Have you ever wondered about the age of the deer you capture? It makes you wonder how long deer would usually live for when out hunting! But because of the many variables that contribute to a deer's life, this can be quite hard to answer the question with confidence.
There are a few factors to look into, but there is an average number to base one! So if you're wondering: "How long do deer live?", read on as I show you the answers to help you become a better hunter, knowledgeable about your game!
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How Long Do Deer Live?
If you want a good and clean number (which won't change the different factors), then one must estimate the lifespan of deer who have been held in captivity for reliability. In "The Deer of North America", whitetail expert Leonard Lee Rue III cites that deer in captivity live for almost two decades. Research from the Quality Deer Management Association reports that whitetail deer in captivity can live for up to 18 years, while there are a few who have made it to 23 years old.
Male deer would live shorter than female deer, with reports that only a few can make it after the 15-year mark. This gender and lifespan trend is actually usual for almost all species, including us humans. Data published by United Nations show that women would live around five years longer than the typical man, with an age gap between life expectancy even reader in certain countries.
But what about deer who live in the wild?
Because of deer mortality from living outdoors, deer won't be able to live longer compared to those in captivity. On average, the lifespan of a whitetail deer is around 4.3 years. Males would live for up to 2.9 years, while females can live for up to 6.5 years.
Because of this very short lifespan, those who capture bucks older than three or four years old are considered as trophies!
Here's an interesting video on the lifecycle of deer to help you know more about how they live:
There are different things to look into when it comes to deer, including the way they die. This is to learn the average number of years deer would live, based on their cause of death. These are also the factors as to why deer living in the wild have such a shorter life compared to those living in captivity!
The usual occurrence of auto collisions would account for over a million killed or injured deer every year. Deer who survive would limp off, though there is a bigger possibility of them being pursued by predators around the area.
Healthy deer would also fall prey to predators around their area, with coyotes causing the most predation issues as they are distributed around areas throughout the whitetail range. Studies have shown that there has been 70% of total fawn mortality in South Carolina, with 80% being caused by coyotes.
Just like all other species, diseases break out in many areas with whitetail deer. The most prevalent are:
Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD)
This is transmitted by biting flies, causing extensive hemorrhaging. It has a high mortality rate and still has unknown treatment, though it doesn't affect humans.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
This is a fatal disease that affects the neurological system. It's transmitted through saliva or other body fluids from deer. Again, there isn't any known treatment. When a herd is infected, CWD is difficult to control, almost impossible to treat.
Bovine Tuberculosis (BTB)
This is a chronic and fatal disease that affects the respiratory system. It's transmitted from exchanging respiratory fluids, typically from coughing or sneezing. Just like EHD, there isn't any known treatment.
And lastly, a deer's life span can stop because of accidents in the forest or just by dumb luck (or misfortune!). Some deer would get hung up on fences, some would break a leg, or they get trapped in tree crotches. There are also other anomalies which occur by accident, killing deer before they grow older.
Wrapping It Up
When it comes to knowing how long a deer would live for, you'll have to see all the factors and not just the way it lives! You'll have to see the percentages based on how they die as well. Either way, knowing these will help show you its lifespan and have you become more knowledgeable about their lifestyle and how to hunt better.
Hopefully, this article answered your question: "How long do deer live?" So don't wait any longer and begin learning more about your game today, like how a deer sounds or what they eat!
If you have any questions or would like to share what you know about deer, then comment down below. I would love to hear what you have to think.
When you’re deer hunting, there are many mysteries that present themselves. You may be curious about when the deer will arrive in your area, why they move in certain patterns, or any other question — and a common one that people ask is how to tell the age of a deer. Unsurprisingly, wild deer aren’t given birth certificates, so it’s impossible to narrow it down exactly. However, there are a few time-tested techniques that you can use to age a deer, so read on to learn more about them.
By the Size and Spread of its Antlers
If you’re wondering how to tell the age of a buck, the easiest place to start is with the antlers. A buck’s antlers are the biggest giveaway to the age of a buck, and it’s also probably the most accurate way to age them from a distance.
