LEARNING TO TELL THE AGE OF A WHITETAIL
by Brad Fitzpatrick
First, a bit of a disclaimer—aging mature deer to the year is very difficult. However, learning to recognize physical signs of age in deer will help you harvest mature animals. Just as with humans, deer may look older or younger than they really are, but there are several signs that indicate age category. Here are some signs that indicate the age of a whitetail deer:
Facial Length: As deer mature, their facial bones lengthen. Fawns and yearlings tend to have very short facial bones relative to their head size, and older deer appear to have longer noses. Many older deer tend to have a “Roman nose.”
Frame and Musculature: Mature bucks tend to look very heavy and muscular in the fall, an indication of their physiological preparation for breeding season. Does won’t be as muscular, but they do tend to have much larger frames that younger deer and appear taller and longer in comparison.
Pot Belly: Just as in humans, as deer age they tend to have a “pot-bellied” appearance. This is particularly true in bucks, which typically have a sagging paunch as they pass into their fifth, sixth or seventh year. Some deer will also have a “sway back” appearance as well. During the breeding season mature bucks will have necks that appear swollen.
Graying: As they age into maturity and beyond, deer turn gray just like humans. It’s a subtle change, and oftentimes the gray is limited to the muzzle, face, and neck area, but it is visible when the deer is close, especially in winter. This is an indication that the deer is at least mature, and oftentimes very gray deer are six or more years old.