Estimating the age of bucks during winter can be difficult. This is primarily because they commonly lose 25 percent or more of their body weight during the rut. Bucks tend to burn more calories than they consume this time of year.
This is a huge loss in weight, and one of the results is a change in their body shape. A buck’s shape (how one part relates to another) is often used to estimate their age. For example, mature bucks often have very well developed shoulders and hams, and their back and bellies sag.
Some of those shapes change if a buck loses a fourth of his weight. A friend of mine recently shared a Reconyx picture (above) of a buck from his farm in Kansas. This buck’s hams don’t appear well developed, and his belly certainly doesn’t sag. Those two indicators might lead one to estimate this buck to be 3 years old or less.
This picture was taken after most does were bred in this area. No doubt this buck has lost a lot of weight. Upon further review, I notice this buck’s antler bases are obviously larger than the circumference of his eyes. The circumference of a buck’s antler bases tends to increase throughout his life – even if overall antler size decreases due to old age.
The buck’s neck merges with his chest low on his brisket. This is another very good indicator of a mature buck – at least 4 years old or older.
The chest sags well below where his legs and shoulders meet. The chest of immature bucks is rarely that well developed.
The size of a buck’s antler bases, development of his shoulders and chest, and where his neck merges with his chest, are all good indicators of a buck’s age, even after the peak of the rut.
It also helps to know the buck based on trail camera images during the growing season. I would have passed a mature buck a few years ago if I hadn’t known him based on trail camera images. He had lost so much weight by late December that his body shape at 100 yards fooled me.
You can watch that hunt by clicking here.
If you are hunting after the peak of the rut, use the above-mentioned indicators to help estimate a buck’s age.
Editor’s note: Be sure to check out Dr. Grant Woods and his popular on-demand web series that shares current information about deer hunting and deer management. The free CarbonTV videos like the one below focus on what the Growing Deer team of experienced hunters and deer managers are doing in the field week to week, including action-packed hunts, proven hunting strategies, habitat management, food plots, trail camera techniques and the gear it takes to get it all done.