First and foremost, you’ll want to look at the length of the antlers. How long do the antlers extend in front of the deer’s face? A younger buck who is less than two years old will not protrude past the deer’s face at all, while an older buck will usually have antlers that jut out about 20 inches from the buck’s face. Generally speaking, the larger and wider the rack of antlers, the older the deer is.
If you’re checking the age of a buck that you’ve killed, you can take out the ruler and get down into the details of it all. This is done by analyzing the antler spread of the animal. Measure the distance between the antlers of the deer. If a buck is younger than 2.5 years old, the spread will almost never be more than 14 inches. However, once the buck reaches a prime age of 3.5 years old or so, you can expect the spread to come in over 15 inches.
By Its Size and Body Type
If you’re wondering how to tell the age of a doe or are just finding the antlers to be unreliable, the next move is to study the deer’s body size and type. There are a few different indicators that you can use to properly age a deer by judging its body — the neck, the legs, and the proportions.
A younger deer will have a much thinner neck than a mature deer, especially in bucks. A deer that’s under 3 years old will have a thin, long neck, and a deer that is over 3 years old will start to have a thick, muscular neck. By 4.5 years old, you can fully expect a buck to have a very muscular and proportioned neck. This is especially pronounced during the rut when a buck’s neck will swell a bit.
When looking at the legs of a deer, you’ll want to take notice of how they compare to the rest of the deer’s body. When compared to the rest of the body, a young deer’s legs will seem long and thin and gangly. However, as the deer matures, the rest of the body will grow into the legs, which will make for a proportionately better look. When the deer reaches full maturity at around 4 years old, you can expect legs that look short and stocky.
The final clue to the puzzle is how the proportions of the deer look. On a younger deer, you’ll find a body that has a small stomach and torso, which gives off a skinny and almost frail look. As the deer ages, it will age into its body and that torso will become much more stocky and well built. The area between the neck and the chest is a great place to look to try and determine the age of the deer.
By Its Teeth
If you have killed the deer and want to be specific with the age of the deer, you can use the deer’s teeth to make an accurate prediction.
First, open the mouth of the deer and count the number of teeth in the jaw. If the deer has 5 or fewer teeth in its mouth, it is absolutely a fawn. Deer develop their teeth during their first year of life, and if a deer has at least 6 teeth, you can be confident that it’s at least one year old.
Once you’ve done this, take a look at the third tooth (from the middle) on the bottom jaw. If this tooth has three cusps that form into a single tooth (also called a tricuspid), then you’re definitely dealing with a fawn. This is their baby tooth, and throughout that first year of life, that tooth will fall out and be replaced with a permanent bicuspid tooth.
If you’re looking at a bicuspid tooth already, try to examine the color of the tooth. Does it look to be the same color as the other teeth in the mouth, or is it noticeably whiter? If it’s noticeably whiter, then the tooth is likely new and the deer is probably a little over a year old. However, if the color matches, you’re dealing with a deer that is either near full maturation or is fully matured.
Finally, if you’re certain your deer is on the older side, take a look at the rest of the teeth — specifically, the enamel. As the deer ages, this enamel will wear and fade to a brown color. If the teeth look noticeably worn down, it’s very likely that the deer is elderly (over five years old).
Give Yourself an Edge in Your Next Deer Hunt
Does reading this have you itching to get out into the field and go deer hunting? If so, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible so that you have the best chances of success that you can. One of the ways you can put yourself in the best position possible is by hunting with a silencer. Our silencers will help you get a quiet and accurate shot that will give you the upper hand in your deer hunt. Check them out and then take a look at some of our expert deer hunting tips for this fall!
You’ve spent all year to get to this moment, a mature deer walks into your shooting lane. You are ready to draw your bow, but the thought crosses your mind, what would this buck look like next year? Many of us have rolled the dice on this proposition and lost. We let a nice deer walk never to be seen again. Maybe this isn’t your situation, but you are looking through pics on your trail cameras. You are looking at all these deer and you are curious as to how much more the buck can grow.
A great way of knowing whether to harvest that buck is to be able to get a rough estimate of its age. How can you age a deer in the field? Are there any easy indicators of a whitetail’s age? Whether you want to know these questions because you want a trophy buck, or just because you are curious, keep reading as we answer these questions.
