Tag Archive for: scoring deer on the hoof

Why You Should Consider Seasonal Body Changes When Aging Bucks

Aging Deer on The Hoof | Consider Seasonal Body Changes

By: MSU™ Deer Lab

Estimating age of photographed bucks can be difficult enough due to less-than-ideal body alignment in the photos.  Combining that with seasonal changes in body shape will really increase difficulty.  Bucks change dramatically between the early fall compared to when they are primed for the rut, so always consider the date relative to you area’s peak rut.  Bucks relax during the summer, putting extra nutrients into body fat and rapidly growing antlers.  His interests and activities change once testosterone levels increase dramatically in August, leading to antler hardening and shedding of their velvet during mid-to-late September.

This buck photographed in mid-September has a relatively thin neck, which makes you think he’s 3-4 years old. His antlers look huge, but remember velvet antlers always appear to be larger than fully hardened antlers.  Note how much different he looks in December – his neck is much thicker, a result of steroids (testosterone) and 3 month of serious exercise (rubbing, scraping, traveling, and fighting). But, also note his thinner hind quarter in December, which is the result of his reduced feeding activity during his increased exercise (sounds just like most human weight-loss programs!)

How to Age White-tailed Deer | Three Methods You Can Use This Deer Season

Aging Deer on the Hoof, Jawbone Aging, and Cementum Annuli

By: Eric Michel  

If you’ve been around deer hunting for any amount of time you probably understand that many hunters get caught up in trying to age deer, and for good reason. Aging deer, whether dead or alive, can give you valuable information about what you can do to better manage your herd and reach your goals. Many hunters would like to consistently harvest bucks of a certain antler size, but often times fall short. Allowing those bucks to live for a year or two more would likely help those hunters accomplish their goals, but they won’t know that if they aren’t aging their deer.  

There are several ways to age deer, but it’s important to understand that none of them are 100% accurate and accuracy usually decreases as deer get older. Each method also has a certain level of subjectivity associated with it. The only way to know for certain how old a deer is, is to give it some type of unique identifier at birth. Outside of that, you can rarely say with 100% accuracy that a deer is a certain age, but you can say that a deer is displaying characteristics associated with a certain age. Even though people will use the number of antler points and antler configuration to keep track of a deer throughout the years, they are still making assumptions about how old the deer is the first time they see it. Even if you think the deer is most likely a yearling when you first see it, there’s only about a 30% chance that buck will be on your property the next year. This is because about 70% of yearlings will disperse up to five miles away from where they are born. Additionally, the number of points and a bucks antler configuration can change from year-to-year depending on disease, quality of nutrition, and antler injuries. This article discusses the three most common methods to age deer.


Cementum Annuli

Most people have probably heard about how you can use growth rings to age a tree. Well the same concept can be applied to white-tailed deer. A calcified layer of cementum is laid down each year a deer is alive which allows you to take a cross-section of the tooth and count the number of rings associated with it. This method is done by removing one of the front incisors from a dead deer and sending it off to a lab so the age can be estimated. Generally speaking, the lab will charge you a minimum cost (usually around 75$) so it’s best to wait to send in all of the incisors you’ve collected until after the hunting season.  

Counting cementum annuli is considered to be the most accurate method of estimating age, though it’s not perfect and there is little, if any, research that has compared ages derived from counting cementum annuli to those of known-aged deer. This method can also be cost prohibitive for individuals who harvest a large number of deer from their property or even state agencies who collect samples from sometimes hundreds of deer.  

Tooth Replacement and Wear

Tooth replacement and wear is the oldest method used to age deer. This method is great for several reasons. First, it’s cheap. You can do this method by yourself without having to send the jawbone off for analysis. It is also fast after you know what you’re looking for. The biggest downfall of this method is its inaccuracy and subjectivity. There are several factors that can impact the wear rates for a deer’s tooth (individual variation associated with the deer, diet, sand content in the soil, etc.). This can cause an individual deer or even a population of deer to have different wear patterns compared to other individuals or populations. Additionally, when assessing the wear, the difference between a 2.5- and 3.5-year-old deer can be minimal and two people may have differences in opinion when looking at the same jawbone. On a positive note, this method is great for placing deer into one of three age classes: fawns, 1.5-year-olds (yearlings), or 2.5+. The downside is this may not be detailed enough to help you achieve your management goals.


So how do you use this method to age deer? This method revolves around identifying which teeth have been replaced and then understanding the subsequent wear patterns. The replacement portion of the method is almost 100% accurate while the wear portion of the method has decreasing accuracy as a deer ages because you are comparing the ratio of dentine (dark part of the tooth) to the enamel (white part of the tooth) on the lingual crest which is the crest adjacent to the deer’s tongue.  


Aging fawns is easy because they don’t have all of their teeth yet. An adult white-tailed deer will have six teeth on their lower jaw. If you harvest a deer and it has less than six fully erupted teeth and the third premolar is a tricuspid (three cusps), then it is considered to be a fawn.


You can age yearlings with almost 100% accuracy because you are still using tooth replacement as your guide. Remember, the first thing you do when aging a jawbone is count the number of teeth on the lower jawbone. If there are six teeth, the next thing you do is look at the number of cusps on the premolar or third tooth in from the front. If this is tooth is a tricuspid, then it is a yearling or 1.5-year-old deer. This is easy to identify, but it gets more complicated depending on the exact age of the deer. If your state allows for an elongated hunting season, deer may have already replaced their tricuspid tooth. If so, the new bicuspid that has replaced it will be much whiter than the surrounding teeth with very little wear.  


You can still use the replacement portion of this method to classify deer as at least 2.5-years-old. This is  pretty easy to do. First, you make sure there are at least six teeth. Next you check the third premolar to see whether it is a tricuspid or a bicuspid. If it’s a bicuspid, and the first three teeth display some staining and wearing, then you can classify the animal as at least 2.5-years-old. However, if the third tooth is a bicuspid and the first three teeth are completely white with no wear or staining, then the deer is still likely a 1.5-year-old.

3.5+ year-olds

Aging deer as 3.5-year-olds or older means you now have to use the tooth wear portion of the method. For this, you start on the first molar (the fourth tooth in from the front) because this is the oldest tooth in the jaw. The concept of tooth wear is pretty simple. Looking at the tall portion of the crests, you simply compare the width of the dentine to the width of the enamel. If the dentine is at least twice as wide as the enamel, then the deer can be labeled as a 3.5-year-old. If the dentine is not twice as wide, then the deer is likely a 2.5-year-old. You use this same comparison of dentine to enamel to age a deer to 5.5+. So for example, if the dentine on the fourth tooth is twice as wide as the enamel, then the deer is at least 3.5-years-old so you move to the next molar. If the dentine on that tooth is not twice as wide as the enamel, then you stick with the age of 3.5, but if the dentine is twice as wide on the enamel of the fifth molar, then the deer is likely 4.5-years-old. You then apply this same concept to determine if the animal is 4.5- or 5.5-years of age. If the dentine is at least twice as wide as the enamel on the 6th molar, then the deer is at least 5.5-years-old, but if it isn’t then the deer is probably only 4.5-years-old. Accuracy dramatically declines with the increasing age of an animal and aging to 5.5-years is adequate for most management schemes so it’s best to stop and aging at 5.5-years.

Aging Deer on the Hoof

Aging deer on the hoof is one of the most used methods by both hunters and biologists. You don’t have to watch any hunting show long and you will inevitably hear somebody say something along the lines of “look at this 2.5-year old, he sure is an up and comer”. Everybody likes to think that they can accurately age on the hoof and there are several benefits to being able to accurately age a buck on the hoof. Mainly, because it is the only way you can assess the age of a buck while it’s still alive which should ultimately help you reach your management goals. Aging a buck on the hoof takes a lot of experience of looking at pictures and even with that, it is the least accurate method. A study that polled state deer biologists and university researchers showed that when given a series of pictures of bucks, only 62% of them accurately aged yearlings, only 43% accurately aged 2.5-year-olds, 25% for 3.5-year-olds, and less than 30% accurately aged 4.5-, 5.5-, 6.5-, and 7.5+ year-old bucks. But despite being an inaccurate method of aging, it is still widely used. Here are some characteristics you can use to help you decide how old that buck is before you pull the trigger.  


Aging fawns on the hoof is pretty easy but also very important. For example, if you are trying to fill your doe tag during a late season hunt, you don’t want to mistake a buck fawn for a yearling doe. It’s much easier to identify fawns when they are in a group with adults because they will generally be the smallest of the bunch. You can also look at the shape of their head. Fawns obviously have smaller heads and will tend to look like a soda bottle, short and stubby.


Yearling bucks should be one of the easiest deer to estimate age for, but again, only 62% of professionals were able to accurately place bucks into this age class. There are several things to look for that will help you when aging yearling deer. Primarily, you should be looking for underdeveloped muscles in the buck’s front and hindquarters. They will also have pencil thin necks and their stomachs will run at an upward slant from their front quarters to hindquarters. Another characteristic to look for is how long their legs look. Younger deer tend to have legs that look disproportionately long because they haven’t filled out yet in their quarters and stomach regions. Probably the most tell-tale sign that a buck is only 1.5-years-old is if it looks like a doe after covering up it’s antlers. If this is the case, then you most likely are dealing with a yearling buck.


