Deer aging ?

Deer Kar

5 year old buck +
I'm looking for opinions on what is the most accurate aging method. I have in the past just used body characteristics and would like to start extracting Jaw bones and sending teeth in for Cementum Annuli ( I think that's what it's called ) Is one lab better than another? All input is welcomed.
If you send the teeth in - keep the jaw bones and have a way to link the two together (I also like either live or dressed weights as well along with harvest date). Also then try to get as good of photos as you can of the deer. Putting all of these pieces together will help. You are essentially rebuilding the identity of the deer. The reason I say this is that when we pull the trigger we only have the visual clues to point us in the right direction in making that decision - any info after that is too late. Keeping all of this info together will help build the best picture of how old the deer was. Cementun aging has error factors, tooth wear can vary from region to region once the deer has all it's adult teeth. Body characteristic can be a mixed bag at times as well depending on health and season. We know rack characteristics canbe misleadng as well. Relying on one "measurement" is not good statistical practice. Reviewing several indicators will help ensure a more reliable result. You don't sight your gun in with one shot - do you? No - you take several! The more info you have the more sound decision you can make on the deer you have taken as well as the deer you have in your sights!
Agree with jbird. We also setup a spread sheet and record harvest by age class after get our annual report back from the biologist. We are looking for health trends but also watching for age trends. We will target cull bucks probably starting this year. When I say cull, I am not talking about trying to influence genetics cause I don't think it is possible in a wild herd. What we want to avoid is stock piling older age class bucks and does. So we will try to take out a few of the older bucks that are subpar for our area which would be 8 or fewer points and under 115" and the biggest oldest does we can. We want our deer with the most potential to stay rather than be pushed off by an old bully that don't amount to much score wise.
I have been collecting hanging weights, pic, stand location,basic weather (wet or dry year) and very very least gross score of bucks most of which we have mounted. I have a running book with about 10 years of that type of data . But not a single Jaw bone. I have looked at the teeth of the last couple of bucks but only have a picture to compare the ware too. Doesn't look real accurate to me. I have asked a few taxidermy guys what they thought the ages were and got varying answers too. I would like to send the teeth to some type of lab to get a more accurate result. But other than extracting a few bear teeth that were sent into the Mn DNR I have not done any dental work on Whitetails .
Nothing beats history and keeping records of trail cam pics, IMO. Name your bucks and keep a handful of the best identifying pics each year, essentially creating a database of pics for each bucks, for each year of their life.

Using body characteristics is decent, and I am often forced to try to age deer based on that alone.

Examining teeth wear is generally more accurate, as deer do have different body types and that can be misleading, but I get some very misleading teeth wear results, at times

Cementun aging is generally viewed as being more accurate, but j-bird is correct. It also has errors.

