Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on February 28, 2012


February Column

Editor’s note: One week
each month we will run the, Ask The Deer Tracker post. Anyone wishing to send a
question for future posts can e-mail it to,

Q. – I recently killed what I believe to be a very old buck as his face and muzzle were very gray. Is there a reliable way in which to verify the age of a whitetail?

T. C. – Middlebury, VT

A.   Indeed there is both a visual and scientific manor in which the age of a whitetail can be learned. Although the visual is not as exact, it will certainly give the hunter enough clues to approximate the deer’s age. Let’s deal with the layman’s method first. Pigmentation of a whitetail’s coat is not an indicator of the animal’s age. As a whitetail buck matures his skeletal system continues to expand and grow. The cranium, being part of that skeleton also expands, particularly between the animal’s pedicels or antler burrs. Once the animal reaches maturity his pedicels,  which serve as the base from which his antlers grow, will have moved from the top of the skull to part way down each side of his head.


Secondly, like human beings who clearly show evidence that they are aging, a whitetail takes on an appearance reflective of his age. A notable sag can be readily seen in the animals back along with a belly that droops a bit. Muscles that were once strong and taunt have lost part of their tonality. Facial features no longer retain the same elasticity and the skin around the shoulders and neck hangs with less definition. Because so much of what the animal eats is now required to sustain him, the buck’s antlers begin to regress as well, and it is not uncommon to find an old buck sporting spindly, uneven appendages where he once grew a magnificent set of balanced antlers.

The most accurate method to determine the exact age of a deer is by having a cross section done on one of his teeth.

Q. – How well can whitetails actually see, and is it on the same spectrum as humans?

                                                                      B.N. – Avon NY


A. A whitetail’s visual acuity is in fact much different than ours. Because of the positioning of their eyes they can see about 310 degrees of a circle whereas we can only visualize 170 degrees of that same circle. Our pupils are round and a deer’s is rectangular. Just like the shutter of a camera, the more you open it up the more light that is let in. A whitetail’s eyes are much larger than ours to allow for the transmittal of more light. To facilitate their ability to see well in low light conditions the Creator imbued their eyes with more rods than cones. A whitetail is also near-sighted, which means they have a difficult time focusing on a specific object with clarity. This explains why a deer will bob its head up and down, or side to side when something strange has been discovered. The movement of its head aids the animal in depth perception and possible identification of the object. In fact, the animal is hoping to see movement, which is where his visual strong points shine. This weakness of near-vision can be capitalized on when hunting in a falling snow. I’ve approached bedded deer under this condition while the animal remained oblivious that danger was knocking at the front door.


The other most notable difference in a deer’s eyesight is the way he sees color. We as humans see the entire spectrum of color in all wavelengths whereas a whitetail only detects colors in the blue and yellow spectrum. Because we have yellow filters in our eyes and whitetails do not, they have the ability to see in low or ultraviolet light while we cannot.


Q. – In the past few years I have changed my hunting tactics to include tracking when conditions allow. Over that time I have taken many tracks only to become frustrated with my inability to distinguish a buck track from that of an adult doe. I’ve also had a difficult time locating a track made by a big buck in the area I’m currently hunting; can you help?

R. D. – Dixfield, ME


A. – Having the ability to distinguish the difference in a buck track and a doe’s imprint is comparable with understanding the distinction between men and women; the sexes physical composition are different. Because of this disparity, the trail they leave will exhibit those traits. A doe is built slender to the front and her body widens toward the rear; this is due primarily to facilitate birthing fawns. As she walks her imprints will appear in a rather straight line with a slight toe-in. Her rear hoofs will slightly overlap her front prints towards the outer portion of the track.


The buck on the other hand carries the bulk of his weight up front and tapers toward the rear quarter. His front hoofs are larger than the rear, and the rear hoofs will fall into the front imprints when he walks. And due to the bulk carried on the front end, his trail will appear toed-out. There are other subtle clues that can and should lead you to an accurate assessment of the gender you’re following to include, but not limited to, rubs, scrapes, (does do not engage in such behavior) the terrain the animal is passing through, (bucks will commonly go around encumbrances in the vegetation, whereas a doe slides through) and the distance the animal travels. (A buck will go much further than a doe.)

As far as having the inability to locate a big track where you’re currently hunting, it might well be that none are living there. If there is no evidence of a mature buck I would advise extending your search until you find an area that does indeed have bucks of the caliber that you are looking for, no matter how far that may take you.

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