Aging deer on-the-hoof

Brownwood Bulletin
Scott Anderson

Harvesting deer at the right age is an important aspect of trophy deer management. There are three aspects to antler development in white-tailed deer, genetics, nutrition, and age.

Age is crucial for developing quality antlers and must be considered right along with nutrition and genetics. A lot of people are concentrating on genetics these days when many would be better off improving their deer habitat and letting their bucks get a little older. I really think most hunters would be happy with the results of letting their bucks mature on good habitat before harvesting them.

With research and experience has shown scientists that bucks reach their peak antler growth between 5 and 7 years old.

Often, we hear folks claim their biggest bucks are over 7 years old. This may be true with penned deer living under optimum conditions, but I question whether it’s valid in wild deer. If some of the biggest bucks being harvested really are over 7 years of age, what percentage of the deer 8 and 9 years old do they represent? If 80-90 percent of the bucks 8 and 9 years old have declined in antler quality, then it is dicey business to manage for the 10-20 percent comprising this very small age class.

It is believed more research should be done before concrete statements are made about post-mature bucks growing the biggest antlers in the wild.

Irrespective of the 8-9-year-old controversy, bucks must at least 5 years old to grow their biggest antlers. Being able to estimate a buck’s age before harvest is vitally important in a trophy management program. Aging deer on-the-hoof is more art than science. A person needs to look at a lot of known-age animals to get the feel for the process. Aging deer means looking at many different characteristics and making your best educated guess. Factors like individual animal variation, health, breeding stage, observer bias and geographic area all influence and animal’s appearance. There is a lot of variation among animals that leads to mistakes when judging the age of deer, especially when an animal shows characteristic from multiple age classes.

When figuring a deer’s exact age is difficult and unnecessary. What is really important in his opinion, is being able to place the deer in one of three major categories: young, middle aged and old. Also consider yearlings and 2-year-old deer young; 3-4 years old, middle aged and 5-7 years as old.

Young deer have: 1) long legs 2) long, thin necks3) high flanks, 4) rumps higher than their shoulders and 5) an overall slim, dainty appearance.

Middle-aged deer have: 1) thick, muscular necks, 2) necks that swell from the shoulders 3) heavily-muscled rounded hind-quarters, 4) bellies that are full, but not sagging, 5) legs that no longer appear long and gangly and 6) flat backs that do not sway.

Old deer have 1) swayed backs, 2) “pot-bellies”, 3) very heavy necks and shoulders, 4) necks that blend into their chests, 5) short stubby-appearing legs and 6) “squinty-eyes”.

Allowing the bucks on your hunting lease to grow up will pay dividends later on. Hunters interested in trophy deer management should hone their skills to increase their odds of making accurate judgements about age.


Ranchers are all-too familiar with how dry Texas can get.

Pasture, Range, and Forage (PRF) Insurance is a risk policy designed to provide annual protection for farmers and ranchers who rely on forage products to support their livestock operations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency offers the PRF program and policies covering the 2021 calendar year through crop insurance agents until Nov. 15. Premiums will be billed on Sept. 1, 2021.

“In the face of uncertain weather conditions, insurance becomes a critical component in producers’ risk management portfolios,” said DeDe Jones, AgriLife Extension risk management specialist in Amarillo.

Premiums for PRF Insurance vary by county, use for grazing or haying, coverage level, productivity level, intervals chosen and grid location.

Farmers and ranchers are not required to insure all acres for the entire 12-month period.

Payment is not determined by individual damages, but rather area losses based on a grid system.

Farmers and ranchers can select any portion of acres to insure, but a minimum of two and a maximum of six two-month periods must be selected.

Coverage levels between 70 percent and 90 percent are available, Jones said. Once coverage is selected, the producer also chooses a productivity factor between 60 percent and 150 percent. The productivity factor is a percentage of the established county base value for forage.

The base value is a standard rate published by the Risk Management Agency for each county. It is calculated based on estimated stocking rates and current hay prices.

The program uses a rainfall index to determine potential indemnity payments.

Alfalfa and other irrigated hay can be insured under a PRF policy at different coverage levels and higher base values. For more information, visit or conta