The older age classes, 7 ½ on up, represent the end of the trail for a deer population. The average lifespan for a white-tailed deer is around 5 years; in captivity deer may live up to 14 years. Much depends on the degree of hunting that takes place on the landscape. Areas with high hunting pressure generally have a population with the younger age classes; areas that have heavy-buck-hunting-only hunting will have older age classes of does, and young age classes of bucks. In herds where both bucks and does receive equal hunting pressure, all age classes will be present. Some hunters do not shoot the young age classes, (6 months and 1 ½ year age class) and target the adult deer. I have always thought it best to target deer from all age classes, and I recommend this to clubs and landowners. This will provide valuable information for age and growth determinations.
In the older age classes deer in the wild are beginning to decline to some extent, especially the bucks. I have seen older does that are still productive and producing twins, so this is something to keep in mind when developing your harvest program. On low quality habitat, growth rates will be slow and it may take time for a doe to get physically fit; consequently the older age classes are often the best producers. Generally at age 7, antler growth for bucks begins to decline. The bases may still have heavy mass that might extend for 10 inches or so, but the last half of the main beam typically is smaller than the base. A mediocre 110-class buck could live its entire life on the landscape, always being passed up by hunters because it does not fit the harvest criteria, and die of old age. I suspect this happens more than you think because of the lack of older bucks in the harvest data.
7½ year old age class
We discussed in the last issue that 6 year old deer will have a first molar with a very narrow strip of infundibulum, just a fine line. At age 7 there will be no infundibulum present, and the first molar will be heavily worn with a flat surface. The second and third molars will still have a strip of infundibulum, similar to that of the first molar on a 6 year old deer. Finding deer in this age class, especially does, is a sure sign that hunters are not killing all the deer.
8½ and older age classes
This is a fairly easy age group to recognize; all the molars and premolars will have a flat surface with little or no infundibulum present. Teeth are almost level with the gum line, and if the deer lives much beyond this age, it will probably have trouble eating food. Older deer are present in herds where the hunting pressure is low, especially the doe harvest. I remember hunting one evening with the late Dewey Wills on his club in West Feliciana Parish. A line of antlerless deer came out of the woods right at dark, maybe seven or eight, and I selected the last one to harvest: A nice 7 ½-year-old doe that Dewey suggested I simply grind up into ground meat.
Well now we have reached the end of my “how to” deer aging instructions, just in time for hunting season. There is no reason for you not to be able to age deer and place them in the fawn, yearling, young adult, mature adult and old adult categories. This will allow you to take a close look at your weights, antler development and reproduction that is taking place in the various age groups, which will provide valuable insight into how well your management program is working. Hopefully you have kept copies of these various “how to age” columns with the photographs for future reference.
Hunting season is here
It is hard to believe that a new hunting season is cranking up, this time on the first of September with the opening of dove season. Deer season will be starting this month in the early rut areas of Southwest Louisiana, and then it opens up statewide on Oct. 1. This has been a very hot spring and summer, with long dry spells in between some wet weather. Food plots were hit or miss because of this. I had one dove strip that I planted early with sunflowers that did not do as well as the other strip that I planted two months later, which received more rain during the growing period. It was looking to be a decent acorn crop, but the hot dry weather may take its toll on some of the trees and young acorns may not fill out.
No doubt the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will have a sharp eye out for any sick and potential CWD deer, and I would advise that you assist them and notify them of any sick or diseased looking deer that you may find during the season. The CWD issue is real, and will be a game changer should it show up this season.
Hunt hard but safe, and validate your tags and report your harvest. If you hunt turkeys, the fall is a good time to keep an eye out and determine if you had a successful nesting season or if it appears, as it does in my area, that the turkey population has crashed. If it appears your population is down, contact LDWF and voice your concerns.