Tips & Tactics

Open Wide

Open Wide

By Ken Piper

You can tell quite a bit about a deer’s age by examining its teeth.

Whether you’re starting a management program or just want to know more about deer, determining a buck’s age is a great starting point.

The good news is it’s easy and extremely accurate to tell if a buck is a fawn or a 1.5-year-old. It’s also easy and accurate to tell if a buck is at least 2.5 years old. The bad news is once a buck reaches 2.5 years, it takes experience and luck to differentiate 2.5-year-olds from 3.5-year-olds and 4.5-year-olds and so on. While you can make a solid guess as to whether a buck is nearer the 2.5-year-old or the 6.5-year-old (or older) end of the spectrum, it takes scientists cutting the tooth and counting layers to make an actual determination.

Of course, we’re talking about aging a whitetail by its teeth – more specifically, the teeth on the lower jawbone.

The first thing to know is a normal whitetail has either four, five or six teeth (this excludes the front teeth at the tip of the snout). Fawns have four or five teeth, while deer 1.5 years old or older have six.

A quick examination can be deceptive since the teeth have more than one cusp, or point, which makes one tooth look like multiple teeth. Once you learn to identify the correct number of individual teeth, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

If there are six teeth present, you’ll need to count cusps to determine if a deer is at least 2.5 years old. Look closely at the third tooth from the front (again discounting the very front section of teeth at the tip of the snout). If that tooth has three cusps, the deer is 1.5 years old. If the third tooth has two cusps, it is at least 2.5 years old.

From there, things get subjective. As a deer eats over the years, its teeth wear. You can examine the amount of wear by looking the thickness of the tooth layers. The older a deer, the more dentine, or darker inner layer, is exposed. As time goes by, the dentine layer looks bigger and bigger compared to the whiter enamel layer on the outside.

Judging wear is not an exact science, however, because different diets can produce more or less wear than average.

Finally, if you need or want to get a deer’s exact age, you can send a tooth to one of the labs that perform cementum aging, which involves cutting the tooth and counting rings, similar to aging a tree.

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Copyright 2021 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd