How old is that deer standing out in that field? Biologists can give hunters a fairly good estimate from the jaw and tooth development of deer brought into check stations, but hunters can use a few visual clues to determine the approximate age of live deer “on the hoof.”
Kip Adams, Quality Deer Management Association Director of Education and Outreach, showed attendees how to age deer during a “Buck Biology” seminar held at Honeoye Falls-Lima High School last Monday.
Adams began by pointing out the importance of deer. National surveys show hunters opt for deer four times more than wild turkey hunting, the second-most popular hunt target.
In all, 53 percent of hunters, about 16 million, generate 67 billion dollars in revenue yearly. Curiously, that number represents only five percent of the country’s population.
“That five percent still outnumbers the anti-hunting ranks, and it’s the 90 percent of the people who do not hunt that we have to impact with our behavior afield and management practices,” Adams noted.
In New York State, the hunting license-buying number is below the national average at 3.5 percent. Yet the 677,000 licenses New York hunters buy ranks sixth in state license sales.
Adams, based in Knoxville Pa., discussed antler restriction outcomes in the Keystone State since it was begun in 2002; he did not comment on its possible application in New York State.
Adams, a certified wildlife biologist, cautioned hunters and wildlife watchers not to rely heavily on antler size and mass. During his 20 years as a wildlife biologist he has amassed data and photos of deer in various age stages and used numerous photo shots to show the many features of deer growth.
In several photos, deer with larger or smaller antler sizes and substance often belied the actual age of that bucks.
Most deer viewers identify fawns by their stubby noses. Adams suggests looking for the distance the eye is between the ear and tip of the nose. A fawn will have an equal distance from the eye to the nose and ear; a mature deer will have a greater distance from the eye to the nose than from the eye to the ear.
Hunters harvesting fawns try to cull doe fawns rather than take buck fawns.
When the buttons have not yet protruded through a buck fawn’s head, Adams advises to look for the shape of that space between the ears. A female fawn will have a rounded crown/pate; a male will have a flattened space between his ears.
The best time of the year to age deer is sometime during the rut. At that time, the ages of deer will be a half year plus a whole number. Adams’ system is to look at body development and mass to determine if that buck is 1½, 2½, 3½ 4½ or more years old.
For a yearling (1½-year-old) look for long thin legs and a thin neck. Most growth goes to body mass, with about 15 to 25 percent of its production going to antler mass.
When a buck reaches 2½ years of age, the hind quarters are larger than the chest area and antler development is greater. Also, stain from mixed urine and tarsal glands begin showing more extensive at this age.
By age 3½, the chest cavity will be larger than the hind quarters and the neck area will be bigger.
At age 4½, the chest becomes much deeper and the legs and check cavity are about the same height. Also, the neck will appear wider than the deer’s head.
For ages 5½ to 7½, the waist will be about the same size as the chest cavity.
Deer can live to 8½ years of age; Adams showed a photo taken of one survivor that lived that long in a public hunting area. At that age, Adams looks for loose skin on the face and neck area an a generally weathered look.
Another tip for generally aging bucks is to look at the size of the antler base. If the base is smaller than the eye, that deer will be under age three; an antler base greater than the eye size is a deer older than age three, he noted.
Biologists have jawbone aging down to a nearly exact science. Adams said, “In general, aging is very accurate on fawn and adults up to age 2½, it becomes more difficult at and after age 3½.
Adams concluded with the hope that hunters get out and try your best but have fun and find a way to laugh at whatever happens while afield.
He recommends a Quality Deer Management Association membership, which includes a 30-minute video on aging deer. For info on national QDMA membership, go to qdma.com. For membership in the Greater Rochester Southern Tier Branch, call president Mike Edwards at (585) 813-2021.