Old Bucks: What Makes a Buck Mature?

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What Would You Say It Is?

What Makes a Buck Mature?

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1 | What Makes a Buck Mature?

For many the whole concept of defining a mature buck can be confusing. In my home of New York most biologists refer to 2½-year-old bucks as being mature. In the south Texas brush country it is 5½ to 7½ years of age. So, who is right?

The buck in this photo is 4 years old and tapes nearly 155 inches. Is he mature?

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Top End?

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2 | Top End?

During my career I have raised upwards of 100 whitetail bucks and had the good fortune of hunting parts of America and Canada where bucks can literally grow old in the wild. It’s been my experience, barring the bullet or serious physical injury, that the life span of a whitetail buck is 10 to 12 years.

Peak antler size is a different story. The earliest I’ve had any buck grow its largest antlers is age 6 and the oldest was age 9. Of all the bucks I’ve raised over the years, the average age for peak antlers is seven. So, in my mind, a truly wild whitetail buck is not mature until age 6. 

The buck in this image is the same as the previous. This time he's seven years old and tops 180 inches. 

 

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Age Influences Personality

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3 | Age Influences Personality

Whitetails are not cookie-cutter creations. Althought they all look like whitetails, they're each quite different. I’m of the opinion that, in the majority of situations, it's a buck’s personality that drives his rut behaviors and also allows him to survive.

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Whitetail Bucks Fighting

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4 | Whitetail Bucks Fighting

As a buck ages, his urge to breed causes him to become more and more aggressive as he inches toward maturity.

Once a buck passes 4½ years of age, his personality causes him to progressively shift from being a rutting machine to more of a survival machine. The longer a buck lives the less inclined he is to throw all caution to the wind and pick fights with every buck he encounters.

Older bucks become more nocturnal and their home range tends to shrink with each passing year.

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They

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5 | They're Smart

After 25 years of raising whitetails I can tell you they are much smarter than you think. They are one of the smartest wild animals God created.

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Survival Tactics

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6 | Survival Tactics

Let me point this out two ways.

First, a quote from Dennis Olson’s book Way of the Whitetail: “Of course, we value intellect as the trait of ‘higher’ animals. Deer are long on instinct and short on our version of logic. They are rather stupid compared to computers, satellites, complicated business deals, and us. But, if just once we could let deer design an IQ test, the first questions might be which odors on the wind right now are edible, which are dangerous, and which are neutral? Who flunks that test?” 

Olson’s assessment says much about how the whitetail uses its senses to survive. It also says much about a whitetail’s intelligence.

 

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Age Doesn

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7 | Age Doesn't Mean Dominance

Many hunters feel that the truly dominant bucks are the oldest and have the biggest head gear. There are times that this may be so but in many instances I’ve found that once a buck reaches 3½ years of age he is an incredible athlete, quick as a cat, and his personality drives the quest for dominance, not his antler size.

Don't Miss: 5 Rut Buck Behaviors You Should Recognize

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(Body) Size Matters

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8 | (Body) Size Matters

A 3½-year-old buck can be compared to an 18- to 20-year-old human male when it comes to their presence among peers, so almost all have “can do” attitudes.

To put it another way, their body language screams to everyone in their presence that they are studs, full of themselves, and ready to rule the day. What comes out of this is that even in herds with 4½- and 5½-year-old bucks it is not uncommon for 3½-year-old bucks to do a lot of breeding.

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The Achilles Heel

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9 | The Achilles Heel

By early November in the North, a buck’s testosterone level has peaked, making him a totally different creature than he was the previous 10 months.

With hormone levels off the charts bucks eat less, sleep less, look for fights at every turn, feverishly lay down scent by making rubs and scrapes, and cover a tremendous amount of ground looking for an estrous doe to breed. Instead of having a home range of 600 to 1,000 acres (like they did during the summer/early autumn months) bucks begin wandering wherever their nose tells them to go when the rut nears and goes hot-to-trot. 

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Whitetail Buck Chasing Does

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10 | Whitetail Buck Chasing Does

Most mature bucks cover much more ground than a yearling buck and during the rut, it's not uncommon for a mature buck to cover 3,000 or more acres.

More often than not, a buck’s inability to cope with increased hormone levels is what gets him killed.

Editor's Note: This was originally published on October 15, 2015. We re-posted in honor of the late Charlie Alsheimer's recent passing. We'll miss his captivating whitetail images and unparalleled insight into whitetail behavior.

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Even though all whitetail bucks have much in common, just as there are things that separate men from boys, there are characteristics that make mature bucks different from younger bucks. What follows are five things I’ve learned about mature bucks.