By Dr. Shawn Campbell
Ph.D -  Animal Nutrition - Texas Tech University
Victoria, TX 77901
361 550 0282        

Deer Season is upon us again, are you ready ?  There is an annual routine that I follow every year.  It starts at home by getting the gun or guns out and going to the range.  Making sure you can shoot a 2 inch pattern at 150 yards with the particular brand and grain of bullets you will shoot. If you hunt on a food plot, make sure you know the distances to fence lines and practice shooting at those distances so your aim above the target at distances past 150 yards will be automatic. Next, I make sure all my clothes have been washed with a non-scent detergent and stored in a bag with some natural elements of the area where you will be hunting.
For example, one of the ranches I hunt has a lot of cedar, so I cut some cedar limbs with foliage and stick them in the bag with my clothes.  In addition, I use a cover scent spray on my shoes, head and body before walking to my hunting area.

Now that we have our gun shooting perfectly, clothes and body scent free, lets think about the hunting area.  Hopefully, you have scouted your hunting area several times to find the trails coming in and out of your hunting area, but if you haven't had time or you have not hunted there before, don't worry.  After the morning hunt, take a little time and scout around 150 to 250 yards of your hunting area in several directions.  Look for deer trails, scoots under fence wire, scrapes, rubs on trees, browse lines, deer poop and tracks.

Don't forget to brush in your ground blinds or pop-up blinds. 
I always try to make the area look as natural as possible.  I will take my tree nippers and cut brush and stack around my blinds so they blend in with the area.  I have had some of my best hunts in natural brush blinds that I have made.  I will first find a good tree that has multiple trunks or some brush growing around it and make me a hunting nest and brush in all around it.  In addition I will use camouflage netting on the inside to block any silhouetting or movement of the hunter.

Do you know how to age a deer on the hoof  within seconds of when you see him ? Sometimes all you may have is a few seconds. It is a lot easier than you may think. Educate yourself on a few basic elements of aging bucks on the hoof and you will know when to pull the trigger and when to let the buck go on his way.

There are several base characteristics of deer maturity that are evident if you know what to look for.  When I spot a buck moving into the hunting area, I immediately look to see if he is a mature trophy, a management buck, or a younger buck that has potential in the future. 

First, scan the bucks' flank area and then move toward the head.
As a deer ages, the flank of a deer will become more flat.  For example, two year old deer have a high flank. As the buck ages to 4.5 to 5.5 years old, the flank skin will be very level with the body.
Do not focus on the horns right away. Glance at the horns and if the antlers have mass, width, and height, then really focus on the age. Take another look at the horns as you finish aging the deer. 

Second, scan the belly line of the buck.  As the deer matures, the belly line becomes very flat from the chest to the flank area, and once a deer reaches 6.5 + years old, the buck will start to have a more pronounced sag to the belly that will be lower than the bottom of the chest cavity.  In the same scan I am looking at the back line of the buck.  As a buck reaches 6.5 + years old, the back line will begin to sway to go along with the sagging belly.

Third, scan toward the head of the buck. Let your eyes concentrate on how the bucks neck connects to the shoulder area.  Immature bucks less than 4.5 years of age will have a pronounced or rough fit from the neck to the shoulder.  At 4.5 years of age the transition of the neck to the shoulder is much smoother and progresses in that manner until they reach 5.5 years old through
7.5 or 8.5 years old. 

Fourth, look to the head of the buck, mainly focusing on muzzle length, width at the forehead, and coloring of the hair.  As a buck grows, his muzzle length increases until he is mature, his forehead with increases until he is mature, and his hair color will fade with some whiting area around the eyes, and muzzle. 

Now finally, look again at the horns, if the antlers have good mass, width, and tine length and you are willing to spend that extra $500 to mount him on the wall, then go ahead and pull the trigger.

With lots of practice, you will be evaluating a bucks' age on the hoof in 10-15 seconds.  The key to quickly aging deer is practice.

So to review the techniques of quickly aging a deer on the hoof :
1) qualify the buck, look at the flank
2) scan the belly and back line ( check for sagging )
3) scan the neck and shoulder area
4) scan the head, muzzle length, width of forehead, hair color
5) judge the antlers, make a decision and shoot or just watch.

In the next issue, I will be discuss scoring bucks in the field, "Don't be a victim of ground shrinkage".

If you have questions or comments for Dr. Shawn Campbell,
contact him at 361-550-0282                    
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