Quality Deer Management & Aging of Harvested Deer
The promotion of Quality Deer Management and the pursuit of harvesting a Pope & Young or Boone & Crocket buck has come a long way over the years. Huge amounts of money are spent on deer management and all the things associated with it. We have written about enhancing habitat, food supplements, forage and browse. A key measure in deer management is determining how old that buck is when harvested.
An important part in collecting data about the deer herd and health, is the age of the deer. How does a collective of data stack up year to year in relation to the age of the deer? Weight, antler development, food sources, buck/doe ratio, deer population, hunting pressure… and on and on make up the collective of data. Fetal samples of pregnant harvested does also provides data on peak of rut, fetuses per doe and sex of fetuses all have importance. All this data circles back to herd health. Our goal here is to have 2 ½ to 3 ½ year old bucks with higher body weights and larger antler development. Determining actual age of the buck will provide quantitative data to verify if desired management goals are being achieved.
Aging Deer by Removing the Jawbone and Analyzing Teeth
Collecting the lower jawbone is one of the first things that needs to be done. When you get back to the skinning rack, weigh your deer. Then, open the deer’s mouth and remove the lower jawbone. There are tools to help with this such as a pair of lopping shears used to cut limbs and a jawbone puller. This does not hurt the hide if you plan to mount the deer. The jawbone puller, used correctly, will separate the hide from the jaw.
The teeth are key to understanding the age of the deer.
- Take the shears and cut the back of the jawbone, being careful not to damage the teeth.
- Hook the puller behind the jawbone you just cut and pull the jawbone out.
- Next, clean it up and you are ready to age the deer.
There are other ways to do this, but this is the easiest way I have found.
As so well explained by Quality Deer Management Association on their poster available to you, we start the aging process by examining the teeth to determine if the deer is a fawn, yearling or an adult. Fawns only have a few teeth that have erupted including the three crested milk tooth that is temporary. Yearlings or 1 ½ year old’s, will have a 3 crested third tooth. The first three teeth are referred to as Milk Teeth. At 2 ½, the 3 crested tooth will have been replaced by a 2 crested tooth. Aging to this point is straight forward and precise.
At 3 ½ years of age and on, we rely on dentine line and tooth wear. Now that we have a 2 crested third tooth, meaning at least 2 ½ years old, we look at the dentine line (black line) crest of the first molar (4th tooth). If the black dentine line is wider than the white enamel, the deer is estimated at 3 ½ years old. If the dentine line is wider in the first crest of the next tooth (5th tooth), the deer is estimated to be 4 ½. If the dentine line is wider than the second crest of the 5th tooth and there is wear on the first crest of the 6th tooth, the deer is estimated to be 5 ½ years old. When dentine is wider than enamel on all crests on all three molars (teeth 4, 5 & 6), deer is estimated to be 6 ½. Determining age of deer past 6 ½ is difficult and done by examining extensive wear on all teeth.
What can be Determined from Age of Deer?
By determining the age of harvested deer and other pertinent data, you can measure quality and health of your herd. This method of aging deer is widely used and quite accurate. It does not take long and is of great importance if you manage your herd and practice quality deer management. Deer age, weight, antler development, sightings per hunt and much more data will provide great data for analysis and guidance.
The goal for most hunters and outdoorsmen, is to have healthy young bucks with above average body weight and optimal antler development. The age of the buck is essential in data collection to have a gauge to apply the data in monitoring success of management objectives.
I am a great supporter and believer in Quality Deer Management Association (qdma.com). This organization has a tremendous educational and knowledge data base to help landowners and hunters with wildlife and specifically deer management. QDMA also have a poster that does an
excellent job of explaining aging deer with pictures and explanations. I have been working with wildlife and biologist for years practicing these management objectives and using these tools. I also continue to learn every time I am associated with QDMA and would encourage you to connect with them. Let me know if we can share some of these management objectives with you on your land.