Whitetails mature in age much the same way people age, and it’s best to think of them in terms of immature (fawns through 2.5 years of age), almost mature (3.5 to 4.5 years of age), and mature and old (5.5 years or older).

Forget about using antlers in the summer months to age a buck. When they see a buck, most deer hunters normally look at his head and antlers first and body traits second.

Most of us here at The Hunting Page have been fortunate enough to have hunted many great places, and as we have matured as whitetail hunters and managers, we now look for particular antler characteristics (mass and beam length) and the overall size of racks in comparison to their body. It is not particularly about what they will score but more about how old the buck is and if he is a recognized buck from trail camera surveys and a mature whitetail.

When looking at 3.5-year-old bucks, they may appear a bit front heavy as they typically sport a lean waist and muscled shoulders with a larger chest, and their neck will show swelling during the rut. If you look closely, you will still see a bit of a line separating their neck and shoulders. If you take a look at the tarsal gland, you will likely see quite a bit of staining. At this age, most bucks have achieved 50-75% of their potential antler growth.

Studying bucks in the summer is definitely interesting and informative, and there are many whitetail deer facts to be learned about particular bucks, how they use the land, and become mature. Aging a buck in the summer is a mere guess, sometimes with lower testosterone levels in two- and three-year-old bucks, but there are some specific physical traits that are a constant with the increase in testosterone during the summer and into fall for mature whitetails. Bucks with a big pot belly and/or swayed back show these body characteristics during the summer and throughout the season.

Another constant characteristic and one we rely on heavily is a mature buck’s brisket will hang several inches below their chest during both the summer and fall. Their necks will flow right into their brisket and will look quite large after swelling during the rut. A fully mature buck’s legs will also tend to look short relative to their body because their body is now fully developed.

Whitetail bucks can be tricky to judge in late spring and summer when they are lazy, fat and stress-free, especially in high-producing agricultural areas with great nutrition. Many people overestimate the age of a buck now based on rack size!

Rather than estimating a buck’s age based on just antler size, this summer and fall, try studying buck’s body characteristics.