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Its Not All About the Rack

Summer’s been shown the door, and the weather’s certainly gotten a little bit cooler. Sure, we could use some rain, but you better believe we’ll get some more of that sooner rather than later. Bow season kicks off Saturday in Alabama for buck hunting, with Zone B getting to harvest does starting the 25th of October. Of course, scouting is in full swing, and part of that is studying trail camera photos. One topic that’s always up for debate is how to properly age a buck, and just like anything else, it takes practice, experience, and a pragmatic approach to really get good at it. That’s where Lindsay Thomas Jr. comes in, as he gives us a few handy pointers on what to look for and what to avoid when trying to age a buck.

For starters, make sure you have a good picture. Keep it at an even eye-level, with a good profile shot of the buck. While you can’t ask the buck nicely to pick a pretty pose for that camera, if you can get a good broadside photo of that buck, it’ll help tremendously with determining its age. Another important thing to remember is when the photo was taken; deer body shape changes drastically depending on the time of year, so you want to be checking out photos of pre-rut or peak rut bucks, as that’s when they’re the easiest to age.

Of course, as mentioned above, getting a good shot isn’t really something you can control, so be sure to keep track of multiple photos. Staring at just one photo may not give you the proper information, as bucks aren’t the type to normally sit still for long, resulting in some potentially misleading shots. Even something as simple as a buck taking a deep breath can change its body shape dramatically, throwing off your guess for age.

Another common problem is that most folks tend to concentrate on the antlers for aging, which isn’t very accurate. There’s a lot of crossover on rack size for bucks, as there are plenty of young bucks with great antlers, while there are older bucks with smaller, thinner antlers out there. With quality deer management as a focus, you’d want to harvest the older buck with a smaller rack, to help pull him out of the potential gene pool while letting that younger buck grow a little older, potentially improving the quality of bucks you get in years to come.

Of course, another thing to keep in mind is that buck body size can vary greatly depending on the environment that your deer live in. Lower quality soil and poor conditions can lead to lower muscle mass in a buck as it grows older, so you really have to get to know your area and your deer population, which takes follow-through. When you successfully harvest a buck, and have made your guesses at its age, pull the jawbone or extract an incisor from that deer. You can estimate the jawbone age, or even send the tooth off to a lab for study, and with the resulting information, see how far off you were in your guess. Through trial and error, you can really narrow down the finer details of your deer population, making for much more accurate guesswork with age. Yes, it’s guesswork folks; there’s no exact science, but we can become pretty proficient at it with practice and good follow-through.

Of course, I can’t help but mention that joining QDMA provides you with some more resources for learning how to age bucks, as well as some practice rounds! In the QDMA’s free weekly e-newsletter, they include a photo of a buck with a poll for you to estimate the buck’s age. In the next newsletter, QDMA’s experts provide feedback as to the age of that deer, as well as the defining features that lead to their estimate. Little things like this can help you drastically improve your aging technique, which can only help you make better informed decisions out in the field for managing your deer population. Simply hop onto QDMA’s website, at, join up to start receiving the magazine, and sign up for the e-newsletter.

It may not always seem practical or useful to go through photos like a crime scene investigator, but when your focus is improving on your deer hunting for future years down the road, every little bit helps. Aging deer is a good way to decide which buck you really want to harvest and which ones you should let walk, which does dramatically impact the quality of your herd. So get those trail cameras rolling, break out the photo book, and go get’em!


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