5 Keys to Aging Deer on Trail Cam Photos

5 Keys to Aging Deer on Trail Cam Photos

Harvesting white-tailed bucks based on age is becoming an increasingly common management strategy. To implement this practice, hunters must have the ability to accurately age bucks on the hoof based on their body characteristics, an ability that most hunters considered impossible a decade ago.

Today however, hunters across the whitetail's range are estimating the age of bucks in the field as a means for selective harvest within QDM programs or merely for the fun of it.

There are many good reference books and DVDs available for in-depth instruction and practice on aging bucks, and this article serves to highlight the primary body characteristic differences for each age class from yearlings to mature bucks.


These body characteristics are subject to differing interpretation by different viewers, but the characteristics are relative to others in your area or region. Body characteristics also change by season.


The breeding season is the best time of year to age bucks because of pronounced neck swelling and tarsal staining. You can estimate their age at other times of the year, but many characteristics are viewed relative to what they will (or did) look like during the rut.

This October photo shows a heavy, well-muscled mature buck pre-rut.

This is the same buck photographed in December. He appears much younger after the rut.

Antler size varies from location to location, but if your goal is to identify the most mature deer, here are 5 universal features to look for.


Leg Length

Look at how long the legs appear relative to the body. Young bucks' (1.5-2.5 years old) legs appear too long for their body. This is because these young animals haven't developed much depth to their chest, and it gives them an overall gangly or slim appearance.

A young buck will have thin legs that appear too long for his body.

At 3.5 years of age a buck's legs appear proportional to his body, and bucks 4.5 years and older have legs that appear short for their body.


Rump vs. Chest

Look at how large the buck's chest is relative to his rump. 1.5 and 2.5-year-old bucks typically have a rump that appears larger than their chest.

A mature buck's chest will look much heavier than his hindquarters.

At 3.5 years a buck's chest is larger or heavier than his hind quarters, and by 4.5 years his chest and hindquarters appear proportional in size.

Neck

This is my personal favorite body characteristic as the amount of swelling during the rut and the location where the neck appears to connect to the brisket are excellent indicators of age.

An older buck's neck gets larger with age and connects lower on his chest.

Yearling bucks' necks are very thin and connect high on the chest. With each additional year of age a buck's neck gets larger and connects lower on his chest until at 5.5 to 6.5 years of age the necks appears to flow seamlessly into his chest. From my experience, of all the body characteristics you use the neck is the one most consistent with age.

This mature buck has a huge neck that connects low on his chest.

Stomach

Look at how tight or rounded the stomach appears. In young bucks the stomach is very tight and gives the bucks a lean appearance. By 3.5 years the stomach is still tight, but when it's combined with a larger chest, it makes this age class easy to estimate age on.

An older buck's stomach appears larger and the waist drops in front of the hind legs.

At 4.5 years the stomach appears larger and the waist drops in front of the hind legs. At full maturity (5.5 to 7.5 years) the stomach appears large, full and rounded. It's sometimes described as "barrel-like".

Even in August this fully mature buck's stomach is rounded and "barrel-like".

Accuracy

The final tip is about the technique rather than a body characteristic. Aging bucks on the hoof is not an exact science so study the characteristics the best you can and estimate age, but remember it is just an estimate.

Also try to view multiple pictures before deciding on an age. Single photos (or observations) can easily fool you. Case in point – look how large and rounded this buck's (below) stomach appears.

Never bet your dog, truck or favorite bow on an aged buck!

But is it really that large? No, it was a result of him turning while the picture was taken. Here's another shot (below) of the same buck taken literally within five minutes.

This second photo clearly shows how tight the buck's waist is and he appears younger in this picture. For practice, from the picture I see a buck whose legs appear in proportion to his body, his neck has moderate swelling and connects fairly low on his chest, his chest is larger than his hind quarters, and his waist is tight.

All of these characteristics suggest this buck is 3.5 years old.

All of these characteristics suggest he is 3.5 years old. How about his antlers? They're pretty small for a 3-year-old buck, but that's why you look past the antlers and estimate age from body characteristics.

As you study age-specific body characteristics you'll notice there aren't age-specific antler characteristics (other than the range of antler potential that may be reached at each age class, and this percentage can't be accurately estimated by viewing the antlers).

Therefore, I suggest you don't rely on antler size when aging bucks. Large antlers on a younger deer and small antlers on an older deer can negatively influence your estimated age. I prefer to estimate age based solely on body characteristics with respect to location and time of year and then use antler size to "check" my estimate or to break a tie if I can't decide between two ages.

Aging bucks on the hoof is a lot of fun so whether you hunt them with a bow or camera, this information can make you a more knowledgeable whitetail enthusiast. Have fun aging bucks on the hoof in your area and good luck in the woods this fall.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

September Black Hills Whitetail Hunt

September Black Hills Whitetail Hunt

Gordon Whittington is hunting Eastern Wyoming with his crossbow where he encounters a fast moving situation.

Food Plots and Dogs

Food Plots and Dogs

On this edition of "Deer Dog," Jeremy Moore discusses how to connect food plots to deer and your deer dog.

Stan Potts

Stan Potts' Debut NAW Hunt

North American Whitetail revisits Stan Potts' very first hunt for the TV Show.

North American Whitetail - Canadian Conundrum

North American Whitetail - Canadian Conundrum

Pat Hogan heads to Saskatchewan, Stan talks Browning Hells Canyon clothing, and Dr. Kroll tells how vital it is to manage your hog population.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Here's how to crack the summer code. Early Season

3 Types of Late-Summer Bucks & How to Hunt Them

Garrett Tucker

Here's how to crack the summer code.

Understanding what deer eat and how they adjust their diets to meet changing nutritional requirements will not only increase your chances of harvesting a good buck, but also your enjoyment of whitetail hunting. Land Management

What Do Deer Eat?

Dr. James C. Kroll

Understanding what deer eat and how they adjust their diets to meet changing nutritional...

Fill your quiver with the right ammo this season. Bowhunting

The Best Arrows for Deer Hunting

Tony J. Peterson - June 10, 2019

Fill your quiver with the right ammo this season.

Improve the nutritional benefits that your land offers local deer. Land Management

No Matter the Season, Deer Orchard Work Brings Big Benefits to Whitetails

Lynn Burkhead - June 27, 2019

Improve the nutritional benefits that your land offers local deer.

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

Access is one of the largest impediments most of us face when it comes to deer hunting. Here's how to deal with the deer ground conundrum. How-To

Should You Buy Or Lease Hunting Land?

Tony J. Peterson

Access is one of the largest impediments most of us face when it comes to deer hunting. Here's...

If you're looking to get the most out of your short-range deer guns, author Keith Wood says that Aimpoint sights can do just that. How-To

Maximizing Short-Range Deer Guns

Keith Wood - August 31, 2018

If you're looking to get the most out of your short-range deer guns, author Keith Wood says...

Pat Hogan highlights the importance of applying the fundamentals of the draw cycle when it comes to How-To

On Target: Fundamentals of the Draw Cycle

NAW TV - February 13, 2018

Pat Hogan highlights the importance of applying the fundamentals of the draw cycle when it...

Where legal, adding a supplemental food source is a proven deer-hunting strategy. How-To

8 Steps to Maximize Deer Feeder Usage

Lynn Burkhead

Sponsored By
Academy Sports

See More How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.