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How To Age A Deer: Techniques
One of the most common and accurate ways of aging deer is by examining their teeth from their lower jaw. That is great, but how is that going to work in the field in a split-second shoot or don’t shoot scenario? Luckily for whitetail hunters everywhere, there are several ways you can get a rough estimate of a deer’s age quickly and relatively accurately. One of the best ways to do this is to keep track of the characteristics of whitetail age classes.
How To Age A Deer: Age Classifications
Whitetail deer are separated into different age groups in increments of one year as soon as they hit six months and are done being fawns. The reason to use whitetail age characteristics is because it is uniform and very efficient. Since there are several characteristics to each age group, you can check several different bodily features very quickly and make your estimate. There is not that much to remember for each age group, so it will be well worth your time to memorize a few characteristics for each specific age group.
Almost everyone can recognize a fawn. They are much smaller than adult deer, and if they are young enough, they will still have white spots on them. No hunter likes to shoot a fawn instead of a doe, so it is worth memorizing these characteristics. They generally have skinny legs, short necks, larger ears, in addition to appearing more carefree. They might not be as cautious as they move, so this is another characteristic to keep in mind. Almost everyone can recognize fawns, though it can get trickier when they have matured enough to look like a doe.
1.5 Yr Old Bucks
It is a safe bet that most hunters can tell these young bucks apart from more mature bucks very easily. It is always better to be safe than sorry, as these bucks have a long time to grow and mature. Easy ways to see a 1 ½ year buck include long looking legs, long and thin necks, and virtually no brisket hanging off their neck.
With these yearling bucks, there will be very little visible muscle, as you will see the separation between bones easily. Their antlers are very small, as they have not had enough time to mature and grow yet. Except in rare cases, the antlers should not be as wide as their ears yet. A common adage you will hear is that 1 ½ year bucks look like a doe with antlers. If you are a discriminating trophy hunter, you will let these young bucks pass. If you are not so picky, these are not bad deer to shoot, but you will get more meat from an older deer.
2.5 Yr Old Bucks
Many hunters will still be able to tell that 2 ½ year old bucks are not mature yet, as they are not defined like more mature bucks. The legs on these deer will still look too long for their body because their body has not been filled in yet. Muscles are becoming visible in the shoulders and neck, but they still are not defined muscles like older bucks. Their waist is still thin, though it can start to curve upwards towards their back legs. There will be a good amount of tarsal gland staining while the rut is on. Finally, their antlers will be at least as wide and possibly wider than their ears.
3.5 Yr Old Bucks
When a deer hunter pictures a whitetail buck, a three-year-old is probably what pops into their mind. At this age, bucks are strong, yet agile. They look like the best of both worlds and appear to be in their prime. This age group has grown into their legs very well. They have heavily defined muscles in their shoulders and neck and they look very powerful. People often liken three-year-old bucks to racehorses, as they look strong, lean, and fast. Look for heavy tarsal gland staining, as these bad boys are in their prime.
4.5 + Yr Old Bucks
After reaching three and half years, it can be hard to tell how old a buck is. Whitetail bucks all mature differently, and this can lead to a wide range of physical characteristics. In general, any buck over three and a half years will appear very muscle bound. They won’t look like racehorses, as they look more muscular than fast.
At four to six years old, bucks will have their maximum antler size, and it is quite rare that bucks ever reach their maximum size, as they often die of disease, hunting, or car accidents by that point. All bucks past three and a half years will have tons of tarsal gland staining during the rut, be highly muscular, and have waists that hang down at the same level as their chests. These bucks are very mature and most hunters would be thrilled to harvest one.
How To Age A Deer – Wrap Up
Keep in mind that aging whitetail deer can vary greatly from region to region. A 3.5 year old buck in Saskatchewan will look completely different compared to a 3.5 year old south Texas buck. If you are happy with the deer that is front of you, go full send and don’t look back. They are all tasty treats in my opinion. We hope this How To Age A Deer in the field guide helps you in the field both hunting and scouting.
