Aging Bucks-How good are you?

Content Provided By: Brian Stephens, Pro Staff






There are a number of logical reasons to improve your skill in judging deer in the woods.  First, if you are on a management program and putting sweat equity and resources into improving your deer herd by letting younger bucks walk.  Second, you are hunting an area that only allows you to harvest one deer.  If you are wanting to harvest a mature deer vs. just hunting horns.  These are just a few reasons for the bowhunter to enhance their aging deer skills.

We have all been fooled by a big rack on a 2 1/2  or 3 1/2 year old deer.  Not to say you should not shoot that deer, that is up to you.  The key is not solely focusing on the horns and more on the body and social characteristics of that deer.  Each hunter has a different approach to harvesting deer.  We have harvested my share of less than mature bucks over my hunting career.  With that said over the past five years or so, we have enjoyed letting younger bucks walk and focused on 1-2 deer that we know are the mature bucks in that area.

Let’s get into it.  We have asked our Spokes Person Spook Spann to provide some of his insight into how he judges deer on hoof.  Spook has a reputation of being a very accomplished Big Game Hunter and will put in a lot of hours to get a shot on that one Monster in the area.  “The only way to get a chance to shoot a true giant / mature buck is to let the young bucks walk.  Once you are disciplined for a few years you will have more and more opportunities to harvest a mature – giant deer. “

Body Characteristics  & Social Behaviors of Whitetail Deer from 1.5 years old to 6.5 years old.  Aspects of this information is referenced from the Quality Deer Management Association Resources on Aging Deer.

1 ½  year old Buck

These bucks have a thin neck and slim body.  A 1 ½ year old buck will look similar to a doe with horns.
The majority of the time there is a distinct line of separation between the bucks shoulder and neck.  Legs on this age of deer appear too long for the rest of its body and there is little muscle definition with these bucks.  Little or no tarsal staining

2 ½ year old Buck

These bucks have a thin waist and shoulders

Hindquarters are proportional to the chest and shoulders.  You will typically see minimal neck swelling during the rut with these bucks.

Lightly stained tarsal glands

Another tell tell characteristic with these bucks is the back and belly on is flat

3 1/2 year old Buck

These bucks are begining to establish a thickly muscled neck  during the rut.  There is still some separation between the neck and shoulders.

The chest and shoulder area of these bucks  are now beginning to look heavier than the hindquarters.

These bucks are being to have overall good muscle tone but still have some lanky/lean look to them.

The neck on these deer is now wider than their face.

The back and belly are still tight on these bucks.

These bucks are beginning to establish a good set of horns on their head.  Many times these bucks are hard to pass up b/c they may be one of the biggest bucks see on “hoof”.  If a bowhunter let’s this buck walk until he is 4 ½ to 5 ½ there will be a substantial increase in antler

4 1/2 year old Buck

These bucks are becoming fully muscled neck blends into shoulders seamlessly.

No longer lanky or lean. You will see the leg length becomes proportional to body size

Waistline has dropped and is now level with chest-line

Tarsal Glands are large and very dark during the rut

5 1/2 year old Buck

The shoulders and neck appear to be one large mass

Belly is round and may begin to sag.  The exception is during the post rut where these bucks will have a fair amount of weight loss during this period of time.

Legs begin to appear to short for the massive size of the body

Neck is thick and heavy, the skin still appears to be tight

Head appears very deep and heavy from a profile view.  The forehead is darkened by gland secretions and some graying may be visible around the muzzle.


6 1/2 year old Buck

The face of these bucks is beginning to contract between a darker forehead and graying muzzle.

You will notice a very distinctive “potbelly

Heavy belly- way to big for his body

Skin around the face and neck is rippled and appears loose.  A flap of loose skin is visible at the throat and jaw line.

During the rut, tarsal stains extends down the inside of the legs

Neck and chest appear to be one continuous muscle

Other Considerations regarding Herd Behavior and Antler Basics

During the early season you are able to watch or catch bucks in groups so you can observe some of the behaviors between these bucks.  Those bucks that seem to posture and show dominance are the mature deer.  You may be surprised that some of these more dominant bucks may not have as big of a set up antlers.  Reinforces that point that the antlers do not only determine the age or maturity of the buck.

Also consider the time of year when you are looking at body size.  There can be a extreme swing in body weight from Pre-Rut to Rut to Post-Rut periods.  The QDMA suggests that bucks may lose as much as 30% of their body weight during the breeding season.

“Antlers are the fastest growing true bone in nature.  They start growing in spring and continue through late summer.  While growing, antlers are soft, warm (because of the blood supply) and covered with velvet.  They harden in late summer/early fall and bucks shed their velvet in response to increasing testosterone levels.  Bucks then cast their antlers in late winter/early spring in response to decreasing testosterone levels.  Antlers are often incorrectly referred to as “horns” but they are distinctly different.  Antlers grow from the tip and are shed annually while horns grow from the base and grow for the life of the animal.”-QDMA, Kip Adams.

The three factors influencing antler growth are animal age, nutrition and genetics.  These factors are not uniform throughout the whitetails range but proper deer and habitat management can compensate for some regional shortcomings.  (Kips Corner, Antler Basics-Quality Deer Management Association).  As you think of aging a deer and you look at the antlers of this animal consider the following based on the Quality Deer Management Association.  On Average, the main beam length of a 2 ½ year old buck is typically 16 inches and 18 ½ inches for a 3 ½ year old buck.  Data collected from Mississippi State University regarding Average Beam Length by Age Class.

1 ½ year old buck  8.3 inch main beam length


2 ½ year old buck 15.8 inch main beam length


3 ½ year old buck 18.4 inch main beam length


4 ½ year old buck 20.5 inch main beam length


5 ½ year old buck 21.7 inch main beam length


6 ½ year old buck 21.6 inch main beam length Quick Reference “Tree Stand” Guide

  1. What Phase of Season is it (Early season-Pre Rut-Rut-Late Season)?
  2. Look at the Body (Belly, Shoulders, Back, Hind Quarters, Scent Glands)
  3. Are the Horns outside the ears, mass, trash- Head – Roman nose, color?
  4. What is the Behavior of this buck especially if he is with other Bucks?

*  Where are you hunting (Southeast, Northeast, Texas, Midwest, West, Canada)?

Again, the focus of this article is to provide you with some down and dirty tips on differing between a 2.5 year old 4.5 year deer.  It seems very straight forward when you look at these pictures and read the points.  It becomes substantially more difficult when  that Buck has “appeared” out of no where and you have to make a decision within a matter of seconds.   If you are hunting anything with nice set up horns then it is a no brainer.  If you are working hard to let the 2.5 to 3.5 year old bucks walk then it is important that you learn how to field judge using some of these tips.    The Quality Deer Management Association is a great resource that we use to improve our skills in judging deer.  Additionally, there are several articles in our Archery Blog that Kip Adams has written on aging deer on hoof.  Kip Adams also provides feedback to on a monthly basis within our “Age this Buck” platform.

References for this article were from the Quality Deer Management Association.  For more information or resources by QDMA go to

Originally posted 2010-09-03 11:15:45. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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