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Sometimes I get to hunt for a trophy. Other times I simply need to fill the freezer. Although most hunters, including myself, make use of all the meat harvested from a trophy deer there’s a general opinion that doe meat is tastier. I find that to be true — unless you happen to know an amazing processor who can remove the “gamey” taste of a mature buck in rut. Oh and old does…stay away from those. It’s true a younger buck is better tasting than a mature buck but in some places you have to be fully aware of what’s involved behind the scenes before harvesting a younger deer.

Depending on where you’re hunting (e.g., a private ranch) you may not be allowed to harvest a young deer. Landowners work to keep the deer population on their property in top health. Aside from keeping an ideal habitat for deer on your property they need to remove a certain number of deer every year. (Landowners often use game cams to determine a property’s deer population.) They identify certain animals as  “unacceptable,” and designate them to be harvested. These are so-called “management deer.”

If a landowner’s trying to grow bigger deer on their property they won’t want to take young deer out before they mature to the desired size. Yearlings, deer under two-years-old, usually have what we call “spikes” or one short antler on each side. These deer are too young to tell what kind of buck they will grow into.


Culling these deer ends the life of animals that may well grow into a 10-point buck. To build big bucks, the starting age to cull would be three-years-old, and in some cases two-and-a-half-years-old (if they’re not showing much progress in growth). If you follow the land management perspective, the closest you should get to culling a young deer is two-and-a-half years of age. And that’s cutting it close.

The ranch I hunted on for this article (and my freezer) directed me to harvest two deer in his age range. I chose to take a deer that looked to be about three-and-a-half years old. He sported four small points and looked to be the size of a doe. He ended up weighing about 120 lbs. — the small end for a buck. For this outing, I hunted with Matt Telveke of Tek Outdoors. Matt taught me how to age a deer by its teeth.

Liberte Austin dressing a deer (courtesy

First, he cautioned that deer size is a small part of the age determination process; it should never be used as the method for aging. After the kill shot, he placed his finger inside the animal’s mouth and counted the number of teeth. By this age deer have all of their permanent teeth. Babies only have four teeth and adult deer have 32, 12 premolars, six incisors and two canines. After the age of two-and-a-half years deer begin to lose 1 millimeter of tooth height per year.

With dental verification, I was assured that the deer I took was at least three-and-a-half-years-old with antlers growing very slowly. Although at that age he had only reached 35 to 40 percent of his antler potential, he seemed to be on the smaller side.


Deer don’t reach their maximum growth potential until they’re between five and six years old. The deer I harvested was young, but not so young that I was doing the rest of the deer population any disservice by taking him. As I said, trophies are great but that’s not why I hunt. You must also understand the full scope of deer hunting to really call yourself a hunter.

I think Mark Kenyon said it best; “Maybe you take a buck you normally wouldn’t. Maybe it’s a younger age class. But if all things come together, you’ve worked really hard and an opportunity arises and you’re excited, you should be able to kill that buck and do it unapologetically.”

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    • In middle Tennessee where I live, we can legally harvest 3 does per day, every day of the season. That’s more than 200 does each year! Only 2 bucks per year though.

      • I still have family in WV, KY, GA, TN, and Alabama. You guys got bigger deer and more leeway. But I wouldn’t give up the quail hunting here in CA for anything. I loves me some quail hunting.

        • We’ve been seeing, and taking, large quail and in good numbers here, Tom. I imagine our mountain quail are the same breed as yours, being as we’re next door neighbors, so to speak.

          Good lord willing and the creek don’t rise I’m going for my first chukar hunt in January.

      • And everybody could take that hundred, and it still wouldn’t make a dent.

        Drive The Trace at night. 35 MPH max through a park, over the hill, valley, another hundred or two. Around a corner, another field, another massive herd. Up the next hill, the next group of 50. I saw thousands deer in that hour or so on that road.