To many, aging is a fancier word for letting meat rot, and it leaves them asking why anyone would do that to a good, clean kill. However, while aging is to let meat decompose slightly in a controlled setting, it can do two very wonderful things. Letting meat age breaks down the connective tissues naturally through enzymes already in the meat, which increases tenderness, and it dehydrates some of the moisture within giving a more concentrated meat flavor. If you have ever been to a steak house or enjoyed a venison steak made by someone who really knows what they are doing, that mind-blowing experience is due to how the meat is cooked and seasoned, but typically the key to creating a great tasting piece of meat can be attributed to proper aging.
How to Age Venison
Getting into aging your wild game can be a learning experience. For those new to it, it is best to start short and work your way up to longer hang times once you work out any potentially devastating kinks. Typically for the best balance of flavors, venison should age for between 18 to 21 days.
Provided you have the space, aging can be a very simple process. The key to dry aging is absolute temperature control. All that bad bacteria that actually rots meat and will result in food poisoning thrives in temperatures above 40 degrees, and anything below freezing is, well, freezing meat and not dry aging it. The ideal temperature in a space used for dry aging is between 34 and 37 degrees. This is the perfect environment for venison’s natural enzymes to begin to break down the tough tissue.
As for where to dry age, you can do it anywhere that you can control temperature and ensure a decent airflow. There are three methods primarily employed by hunters, but each has their benefits and their disadvantages.
- Open-Air Aging – This method is the simplest and used by most hunters that decide to age their meat. It is also the cheapest and easiest way. Essentially you just hang skinned carcasses or quarters of it in a shop, garage, or another cool place. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this method. It can be hard to control the temperature in early and late seasons where too high or too low of a temperature can be a problem, respectively. By hanging your meat in the open air, it also invites insects and other scavengers to have a snack, but this can be combatted by game bags, cheese cloth, or paper towel. You’ll rarely get more than a week of steady temperatures, so hang times will likely be cut short. 4-7 days of hanging is still beneficial, but if you don’t have the right temperatures or the means to get it into a cooler place, go ahead and butcher the deer immediately. Aging is not worth the sacrifice of potentially ruining your harvest.
- Refrigerator Aging – If you have an extra fridge or a particularly understanding spouse, dry-aging via the refrigerator is another valid option. It not only provides excellent temperature control, but great air circulation as well. Essentially you want to remove all the racks inside and just hang the meat in there. The more surfaces it touches, the more likely other bacteria can latch onto the meat. Unfortunately, if you have used the refrigerator for other things, your meat may be subject to absorbing those old odors as well.
- Walk-In Aging – Having a walk-in cooler to age your meat is the dream. It is how professional chefs age their beef, but the average hunter might not have access to such a set up. If you are really serious about aging meats, especially for an extended period, the supreme temperature control and air circulation are perfect, but pricey to install. For this method, it might be cheaper for the average hunter with a lot of meat to age to look into local meat locker rentals.
If you harvest a lot of deer or wild game, a walk-in cooler is the best way to age your meat in a controlled environment for long hang times.
Cooking Dry-Aged Venison
Unlike venison that has not been aged, you don’t need to marinate it to ensure moist meat. It sears better, locking in what moisture is left. This creates a tender, more flavor concentrated venison steak that browns excellently. What many home cooks fail to realize is that it is the brown bits on steaks where all that wonderful flavor lies.
However, depending on how long a piece of venison has been aged, it may need some prep work before being cooked. If you only did a short seven-day hang, you won’t need to do much other than cut it into good, steak-sized pieces. However, any longer, and you will need to trim away the outside of the meat. After long periods of aging, your venison will develop a hard cap of enzymes that isn’t so much fun to eat. About a fourth of an inch needs to be cut away on the outside of the carcass before it should be cooked. Don’t worry, that cap is also protective of the rest of the meat, so only trim away what you want to cook and leave the rest.
Here are some tips and steps on aging whitetails. I’m only familiar with DeerAge.com and have used them for 4 years now. First let’s get the front two teeth out. Cut the skin away on the lower jaw. If you want the deer mounted let your taxidermist cut the skin.
Take a small knife and you will make three cuts. One in the middle and a cut on each side of the front two teeth and go til you hit bone on top and bottom.
