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BY Todd Amenrud on Nov. 05, 2019

Aging Bucks on the Hoof: Art or Science

A buck of the same year-class may look very distinctive from one region to another. A buck from the Deep South may look much smaller compared to a buck of the same age from the borealis forests of Canada. Even on the same farm, a buck will look different during September than he does in November, and you’ll likely see further changes from November to January. Aging whitetails on the hoof is more of an art than a science. When they “hit the ground,” then we can be more accurate by examining tooth wear, and we can even be, for the most part, “forensically exact” when we use the cementum annuli aging method.

Here we can see a two year old buck in the left photo, and then the same buck at 3 (center) and 4 years old. Sure, we can use antler size as one determinant to help figure age, but here you can see why most gamekeepers should put more credence in using body characteristics. The first buck has a good looking set of antlers, but looking at his body he’s still got the slender, undefined look of a 2 year old. This is the buck you want to protect, because if he looks that good as a two year old he could be a “Booner” at 4 or 5. 

The buck in the other two photos, at 4, as far as antlers are concerned, he really didn’t make a big jump from 3 to 4. But there’s no mistaking those 4 year old body characteristics - more defined muscles and a bit of a larger belly (just like us as we get older).

When examining trail camera images, when looking at the same series of photos, a different angle may give you a new view as to a buck’s age. Using cameras in burst mode or set-ting a fast recycle/recovery time should give you the best chance at multiple images with different angles. 

Keep records! Because some gamekeepers can literally shoot a hundred thousand images or more during a season, many have a tendency to only save images of the larger bucks. However, make sure to save a few of each of your 2 year old bucks. Because bucks are easiest to age when they are young, “having a history with each buck” is the best way to “know almost for certain how old they are” when they grow older.

BECOMING A GAMEKEEPER IS NOT JUST THE BEST WAY TO PRODUCE GREAT HUNTING… IT’S THE BEST LIFE!
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