How to age white-tailed deer: Part IV

Mature bucks are the trophies that hang on the wall, and are usually 4- to 6-year-old deer.

Aging the Wall-hangers, 4- to 6-year-old deer

The bucks that most hunters mount are generally 4 to 6 years old and are considered to be mature bucks, exhibiting their best antler growth. Does in these age classes should be producing fawns annually, and may even be smarter than bucks that are the same age. These deer have been around for many years and are familiar with the game of hunting.

While these are the bucks hunters are looking for, the bad news is these are the bucks that if infected with CWD, will begin to spread the disease throughout the environment. So in areas where CWD is present, it is probably not wise management to allow bucks to get this old.

While these mature bucks are at the age when antler growth should be at its best, hunters should keep in mind that deer living on poor or average habitat may not have big racks. As I have often said, bucks on habitat dominated with pine timber and lacking in browse and mast will not produce the big racks hunters desire. It is not uncommon for a 4-year-old piney woods buck to score less than 100 B&C — a deer most hunters would not mount. But, these mature bucks with low-end racks are still challenging to hunt, and if you hunt in this type of mediocre habitat, don’t hesitate to shoot one. The nutrition is simply not there to produce a real wall-hanger, so if you pass on these deer you might want to consider another type of recreation.

4-year-old deer

As discussed last month, the third cusp of the third molar of a 3-year-old deer is cup shaped, somewhat like the letter U. As this 3-year-old ages, the third cusp of the third molar continues to wear and becomes slanted at a 45-degree angle toward the outside of the mouth, somewhat like a diagonal line (/). This is the key that separates the 3-year-olds from the 4-year-olds. The wear continues on the crests of all the molars, and the line of dentine between the crests increases in width (this is the space between the two crests of a tooth, referred to as the infundibulum). The taller lingual crests of the second and third molar are still sharp, but the line of dentine between the crests is distinct.

Five-year-old deer

The lingual crests of the molars and premolars are blunt, and there is much heavier wear showing the darker dentine on these teeth. The infundibulum is becoming more distinct. Let me emphasize again that it really does not matter if a buck is 5 or 6 years old, it is a mature deer and if living on good habitat should have desirable antlers. To pass up a 5-year-old in hopes of bagging it next year is definitely a crapshoot.

Six-year-old deer

As the enamel wears away, the brown dentine line becomes more distinct, and by age 6 the infundibulum of the first molar is just a fine line.

The key for this age class is the first molar; the infundibulum is a fine line that will disappear as the deer becomes older. The lingual crests are very blunt, and the darker lines of dentine are very visible on all molars. Generally with wild deer, the antlers will begin to decline after age 6, so this would certainly be the year to harvest a trophy.

Remembering our wildlife legends

The hunting community is decreasing every day as members of the greatest generation slowly pass away. These were the hunters who paved the way in the 50s and 60s for the rest of us who enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Their money and support of wildlife management did much to restore the game populations that we enjoy today.

Harold Barnette of Homer in Claiborne Parish was one of these wildlife legends. Harold was an active hunter, primarily a bowhunter, and did much to develop the sport of bowhunting in this state. He was a founding father and leader of the Bayou State Bowhunters Association. He and his wife Nita, along with several other bowhunter enthusiasts, worked hard to bring the organization to the forefront in this state, making it a strong and active voice for bowhunters, both at Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meetings and at the state legislature. The BSBA provided money for deer research and management, as well as bowhunting education. They were a true asset to me when I was the state’s deer study biologist. Harold had a great knowledge of bows and hunting, and was much fun to be around. We extend our thoughts and prayers to Nita and the family.

Joe Herring passed away in early June, and is a name well known in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, as well as most other game agencies — not only in the Southeast, but around the country. A graduate of La. Tech, Joe began his wildlife work in this state in 1955 as a biologist in the Monroe region. He soon became the district fish and game supervisor, and did much to increase game populations in the state, as well as help to shape the agency. He later became the chief of the fish and game departments, then chief of game when the two departments were separated. Mr. Joe went all the way to the top, becoming assistant secretary of wildlife, and then secretary of the whole department. There wasn’t much he was not involved with regarding wildlife and wildlife management. He was on many working groups with other Southeast agencies, as also served on national organization working groups. A recipient of numerous awards, his name is synonymous with wildlife management and Wildlife and Fisheries in this state. I was blessed during my career to not only have been hired by him, but to work for him and numerous others who were the founding biologists that developed a sound wildlife program and agency for this state. Richard Yancey, Dewey Wills, Louis Brunett and J. B. Kidd are just a few of the men who worked with Joe and helped shape our wildlife programs. All of these men were still working when I was hired, so I was able to glean much from them. With the passing of Joe Herring, much of the historical knowledge about our wildlife and fisheries agency is gone. While it is always good to press on and move forward with knowledge and technology, it is still important to remember where we came from and how we got there. We also extend our thoughts and prayers to the Herring family.

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About David Moreland 239 Articles
David Moreland is a retired wildlife biologist with LDWF, having served as the State Deer Biologist for 13 years and as Chief of the Wildlife Division for three years. He and his wife Prudy live in rural East Feliciana Parish.

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