Bucks that are 2.5-years-old can be difficult to tell from 1.5-year-old bucks. Generally speaking, their legs still look long for their body, though they will have front and hind quarters that will be more filled out than a yearlings. A 2.5-year-olds neck will also begin to be more filled out than a yearlings during the rut.


Being able to identify a buck as 3.5-years-old can be one of the most important things you can do for your management plan. This is because 3.5-year-olds have only reached about 75% of their maximum antler size. That remaining 25% can be the difference between a 130-inch buck at 3.5 and a 160-inch buck at 5.5. Unfortunately, the 3.5-year age class is one of the most difficult to accurately age. 

By 3.5-years, bucks will start to have more swelling in their necks during the rut with their neck flowing more into their brisket. Their legs will start to look more proportional to their body and they will have a sleek, muscular look to them though their front and hindquarters won’t be fully developed. They will also start to develop moderate tarsal staining.


By 4.5-years, a buck will start to develop the sleek racehorse look. They will have fully developed front and hindquarters but will look more muscular than anything. Their necks will begin to look very swollen during the rut and their stomach will be flat from front to hindquarters. They will also display an increased amount of staining on the tarsal gland. 


Once a deer has reached the age of 5.5-years they are generally considered to be fully mature. These deer will have fully developed front and hindquarters but they will no longer look as muscular as they did at 4.5. Bucks that are 5.5+ tend to have a sagging belly and a swale in their back. Their necks will flow right into their brisket and will look quite large after swelling during the rut. A fully mature bucks legs will also tend to look short relative to their body because their body is now fully developed.

Regardless of whether you are looking to age deer on the hoof to help determine which bucks you will harvest this fall, or are trying to collect harvest data to monitor your management program, age data can be invaluable. Keep these methods in mind this fall when trying to age your deer.

Field Scoring a Deer 101

Scoring a Deer | How to Field Score a Whitetail Buck

While some whitetails are clearly “shooters”, as a hunter, you might often find yourself encountering a buck that is on the border of “shoot” or “don’t shoot”. Today’s advancements in trail cameras have tremendously cut back on the guesswork and these questionable encounters. It is not often that you come across a buck of significant caliber without at least having a couple of pictures of him. The addition of recent advancements in deer scoring technology now make it possible to know the exact score of the deer based off of these trail camera photos. However, there is always the possibility of the unknown. The rut, for example, is when hunters are still forced to test their skill at field scoring a whitetail. While it is not used often, the ability to field score deer is still a very important tool to have.  The article below will walk you through how to quickly and effectively field score a buck. After you read through the blog, test yourself with the BuckScore® Field Scoring Quiz. The participation in the quiz will also reward you with a 50% off a subscription to the BuckScore® app. The quiz is located at the bottom of this article.

Field Scoring a Whitetail Buck

Follow along with each tip in order to find out how to properly field score a whitetail! The first step in this process is establishing your reference points. When field scoring deer, your best reference point to get an idea of the frame size will be the buck’s ears, eyes, and nose. While regionally speaking these measurements and reference points can be off, a general idea or average between regions should be used. The average measurements of how many inches each reference feature is will help you get a very accurate estimate of the buck’s score.  The reference points include:

 Ear Tip to Ear Tip – Ear tip to ear tip is a very important reference point in determining the buck’s spread. A frontal view is needed to get the best estimate, but generally, a buck’s ear tip to ear tip measurement will be 13-15 inches.

 Ear Base to Tip – The ear base to tip measurement is important when figuring not only the size of the tines but the length of the main beam. Generally, a buck’s ears from base to tip will be 7-8 inches.

Eye Circumference – The circumference of a buck’s eye is a good reference point in roughly calculating your four antler circumference measurements. For this reference point, a buck’s eye is around 4 inches in circumference.

Eye to Tip of Nose – The center of the buck’s eye, to the tip of his nose is a good reference measurement when estimating main beam length. This measurement is around 7-8 inches.


After you have referenced your initial measurements you will be ready to start field scoring the buck. Take a look at the picture above to memorize the reference points. You will need them in the steps below. The first step will be estimating the buck’s spread.

The Field Scoring Shortcut

Note that the example pictures and steps below are walking you through scoring first the inside spread, but also just one side of the buck’s antlers. If the buck is relatively symmetrical, you will simply be able to score one antler and multiply it by two. By taking this shortcut and adding the measurement of the spread credit, you will arrive at a rough estimate of the buck’s score.

(Score of antler 1 X 2(if antlers are symmetrical)) + (spread) = Score of buck

Estimating Spread

Estimating a buck’s spread credit is relatively one of the easiest scores to estimate while field scoring a buck. By using the Ear tip-to-tip reference measurement of 13-15 inches, you can quickly gather if a buck’s spread is an inch or two inside or wider than his ears. For bucks that have a spread that far exceeds his ears, simply reference the ear base to tip measurement of 7-8 inches. The picture below shows the example buck exceeding the tip to tip measurement, therefore by estimating how many inches wider the antler extends beyond we can roughly estimate the buck’s spread to be around 19 – 21 inches.