I have better luck using a needle nose pliers. Position the pliers and gently apply downward pressure. You’ll hear popping and cracking but keep the pressure on till they are hanging down.
Once they are hanging there cut them off if needed. When aging deer they want the roots.
I’ve used regular pliers but its hard to get a good grab on the teeth and much easier to break the root.
Now put the two teeth in a envelope or safe place until your kit arrives. Don’t put salt or borax or anything on the teeth. This can mess up the testing.
This is how DeerAge process works. Go to the website and set up a account order as many kits as you need. Once the kit arrives find the redeem kit section and follow the instructions on the website.
Put the teeth in the sleeves and match the Wal numbers and enter the info for each deer.
Make the payment then submit the form electronically and the results will be emailed back in approximately three months. Any questions post them up or send a PM. Happy aging!
Wildlife biologists and deer researchers agree that analysis of tooth replacement and wear — though not perfect is the most handy and reliable field method for aging white-tailed deer. That’s because, regardless of where they live, whitetails lose their baby "milk" teeth and wear out their permanent teeth on a fairly predictable schedule
At birth, white-tailed fawns have four teeth. Adult deer have 32 teeth. 12 premolars, 12 molars, six incisors and two canines.
Aging analysis often is based on the wear of the molars, which lose about 1 millimeter of height per year. It takes a deer about 10 1/2 years to wear its teeth down to the gum line. Therefore, its difficult to determine the age of a deer that’s older than 10 1/2 years.
Most importantly, the ability to estimate a deer’s age based on the wear of its teeth is something most hunters can learn with a little study and practice.
(1) Few hunters have difficulty aging a white-tailed fawn, whose short snout and small body are usually obvious when viewed up close. If there is doubt, simply count the teeth in the deer’s lower jaw If the jaw has less than six teeth the deer is a fawn.
Yearling — About 17-18 Months
(2) The dead giveaway of their age is the third premolar, which has three cusps. This is also the age where deer start to shed their ‘milk teeth,’ They’ll either be loose or gone. In this photo you can see the permanent premolars partially erupted as they push up under the loosening milk teeth.
Yearling — At least 19 Months
(3) At about 1 year, 7 months, most deer have all three permanent premolars. The new teeth are white in contrast to pigmentation on older teeth. They have a smooth, chalk-white appearance and show on wear. The third molar is partially erupted.
(4) The lingual crests of the first molar are sharp, with the enamel rising well above the narrow dentine (the dark layer below the enamel) of the crest. Crests on the first molar are as sharp as those on the second and third molar. Wear on the posterior cusp of the third molar is slight, and the gum line is often not retracted enough to expose the full height of this cusp.
(5) The lingual crests (inside, next to tongue) of the first molar are blunted, and the dentine of the crests on this tooth is as wide or wider than the enamel. Compare it to the second molar. third dentine on the second molar is not wider than the enamel, which means this deer is probably 3 1/2 years old. Also, the posterior cusp of the third molar is flattened by wear, forming a definite concavity on the biting surface of the teeth.
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 Years
(6) At this point, it’s often hard to distinguish between the two age classes. The lingual crests of the first molar are almost worn away. The posterior cusp of the third molar is worn at the cusp’s edge so the biting surface slopes downward. Wear has spread to the second molar. making the dentine wider than the enamel on the first and second molars. By age 5 1/2, wear has usually spread to all six teeth, making the dentine wider than the enamel on all teeth. Because the first molar is the oldest, it wears out first. Also, by 5 1/2. there might be no lingual crests on the first and second molars, although rounded edges might appear like crests. A line drawn from lingual to outside edges of first and second molars generally touches the enamel on both sides of the infundibulum.
6 1/2 to 8 1/2 Years
(7) Segregating deer by a specific age becomes increasingly difficult by this time. By age 6 1/2, wear is moderate on the first premolar, and heavy on the second and third premolars. On the third premolar, infundibulum might appear as a small triangular hole. On the first molar, the infundibulum appears as fine line or chevron, or it might be absent. little or no enamel remains on the first molar. In 7 1/2 or 8 1/2 year-old deer, the first molar might be worn within 2 mm or 3 mm of the gum line on the outside, and 4 mm or 5 mm on lingual side. The second molar is almost smooth and the third molar is worn down until lingual crests are gone.
