Learn to judge Whitetail Deer Bucks

by Roger Raglin December 01, 2016

Learn to judge Whitetail Deer Bucks

This Blog is probably miss titled. It probably should be called, ‘Think before you shoot.’ Here we go again. A few years ago a study was done on what amount of time lapsed was from when a hunter saw his quarry (deer) and he actually pulled the trigger. The conclusion was, on average, that from the time a hunter saw a deer, raised his rifle and fired, on average that time was 3 seconds. That’s right 3 seconds. In fact the report stated is was less than 3 seconds. Now think about that; Thousand 1. Thousand 2. Thousan. . . . Boom!!!!!!

I’m raising my hand right now. I know I’ve been guilty of that for sure. Of course sometimes you have to make a quick decision. There’s just no time to give it much thought. There he is . . . He’s about to walk through that clearing . . . .It’s a buck . . . . I’ve got to shoot . . . . .I’ve got to . . . Boom!!!

I get it. It’s OK. You’ve only got a few days to hunt. There’s lots of other people hunting around you. This is the only buck you’ve seen this season. It’s your last chance to hunt. There are many reasons why we decide to pull the trigger on any given buck or doe. However, if you really want a chance to shoot a big or bigger buck or mature buck or mature doe - you’re going to have to learn to judge whitetails on the hoof and do it in a hurry in most instances. It doesn’t matter to me what you shoot. It’s your hunt. You shoot what you want. But IF you’re wanting to up your game a bit, the first step is learning to judge deer. And you can. We’ll just focus on buck deer OK?

First, UNLESS you have a real history with a particular buck, it is impossible to tell his age at just a glance.  I repeat, UNLESS you have a real history with a particular buck, it is impossible to tell his age at just a glance.

I repeated that on purpose so it could sink in. I’m getting ready to meddle a bit. In this modern day and age we live with trail cameras and game management ect., more and more people are paying attention to the particular deer on their properties and their ages. This is a good thing. It’s exciting to see a buck at a very young age and watch his progression through the years as he gets older. It’s a really an enjoyable part of the deer hunting experience.

‘There’s the Frankenstein buck! He’s 6 years old. I’ve got trail camera pictures of him since he was 1. I’ve got his sheds from the past 5 years. I know he’s 6 years old. That’s him!’ You catch my drift. That’s how you know for sure the age of a buck. That’s the only way.

These ‘so called’ expert hunters you see on You Tube, television and video that call out the age of a buck as soon as he appears, (a buck they’ve never seen before), they are full of it as a Thanksgiving turkey. Sorry. They are.

The only way to really tell the age of any buck is to get him on the ground and have his teeth examined by a qualified lab technician or biologist. The rest of it is just flim, flam, talk. Here’s what you really should be concerned with. You really just need to determine if the buck is mature or not and you can do this by looking at his body - not his rack.

So we’re back to square one. You have to take the time to look at the buck before you shoot. Look before you leap, so to speak. Mature bucks just have what I call ‘the look’. They will have full thick bodies. Most times they will have a big, pot belly. Their bellies will at least sag a bit. They generally will have a big, fat neck or at least a thicker neck than most other bucks. This also will give their face a shorter look. Their heads will seldom be thin and narrow but more full as well. Their body actions will be more deliberate not bouncy like a younger buck. They’ll seem less frisky, if that makes sense.

Usually by the time a buck gets to be 4 or 5 he is displaying these characteristics. Older bucks 7 or 8 will most definitely fit this description.

This you can usually tell in only a matter of a few seconds. But you have to take a few seconds first to look and see.

I was hunting in deep south Texas a number of years ago. Now I this particular ranch was near Hebbronville, Texas where some of the greatest trophy whitetail ranches exist in the entire state.. This was a slammer property and I was fortunate enough to get to hunt it. If you had been invited to hunt this ranch you would have gone as well. You would.

It was the week before Christmas and it was really warm that week. The temperature got up into the 80’s every day. It was pretty miserable hunting even on a good ranch. It was your typical South Texas hunt and we were setting in tower blinds over looking food plots. The 3rd morning of my hunt right at the crack of dawn at the edge of the food plot I noticed a buck working a scrape.

I threw my binocs up to get a better look and it didn’t take me 5 seconds of glassing to make the call.

“I’m going to shoot this buck. This is the one right there,” I said to my guide who was setting next to me.

After he looked at the buck who was still at the scrape he said, “Oh no. You don’t want to shoot that buck. We’ve got a lot of bucks better than him. Let’s wait on a bigger buck.”

“Nope. I want to shoot this deer. This is the one I want,” I insisted.

This particular buck looked like a VW station wagon standing out there. His neck was so big in looked like it just neslted into the rest of his body. He looked like he was 3 feet wide. As he stepped into the field he acted like it hurt him to move he was so big, so deliberate and mechanical. I didn’t know exactly how old he was I just knew he was really mature. That’s what I was after. That’s what I’m always after. I just want to shoot a mature buck if possible. I don’t always shoot mature bucks. I just always try to shoot mature bucks.

My guide also knew he was mature. He had to know. He was looking at his rack. The buck was an average 120 class buck. He was just a decent 8 pointer and that was it. He had never been any bigger. He was never going to be any bigger. He was what he was. But he was mature.

I watched him for 15 minutes bird dog some does around in the middle of the field. I wasn’t trying to decide whether or not to shoot him. I was just enjoying watching this big old warrior do his thing one last time. You might really be surprised at what you can see if you just take a little time before you shoot and let the deer react naturally. I kept a close eye on him and finally as he was about to leave the field I let the air out of him at about 125 yards. He dropped without ever knowing what hit him.

When we got him back to the ranch, he weighed in at 205 pounds field dressed. That’s 205 pounds field dressed for a south Texas whitetail buck! Wow! I loved that buck and never regretted shooting him even though he wasn’t a big racked deer.

You can’t judge how old a deer is by his rack. You have to look at their bodies. Granted most mature bucks will have bigger racks. That’s a given. However, some young bucks will have a pretty good rack. You shoot what you want. A young buck with a good rack will generally have a great rack when and if he gets another year or two under his belt. That decision will be yours if he is standing out in front of you.

Rather than trying to guess how old a buck is, your best bet is just take a little time before you shoot and put that deer in one of three classes:

He a young buck - 1 or 2 years old. He’s a mature buck - 3 or 4 years old. He’s a fully mature buck - 5 years old and up.

I don’t mean to split hairs here, but don’t fret about how mature a buck is. It’s just hard to tell during the heat of the moment and you’ve got to make a decision. Sometimes you’ll be wrong. Sometimes you’ll make the wrong call. But one thing is for sure - you’ll never hunt long enough or get enough experience under your belt where you can simply glance at a buck deer and call his age right on the dot unless you know the entire history of that buck. So don’t worry about it. Some people seem to have that talent, as you know. Let them in their all infinite wisdom and knowledge go about their merry way. You just learn to judge and pick out mature bucks the best you can. You’ll be fine and you’ll start to shoot bigger bucks as well because of it.

Good deer hunting to you my friend!

Roger Raglin

Roger Raglin
Roger Raglin


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