Grit Blogs > Arrows and Minnows

Dental Age Determination in Whitetails

By Caleb Regan, Managing Editor


Tags: hunting, outdoors, deer, archery, age,

Now that late doe season is over, and bow hunting season all together has effectively come to a close, stories pop up and hunters’ imaginations tend to run crazy. During the season, almost two months ago, I was emailed a photo of a man from Baldwin, Kansas, who by his own account was headed to pick up his son for an evening hunt when he happened upon one of the biggest and oldest-looking deer I’ve ever seen.

Since Baldwin is close to Lawrence, where I live – it’s true, I’m an urbanite trying to return to the country – this story was more than any of my friends could believe; even friends who’ve never hunted.

The story finally ran in the Lawrence Journal-World seemingly a good two weeks after word was out.

In two weeks, as is typical with hunting stories, Bambi could reach full maturity and be a Pope & Young buck.

In this case, the picture doesn’t lie and, depending on how the rack shrinks (or shrunk, by now), this deer could make the record books.

To me and my friends, though, it brought up age determination in whitetails.

Part of it is looks. Gray faces and the way a mature buck’s neck connects with the sternum – bucks at less than full maturity will have a noticeable bump where the neck hasn’t fully grown into the sternum; mature bucks will have no such bump – can give you an estimate that, for me, I trust about as good as a hunch. But spike bucks have never been on my radar, and once you’re in a stand the end-all, be-all is the size of the rack.

I have hunted on my cousin’s ground now for a few years, and since he's one of the Buckmen, of Buck Commander (Adam), he often describes deer that are off limits, either because they are still young despite the size of their rack, or because he wants the hunt on which those deer are taken to be recorded, possibly for a Buck Commander DVD.

That’s understandable, and I’m just always extremely thankful for the hunt.

Anyway, age determination in whitetail deer is one thing at which I’d like to improve. Finally, Wildlife Analytical Laboratories has formed www.DeerAge.com to help people determine the age of deer.

The only problem with this is their process offers little in the way of determining age before you put an arrow into the vitals.

Their method uses something called forensic cementum annuli aging, and they claim it is one of the most accurate ways to determine exact age. The process works a lot like determining the age of a tree by counting the rings in the trunk; wildlife teeth can be stained, and different layers of growth form annually, so these folks are able to determine exact age.

What that could do in the way of whitetail age determination is allow hunters to shoot a deer, send them the proper teeth – front two center incisors – have them age it, and learn by a sort of trial and error method. The cost of doing this is $19.95 for the kit you take into the field, and then anywhere from $19.95 to $49.95, depending on the package, for the test results. Also, when getting a deer mounted, I think it would be cool to have an age certificate hanging beside the mount. They’ll send you that for $15. All packages do take over a month to reach you.

Of course, I just need to get that mount first. In what limited time I did have on weekends this hunting season, I managed a doe, which I was thankful for. But I wouldn't classify my season as a success. Like others, I still want that huge, ancient buck that has roamed the forest and managed to survive for 4½ or more years. Or maybe I just want to be tested more than anything else, to have an old, experienced deer right on me, with the chance to screw it up.


Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on .