(8) Wear is more extreme than in previous photo. Pulp cavity might be exposed in some teeth. Some teeth worn to the gum line.
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Membership meetings are the fourth Tuesday at 7:30pm. With Guest Speaker To discuss farm issues and conservation efforts.
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How do you know when to release your arrow at a certain deer? Hunters are constantly debating the term “shooter” when referring to which type of deer to harvest. Hard and fast rules are difficult to identify, as herd sizes and regional populations play a part. The best way to determine what constitutes a shooter is to learn how to identify a deer’s age.
This concept isn’t as difficult as you may think. Rather than examining a buck’s rack, you can determine a deer’s age based on body characteristics. Best of all, this applies to bucks and does, so you can identify mature deer ready for harvest and young deer who will develop later. Once you know how to age a deer, you can aim for deer that will provide the best opportunity for a freezer full of meat.
Yearling deer are the easiest to identify. They are born just a few months before the opening of archery season. Although their spots have faded, they still appear different than the rest of the herd. Yearlings often stand near their mother, but it’s important to know how to spot them when they’re alone. They have a very short snout and legs, compact body and floppy ears. Yearling deer haven’t developed much muscle definition, causing their backside and shoulders to appear small compared to the rest of their body.
Deer begin to express more of their genetic potential once they reach 2½ years old. They keep their flat back and narrow midsection, despite developing more muscle definition. Antlered deer generally have small racks with a spread at or slightly wider than the ears, but they start to form the overall antler shape and frame that they’ll carry throughout life. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo.
Moving into their first full year of life, 1½-year-old deer look long and lanky. With minimal fat and muscle definition, these deer have a streamlined appearance and flat back. They have a slim midsection paired with a long neck and snout, and their legs look abnormally long compared to the rest of their body. At this age, bucks sport small racks with only a few points and the widest spread between the ears. Although significantly larger than yearlings, 1 ½-year -old deer still have a few years before reaching maturity.
Deer begin to express more of their genetic potential once they reach 2½ years old. They keep their flat back and narrow midsection, despite developing more muscle definition. These deer still boast a sleek appearance with long legs and a narrow face. Antlered deer generally have small racks with a spread at or slightly wider than the ears, but they start to form the overall antler shape and frame that they’ll carry throughout life.
Deer reach prime physical condition at 3½ years of age. Their rectangular shape and beefed up shoulders and backside are telltale signs of a 3½-year-old deer. They have a full neck that meets a blocky chest at a brisket coated with a thick layer of fat. Gone are the days of a streamlined midsection and flat back, as the stomach has transformed into a gut that hangs as low as the chest, and the back begins to droop. Because overall body size of these deer has increased, their legs appear proportionate to the rest of their body. Bucks display about 75 percent of their antler potential at age 3½, and their necks also swell during the rut.
At age 4½, deer are still identified by their general rectangular appearance. The major difference from years 3½ to 4½ is the deer’s low-lying gut, which sags lower than the chest. Comparatively, the back continues to dip lower and an increasing body fat percentage means the brisket sags from the chest. Does are entirely aware of their surroundings after raising fawns at least three consecutive years, making them a very wary target. Bucks show off impressive racks that highlight their full genetic potential, while their necks enlarge to body-builder status throughout breeding season.
On average, bucks express 100 percent of their antler-growing potential at age 5½. Their jaw-dropping body size makes them a sight most bowhunters only dream about. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo.
A 5½-year-old deer is a true monarch of the woods. This deer’s body is as big as it will ever be. As the back continues to sway, the chest deepens, and the potbelly is noticeably rounded and enlarged. The deer’s rectangular shape is never more noticeable than right now, and the legs look short compared to the rest of the body. On average, bucks express 100 percent of their antler-growing potential at age 5½. Their jaw-dropping body size makes them a sight most bowhunters only dream about.