In other words, what j-bird said above, supplemented with a database of pics is about as good as it gets.
It's all an educated guess. The more info/data you have the more educated you are about that deer - thus you can make a more sound determination. I don' focus much on an exact age. I have deer to pass and deer to harvest. Bucks - if I have to take a hard look to see if he is a "shooter" then I pass. Does - I simply target the largest one in the group. The more I complicate it the less funI have.
We added a little bit of complication because we were in desperate need to rebuild some age in the buck herd because previous owners pretty much raped the place. But this season we will be able to start relaxing that some. Keeping and tracking all the data though is fun to me because it is the feed back that the hunting management as well as habitat work is paying off. Seeing lactation rates and body weights trending up and watching what the bucks can be when allowed to get some age on them is almost as rewarding as the kill itself.
I have had teeth sent in for aging a few bucks. One I though was easily 3 was a monster 2 1/2 year old. The one I shot last fall, I am guessing he is 4 1/2 but I have not gotten the results yet.
We have had one buck aged with cementum aging. He was aged at 9.5. The taxidermist had him at 6.5. We only had 2 pics of him the year prior to harvesting him. His body did not fit his antlers. We did hear a couple of guys had some history with him that would push him to that 9 year range. We struggle to develop history with bucks from year to year. We have decent racked bucks with a distinguishing feature one year, and never see him again any following year. We had a 2.5 year old last fall that only had half a tail. Had 6in wide 5pt rack. Had a 1.5 body. Previous year was a spike as a year and a half, same half tail. We have just the last couple of years started trying to put more accurate aging to our deer. Again, body mass and rack development change drastically from year to year. But, we have a blast playing with these northern WI deer.
Something I want to clear up about my comment about photographs. You can take pics of the deer after the harvest as well. Take pictures of the nose and general profile of the head or anything else that may be helpful. These are great for the Taxi as well as using them to age other deer as they are handier than pulling a head off the wall - also helps the Taxi do a better job capturing your deer.
We sent in teeth for cementum annuli aging to and we have been happy with that service. After using trail cameras and cementum annuli aging data for a few years, we're getting more confident in our age estimation. We have been surprised at the number of mature bucks (4.5+ year old) that score poorly (90"-110") despite being harvested in the same areas that occasionally produce B&C class deer. Body weight is also a good indicator, but we've also seen stocky bucks that are older, but are just a little shorter in height and length so they only dress out in the 150 pound range despite being mature.

Based on our cementum annuli data from MN and WI, we have found that the bucks are generally older than we thought, but the variance in antler size of bucks of a given age is also greater than we thought.

We are also now more confident that if a buck comes in with a stocky body, he is likely an older deer regardless of the size of his rack.
the variance in antler size of bucks of a given age is also greater than we thought.

We are also now more confident that if a buck comes in with a stocky body, he is likely an older deer regardless of the size of his rack.

One of my best friends has worked for an all natural genetics, 2000 acre high fence his entire adult life (whatever deer were caught inside when the fence went up was what they had to work with, period). Don't take this an infomercial for high fences, but all the fence does for them is make it so they have increased management abilities. For the last 12ish years, he has also managed free range deer, at the same time, but his many, many previous and continued years working behind the fence is really what sets him apart.

Behind the fence, none of the best bucks are shot before 6.5 yrs old, and that's only if they can get them killed at that age. Around half of those end up dying of disease, old age or fights. They've had management bucks they've hunted for years, without ever seeing from stand.

Anyway, for 25+ years, he has been in the unique position to have history with every buck within the fence and tracked them from 2.5 on up, with numerous cam pics of each. There isn't a debate when he says this buck is 7.5, as he has pics of him every year going back to 2.5. I suppose he has messed up a few times and matches the wrong buck to previous years' pics, but nothing close to what we go through on free ranging deer.

He gave me the single best tip I've ever gotten on aging deer from pics. Cover their antlers with your hand and look only at the face and body. Antlers lie all the time. Face and body characteristics can be deceiving on some bucks, as bucks have different body types, not much unlike humans. Even on "normal" bodied deer, pics from certain angles can be deceptive, but the face and bodies don't lie anywhere near as much as antler sizes.

As a side note, the guy is easily the best I've ever seen at aging deer from pics and on the hoof. I show him the most deceptive cam pics I can come up with, trying to mess him up, from bucks I've got enough history with to know their ages. Frankly, I hope some day I'm as good. Just goes to show, when one spends their entire adult life doing anything, it shows...Or there's something horribly wrong with them.
The aging seminar that I went to with Kip Adams ( I know may be a dirty word around here) but he said the same cover the antlers and only use them as a tie breaker between two age classes.
Kip isn't a swear word to me at all, but I think he needs more real world experience if he believes antlers can be used even just as tie breakers. I've seen way too many 6.5+s without any mass to speak of, too many 2.5s with old timer type mass and junk points. Too many 160+ 3.5s, too many 120 5.5+s. Outside of nubbins and most 1.5s, I really don't think antlers tell a person anything at all about age. In fact, I'd love to have someone bet me $100 a rack on 10 racks of my choosing that they would be within 2 years, just looking at the racks. If they were within 2 years, I pay them $100. If they are 3 or more years off, I get the $100. It would seem I'd be a sucker to go for it, but I bet I'd make $ off the deal on nearly everyone that took it, and those I lost $ to would just be based on luck...The catch is that I'd get to chose the 10 racks of bucks I knew the ages of (and I'd obviously select the misleading ones).

