 2-1/2-year-old age class typically have slightly thicker bodies than yearlings, but their legs still appear long. The main body difference between a yearling and a 2½-year-old is a slight appearance of muscle structure. They have thinner necks when compared to older age classes of bucks, although their necks may slightly increase in size during the rut. On average, 2-1/2-year-old bucks have reached about 60 percent of their maximum antler size.
Bucks in the 3-1/2-year-old age class are typically described as having a “thoroughbred” appearance due to their toned body characteristics. A buck in this class has a muscular body, a chest that is slightly deeper than its rump, and a taut stomach. During the breeding season, a 3-1/2-year-old exhibits a moderately swollen neck. Keep your eye off the rack and scrutinize body parts to avoid shooting an up-and-coming giant. On average, 3-1/2-year-old bucks have reached about 75 percent of their maximum antler size.
A 4-1/2-year-old buck has a thick, muscular body with taut skin and legs that appear to be proportional to its body. The buck’s stomach appears to sag slightly, but its back remains straight. During the rut, the neck of a 4-1/2-year-old buck becomes very swollen. A 4-1/2-year-old buck’s body has reached physiological maturity, and its antlers have reached about 90 percent of their maximum potential.
5½-Year-Old Bucks and Older
A buck that is 5-1/2 years old or older has a thick body and often exhibits a sagging belly, back and skin. In addition, the buck’s neck increases greatly during the breeding season to the point that it appears to blend in with the buck’s shoulders and brisket. On average, bucks’ antlers reach about 95 percent of their maximum potential by 5-1/2 years old and 100 percent by 6-1/2 years old. Older bucks can appear younger because their bodies tend to decline in mass. Most bucks in the wild do not survive to this maturity level due to hunting pressure. In general, an older buck’s antlers are more asymmetrical and slowly decline as the buck continues to age.
Physical characteristics of whitetail deer can be used to estimate a live buck’s age, thus sportsmen should become familiar with the average antler and body size by age class of deer on the particular land they hunt. By acquiring such statistics, deer hunters become more familiar with the scoring process as well.
Estimating the age of live deer improves with experience. The more bucks a deer hunter sees, the better they get at estimating age of deer on the hoof.
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