It’s very challenging to determine the exact age of a deer beyond 5½ years old. These deer are in their twilight stage of life, and begin to deteriorate significantly. Backs will sway lower than ever, and in some cases, deer start to lose weight. Necks, chests and rumps that were once covered in a thick layer of muscle have shrunk, exposing the spinal cord, hip bones and shoulder blades. Buck antlers begin to diminish with each passing year. It is extremely rare for deer to live beyond 8½ years old in most wild situations.
Now that you understand the physical traits associated with each age class, it’s up to you to determine what the term “shooter” means. In most places where whitetails are common, a 3½-year-old deer is a true trophy. However, places with high deer density naturally produce a more mature age class. In these areas, some selective bowhunters strive for deer ages 4½ years and older.
The opposite is true for areas with fewer deer and poor habitat conditions; in those cases, a 2½-year-old deer is a significant accomplishment for any savvy bowhunter. Ultimately, it’s the hunter’s responsibility to understand the herd structure in their area and target their harvest goals accordingly.
White-tailed deer comprise the greatest distribution of large mammals in North America. They gain their name from the iconic white fur on their tails. Their fawns undergo physical and behavioral changes as they grow older, and their age can be determined by observing these characteristics. Discerning fawn age helps provide data for herd condition and management.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
The age of white-tailed deer fawns can be determined in a number of ways. Coat color, size, foraging behavior, play, antler formation and teeth eruption are all clues to the age of a fawn. Remember not to disturb newborn fawns.
When the mother doe gives birth in the spring, her fawn or fawns wear ruddy-brown fur. The fur bears white spots, mottled here and there on a fawn’s back, mimicking shafts of light and shadow among trees. This fur protects the fawn from the eyes of predators and passers-by as camouflage. Newborns bear little to no scent prior to scent-gland development. They weigh between 6 to 8 pounds when born. The newborn buck fawns weigh slightly more on average than newborn doe fawns. These young fawns lie hidden among vegetation while their mother forages for food, and when she returns they nurse four times a day until they reach four months old.
Newborns can move about even on their first day. Typically, however, fawns will not venture forth to graze until they reach between two weeks and a month old. While the mother leaves her fawns alone for periods of time, these baby deer rest safely and should not be disturbed. The mother never ventures far afield, and she will move her fawn when she returns. The spots on the fawns begin to fade at around three to four months old. Fawns wean by the end of summer.
By the time fawns reach roughly six months old, they participate more socially. They play and exhibit great curiosity, and tend to be less wary than adults. More aggressive buck fawns tend to enter clearings first. These fawns possess shorter snouts than adults. The bodies of fawns at this age are short and square-shaped when compared to adult does. By winter, fawns will weigh between 60 and 70 pounds and show no spots. Their coats change according to season.
Older Female Fawn Traits
Because does primarily form white-tailed deer social groups, female fawns tend to stay with their mothers longer than male fawns. At three and a half years, does reach maturity. Doe fawns as young as six months old can breed and give birth at one year of age. Does reach full maturity at around three-and-a-half years.
Older Male Fawn Traits
Male fawns grow “buttons” or pedicles where antlers will erupt. Male fawn heads appear flattened. At approximately ten months old, antlers erupt. Once a male fawn becomes a yearling, the first antlers become “spikes.” These yearlings resemble adult does except for their developing antlers and their lean legs. As the male grows into an adult buck, he will shed and regrow antlers as testosterone ebbs and flows for breeding seasons. Bucks reach maturity between five-and-a-half and six-and-a-half years of age.
For many years, wildlife managers have relied upon tooth wear to aid in white-tailed deer aging. Fawns less than a year old only have four or five erupted teeth. The third premolar has three cusps. At one and a half years, these young deer will have six teeth on their lower jawbone. As deer grow older, aging by teeth becomes more difficult. Their teeth lose enamel and their dentine material is revealed. Following tooth wear gives insight not only into fawn age but also herd health.
Whether it’s while in your treestand or when viewing trail camera photos, it is important to learn to judge age by looking at an animal. Most gamekeepers feel that harvest decisions should be made based on the animal’s age not antler size. Antler size is one of the details we use to help determine age, but only one in a long list of aspects like body size and shape, muscle tone, the appearance of certain features, etc. You will develop a more effective management plan if you can distinguish a buck’s age by assessing it in a photo or by sight. The following characteristics are fairly consistent for whitetails throughout their range. (Much of the information is courtesy of the QDMA.)
