Learning to age a whitetail or mule deer buck is important for several reasons. Hopefully, you hunt areas where year-and-a-half deer get a free pass and are allowed to reach another year of growth (or several) before they become fair game. A Quality Deer Management System is only as good as the hunters who carry it out, and the ability to age a buck successfully is key.
Antler Point Restrictions
A traditional method of aging deer uses antler points, yet this can do as much harm as good. A few bucks with a great antlered future grow to have 8 or 10 points in the first year and become fair game when they are precisely the specimen that should be allowed to grow. On the other hand, a Y-buck that will only grow an average rack will automatically get a free pass because it’s first full set of antlers are small.
A Valuable Skill
Judging the age of a mature whitetail deer can earn a living. You probably won’t find “whitetail hunting guide” in the help-wanted section of your local paper, yet commercial deer hunting lodges pay a handsome wage to the person who can age a deer quickly and successfully. If you can walk-the-talk, contact them on-line and make your best pitch.
How Not to Do It
Like a forensic scientist, you can’t solve the case without the proper evidence and many hunters are quick to jump at conclusions about deer age. Here are five ways NOT to age deer.
Every summer as velvet antlers sprout and take form on bucks across North America, a drone-like buzz begins to build in the backs of our minds. It’s a sure sign deer season will be here soon. That’s exciting and, at least for me, the volume button that controls my eagerness seems to inch toward 11 by the day.
Thankfully, our excitement seems to get a little bit higher each year, too, because we’ve literally been able to witness a gradual, yet irrefutable, trend of buck age structure increasing across the country for the last 30 years. This is due, in large part, to the QDMA and our strong educational campaign encouraging folks to pass young bucks as part of implementing QDM.