Question: I live in southeast Minnesota and I only want to shoot mature whitetail deer on my land, but I’m new to whitetail deer hunting and don’t really know what I’m doing. I have had my trail camera out and have seen 2 nice bucks. One is a 2.5 year old deer I believe and the other is younger. I was wondering if I could send you some pictures of them and have you age them for me and give me some hints on how to do it? Our bow season opens September 19th and I don’t want to have one of the bucks walk under my stand and shoot him just to find out that he is not a mature deer. Your help would be appreciated.
Answer: The 9 point buck looks to be exactly what you thought; a 2 1/2 year old buck. The 8 point whitetail is a yearling (1 1/2 year old buck). By the way, many people refer to fawns as yearlings. Fawns are fawns, yearlings are 1 1/2 year old does or bucks (they have their first set of antlers as yearlings).
With whitetail, some characteristics you can use to age deer on the hoof is to look at antler mass, the chest in relation to the belly, and the shape of the head. In almost all cases, antler mass increases with age. For example, look at the yearling 8 compared to the 2 1/2 year old 9. In addition, as a buck gets older, his belly gets larger and fuller. So does his chest.
With a larger chest and belly, this can cause the back of a mature whitetail to sway downward and make the legs appear shorter. Lastly, play close attention to a buck’s head. As a buck gets older, his head will appear shorter (from left to right) and deeper (up and down).
It’s a good idea to keep good photos of all age “known” age clases of bucks to improve your abilility to accurately age deer while whitetail hunting. That way, when you get photos of deer that you are unsure of, you can compare them to your file photos and judge the new whitetail buck based on the above criteria.