  1. We’ve already covered the utter irrelevance of camo for deer hunting, but it’s a personal choice. What is a bit worrying is if she isn’t wearing anything blaze orange/pink in her endeavoring to stay all ninjafied. Deer hunters who can’t be readily identified get shot by other amateur chuckleheads.

    • How do you know that she didn’t take her orange vest off before the photo shoot?

      Or that she was the only person hunting on this landowner’s property?

      Then again, you might be right… I just spent 20 minutes on google images looking for pictures of her in orange. I’m going to spend another 20 minutes looking at pictures of her, just to be sure.

      • Entirely possible she did, which is why I used “if”. My question is driven by her earlier post about wearing camo in a blind fer chrissakes. Anyone that dedicated to the ‘woods ninja’ craft, well, let’s just say an orange trucker cap would seem to be in conflict with the rest of her fashion ethos.

        Perhaps she’s in the center of a 10K acre spread, with helicopter patrols ensuring nobody else crosses into the property. Otherwise, she’s betting her life that no one in the party will get it wrong, let alone some outsider who stumbled across a missing section of fence and wandered in. Her choice and all, but it’s a noob move.

        Like a seatbelt or a motorcycle helmet, I firmly believe you shouldn’t be forced to wear them any more than blaze wear. But, both have saved my bacon several times. I have no way of know if blaze has ever saved my ass, but I know the cost of not wearing it is still paid on a regular basis. I also know it’s never stopped me from getting a deer.

      • If you’d have recognized that to be “camo” and not just some random leaves, you have far better eyes than I.

        (I won’t shoot until I absolutely, positively know it’s a deer, but others….)

  2. Nice harvest! I enjoyed some bear sausage last night. Tonight it’s venison backstrap medallions that I’ve been marinating for a day and a half.
    It’s good to have free range meat back in the freezer!

  3. ” Depending on where you hunt “, That holds true for so much more as well. Where I hunt many 1 1/2s are 8 PTs . A 2 1/2 will often have a rack to,or just outside the ears , with G2s of 6 inches + , –

    Don’t know anyone who hunts private ranches or even if there are any , public ground and farms that just grant permission , as deer are a nuisance to them .

    • Same here regarding deer getting much bigger, much faster.

      I would age that 120 pound deer with those tiny antlers to be on the small/unimpressive end at 1 1/2 years old. (Our “typical” 1 1/2 year old deer would weigh about 140 and be at least a 6 point, if not a small 7 point.) And a deer that small with antlers that small at 2 1/2 years old is bad genetics and should be removed from the gene pool where I live.

  4. Something about aging a deer by checking its teeth that has always bothered me: ITS DEAD NOW.
    So, what are some more-or-less reliable clues to aging a deer BEFORE I put a bullet/broadhead through it?
    I’ve heard and read about thickness of neck relative to the skull and torso thickness, but if we’re talking about a cull buck he’s not likely to have the proportions
    of a healthy deer. So what then?

  5. Absolutely Gorgeous

    …the stainless scope and barrel, black laminate wood…. love that look, mmmmm mmmmm.


  6. In Texas there isn’t much public land hunting. No orange isn’t against the law. If wearing orange is the only thing keeping u alive were u hunt, I sure wouldn’t go there.

  7. Liberte, I think it’d be more helpful for up-and-coming hunters to learn to identify the age of deer prior to shooting, based on physical characteristics. The teeth method is good for verification, but not so much when an inexperienced hunter can’t tell the difference between an old doe or young buck.

    When I was starting out, this guide was really handy.

    That, and using friends’ posted game cam pics as flashcards of sorts to see if I could figure it out.

    • For live deer, I’ve learned to discount antlers entirely unless I know the herd well. But the bellies and backs have never lied to me.
      Deer are just like me, that is, like a tired old man. Look for that belly that has no hope of being tight and flat anymore, a back that’s given up and sagging, a few scars, and it looks like he’s in pain every time he takes a step.
      That’s a mature deer. That’s the deer you shoot.

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