How to age a deer

Body characteristics, not rack is key to identifying mature shooters

Many hunters have been in their deer stand and “something” steps into a field or shooting lane. The typical scenario is a buck on the prowl, usually at a considerable distance and in low light conditions.

The hunter’s eyes immediately go to the rack.

However, antler size is not really the gauge of the maturity of a buck.

“The rack has little to do with whether or not a deer has reached it’s potential growth” said quality deer land manager Leslie Smith from Hampton, S.C. “Many hunters see what they think is a trophy deer because it’s got a visible rack over its head.”

Since a deer reaches it’s best antler development at somewhere in the 5 ½-year-old range, learning to distinguish body features that classify a deer at it’s maximum potential is much more reliable than simply judging by its rack.

In the accompanying photo, which Smith took at 200 yards under low-light conditions, it’s easier to judge this trophy deer based on it’s body features — especially since it’s rack isn’t clearly visible.

A mature deer shares many characteristics with a middle-aged man. Smith described each characteristic individually to put together a full picture:

• Thick body — “The most reliable characteristic is a full, thick, mature body, which identifies this animal as a trophy buck based on sizeable body weight,” Smith said.

• Sway back — “Age and maturity, as well as a big gut, give this deer a slight sway in its back,” he said.

• Rounded shoulders — “One trait that distinguishes this animal from a husky younger deer are rounded shoulders, another indicator of heavy body weight,” Smith explained.

• Roman nose — “A hooked or round nose, also referred to as an Aquiline nose, is derived from the fullness of the face, but also makes reference to a fierce fighter,” Smith said.

• Squinty eyes — “This is also caused by higher body mass,” he said. “Eye lids may even look puffy.”

• Wide neck — “This photo was taken during the rut, which further increases this buck’s size based on its swollen neck,” Smith said. “The neck minimally decreases in size from the shoulder to the head.”

• Fat brisket — “These are ‘man boobs,’ another place weight accumulates,” Smith said.

• Sagging belly — “Years of consuming grain products have the same effects on deer and humans,” the manager said.

• Short legs — “Overall this deer’s legs are normal-sized but look short when compared to the size and girth of the body,” Smith explained.

After a full analysis, Smith deemed the deer was definitely a shooter. 

Phillip Gentry
About Phillip Gentry 16 Articles
Phillip Gentry is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer who says that if it swims, walks, hops, flies or crawls he’s usually not too far behind.

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