There are some very general tendencies, but there are way more exceptions to those antler tendencies than any other aging characteristic.

I may have missed it but what are the specific features one looks for in the face and body to tell age. Also could you please explain "roman nose" to me.

As it applies to deer, "Roman nose" merely means a long face, particularly from the eyes to the tip of the nose.

Outside of the rack, I try to look at everything, as any one or a combo may be lying to me.

How long is the face (longer faces tend to be older deer...I don't mean longer in proportion to their body. I mean long in inches)?
If the back of the scull is viewed as the base of a triangle, with the nose being the tip, how disproportionately wide/long is the base (wider/longer base of the skull triangle tends to be older. Most often, older bucks either have longer heads or their face forms more of a short/"fat" triangle)?
How does the neck intersect with the chest (on mature bucks, the neck tends to run right into the breast plate)?
What does their brisket look like (floppy, hanging briskets often indicate an overly mature buck)?
How thick is their chest (more mature bucks tend to have deeper chests)?
Do their legs look disproportionately long (younger deer tend to look like they have "long" legs, as their body hasn't filled out to create the optical illusion of them appearing shorter yet)?
Does their body have more of a barrel or tapered appearance (mature buck's bodies tend to fill out so that they look like a barrel from chest to scrotum, where as younger tend to taper upwards going back...must forget that during the late rut/post rut, as mature rutting bucks become emaciated and their guts pull up...At that point, in herds with healthy age structure, your 3.5s tend to appear to have bigger bodies than your 5.5+s)?
How "fat" is their butt (typically can't see it anywhere near as well on pics, but that's one of my primary age indicators for in person age estimations. 3.5s and youngers' butts are dead give aways, when headed away...most have very skinny butts. Every time I've messed up and shot a 3.5 on grounds with 4.5s as a minimum, I had "awe shit" moments when they ran away).
I put no stock in antlers OR the swayed back. I've been REALLY lucky to be around a good number of 7.5-9.5 yr old bucks and have yet to notice them having swayed backs. Maybe it's more of a southern thing or something, but I don't see it.

Here are a handful of pics of known aged bucks. They're all from 2012, as I just finished a piece for Bowhunting World that I linked a bunch of bucks to the home ranges and core areas they had on a photo...Not to sound like a jerk wad, but it's a VERY cool piece, IMO. I used data from 2012, and the pics were easy to dig up for this, is why I'm posting 2012 pics, if that matter.
From top to bottom: 3.5, 4.5, 6.5 & 9.5...Because of history, I'm 100% confident on the ages of each. You'd never believe it, but the 3.5 is in the 160s (the 4.5 below him, mid 140s). I have a ton of pics of him from that year (as well as last year...also passed him 2 times last year, as he was one of only 3 4.5s I kept off the hit list to try to get to 5.5...mid 170s last year, vanished in early Dec...Hope like !@#$ he's still alive). Found both his shed from 2012 and had to measure them 3 times, because I just couldn't wrap my mind around him being in the 160s...You can't make them out well, but he has VERY long brows. Longer everything than it appears, as everything curls or twists. Has nothing to do with anything, but that buck's measurements have been the most surprising to date, for me. The weird part is one glance at him in 2013 (in pics or on the hoof) and you know he's Boone, but he only added 10-15"s.
Age 3.jpg
Age 4.jpg Age 6.jpg Age 9.jpg
Thanks Steve for putting that tutorial together. I greatly appreciate it. Love the pics that go with explanations. The visuals sure help.