To begin, let’s stop saying “and-a-half” after the age of a whitetail. It’s a given! If animals are born during the spring, and it’s during the fall hunting season, they obviously will be nearest the “half year” of whatever year they are in.
One Year Old
These animals are easiest to identify, especially the bucks. They are delicate-looking compared to older animals with a thin neck. They resemble a doe with antlers and legs that appear long compared to the body giving them a slim, lanky appearance. They have a distinct line of separation between their neck and shoulders and little muscle definition. They have a thin waist, and they may have slight staining in their tarsal glands during the rut. Their antlers can be extremely inconsistent, but overall they tend to have beams that are thin and relatively short and a spread usually inside the ears. These deer in well-managed areas with good genetics can sometimes have multiple points (10 or more) and even have spreads outside their ears. This is why learning to judge age by body characteristics is so important, because a one-year-old with great characteristics is the exact buck you want to let develop until five or six. Those will be your Boone & Crocket candidates.
Two Years Old
Their legs still appear long for their body and may seem gangly and awkward. The waist is still thin and the muscles in the shoulders aren’t very defined yet. They may show some neck muscle build-up during the rut, but their tarsal glands will only be moderately stained and still very small and round. Their antlers will have a spread around the same width as the ears; beams show the beginning of some mass and multiple points.
Three Years Old
Now the neck and shoulders should be thickly muscled, but the neck should still be discernible from the shoulders. Their back and stomach lines are relatively straight and taut. At three, the chest begins to become deeper than the hindquarters but still with a thin waist, giving them what some call a “linebacker” or “racehorse” appearance. Their legs appear about the right length for their body. Now the antlers can have a spread even with or outside the ears with decent mass. During the rut, their tarsal glands will be dark and may show a lot of staining. Research shows that at this age, most bucks have achieved 50 to 75 percent of their antler-growth potential.
Four Years Old
Now we should be looking at a fully muscled neck that blends into his deep chest and well-defined muscled shoulders. Their waist drops down to become more even with their gut, helping to give the appearance that their legs are slightly short for the body, but their stomach and back are not sagging yet. Their hind-end appears filled-out and rounded. Their faces appear to have taut skin around the jaw. The antlers are now beginning to show you their potential and should be heavy with good bases and multiple points. During the rut they should have noticeably larger tarsal glands that are dark-stained with some staining possibly extending down their legs. Given adequate nutrition, they’ll become structurally mature and can reach 75 to 90 percent of their antler growth potential. Four-year-olds have an entirely different appearance than one- to three-year-old bucks.
Five to Seven Years Old
Other than in select places, few free-ranging bucks exceed five years of age, so I’ll combine five- to seven-year-olds. Bucks in this category have legs that appear too short for their body. They also have several other characteristics of four year olds including fully muscled shoulders, heavy swelling in their neck during the rut, and a waist that’s even with their chest. However, they also may have a pot belly and a sagging back. Their increased body mass gives them a more rounded appearance, and they may look like a small cow. They will have achieved 90 to 100 percent of their antler growth potential, and they can have highly stained tarsal glands during the rut with the stain extending well below the tarsal gland.
8 Years Old and Older
A few free-ranging bucks make it to the post-mature age category. These bucks have passed their prime and regress in both body and antler size. They generally have loose skin on their face, neck and shoulders – usually visible as a “chin flap” – and they may have pointed shoulder and hip bones. Their antlers can show age-related abnormalities such as abnormal points or wavy or curvy tines, and they have an overall “weathered” appearance.
As you study age-specific body characteristics, you’ll notice there aren’t age-specific antler characteristics (other than the range of antler potential that may be reached at each age class, and this percentage can’t be accurately estimated by viewing the antlers). Therefore, I suggest you don’t rely solely on antler size when aging bucks. Large antlers on a younger deer and small antlers on an older deer can negatively influence your estimated age. I prefer to estimate age based solely on body characteristics with respect to location and time of year and then use antler size to “check” my estimate or to break a tie if I can’t decide between two ages.