Main Beam length

Beam length is easiest to estimate from the side angle or 90 degrees. This allows you to reference the measurements of the ear (7-8”) and eye to nose tip (7-8”). Simply applying those measurements and subtracting or adding inches to how short or long the main beam is, can be the easiest way to estimate the beam lengths. In the case of this buck, the main beam is significantly longer than the ear and eye to nose tip measurements combined. Combined the reference points equal 14-16 inches, so this deer can easily be estimated to have a 19-20 inch main beam measurement.

Note: Be aware that significant “upturned” main beams or, for instance, when the main beam sweeps in and is close to touching tips with the other main beam, will potentially skew your estimates. In an ideal encounter with a buck, you would receive frontal and side views, allowing you to judge, in inches, how much the main beam may be skewed from the side view.


 Tine Lengths

Tine lengths, while they may seem easy, are actually quite difficult to estimate. They are the furthest from the reference points but also can be subject skewed estimations based on view angles, or when additional points on the tine are present. Remember that for a point to count towards the whitetail’s score the tine must be at least one inch. The easiest point to reference tine length is the ear base to tip measurement. By estimating how much longer or shorter each tine length is (G1, G2, G3, G4, etc.) than the ear measurement of 7-8 inches, you can quickly gather a rough sum of the tine measurements. This buck’s tines can roughly be summed to roughly 18 inches.

Estimating Mass

Without the reference measurement of the circumference of the buck’s eye at 4 inches, judging the four antler circumference measurements would be difficult. All bucks, regardless of how many tines they have always will be measured with four circumference measurements. Four pointers, six pointers, or even spikes will all need four evenly distributed measurements of antler circumference. The circumference measurements are measured between:

  • Halfway between the base and the G1
  • Halfway between the G1 and the G2
  • Halfway between the G2 and the G3
  • Halfway between the G3 and the G4

To estimate the buck’s circumference measurements simply judge how much smaller or bigger the antler’s circumference is from your reference point of the buck’s eye. If the antler looks roughly ¾ of the eye circumference it is most likely in the 3-inch range. If it is roughly 1.5X the circumference you will ballpark the circumference measurements in the 5.5-6 inch range. The example buck can be judged at essentially the same mass for the first two measurements between the base and G1, and the G1 and G2. These measurements would be somewhere in the ballpark of 3.5-4 inches. The third and fourth circumference measurements are around ¾ the size of the eye so can be estimated to be around 3 inches. The sum of the example buck’s circumference measurements is 14 inches.

Adding the Measurements

After you estimate each of the antler measurements for one side of the buck’s antlers, you are ready to either score the other side or you can take a shortcut. If time allows (it often does not) and if the buck is generally symmetrical, you can simply multiply the sum of the antler measurement by two. For this buck, a very symmetrical buck, we can total the antler measurements to be roughly 51-52 inches. By multiplying 51-52 inches by two, taking the shortcut in estimating the score of the other antler, we can arrive that this buck’s antlers are around 102-104 inches.

We then add the 19-21 inch spread credit of the buck to come to a rough estimate that this buck’s score is 121- 124 inches. This put’s the buck into the 120-inch class, but more specifically the 120-125 range.

Is That Estimate Correct?

You do not get the luxury of confirming your estimations in the field while hunting. However, you can do two things to greatly improve your odds at estimating the buck’s score correctly. You can practice field scoring pictures or videos of known bucks, or you can get ahold of the BuckScore® program. The BuckScore® program allows you to score a buck’s antlers based on any picture. This picture can be a trail camera picture, a harvest picture, or even a freeze-frame of a video if you happen to film your hunts! We scored this buck using the BuckScore® program. The results are posted below. The example buck’s antlers grossed at 121.988 or simplified to 122 inches.

Are You Ready to Field Score a Buck?

Test your ability at field scoring whitetails by taking the BuckScore® field scoring quiz. You will watch a quick video encounter with a buck and be given 4 multiple choice options of scores. There are 10 bucks to score with a time limit of 10 minutes for the entire quiz. This allows you 1 minute to score each buck, about all the time you might receive in a real hunting scenario. Once you have completed the quiz, you will to receive the actual BuckScore® certified score of the bucks, your quiz results, and a 50% off code on your first month of your BuckScore® subscription!



Still Not Confident Field Scoring Deer? Go Mobile!


BuckScore® Mobile, now allows you to score deer with your phone! This now allows real encounter scoring. Within minutes of snapping the picture, you can have a score of the deer before he even offers you a shot opportunity!

Check out BuckScore® Mobile here!