Is my outfitter's advice true?
QUESTION: Bob, I asked a well-known outfitter in the Midwest what one good, solid field-judging indicator would be for determining that a buck is most likely mature. Without hesitation he responded, "Long, massive brow tines."
He also said there were exceptions to this rule, of course, but that if the antlers had at least 5- or 6-inch brows with good thickness, the buck was probably mature, which in most Midwestern states is likely a shooter. Is there any truth to this? And do you have any other things to look for on a buck's rack to determine it's likely mature? - David G.
ANSWER: I wouldn't go so far as to say the outfitter is wrong, but I also wouldn't bet my tag on brow tines alone as an indicator of a mature buck.
Brow tine length is also influenced by genetics. One buck could have the genetic predisposition to grow long brow tines at a younger age: 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-years-old.
And many mature bucks never grow long brows.
There are several other, better features to look for, which I covered in detail in a 2012 Buckmasters feature titled "Judgement Day."
I'd suggest you concentrate on three aspects of main beams, as follows.
First is outside spread. Again, genetics play a role, but unless the buck just happens to have one of those high-and-tight racks, you should be looking for a spread outside the ears - the wider the better.
Second is main beam length; again, the longer the better.
Thirdly, and in my mind the best indicator, is mass.
A deer's skeleton continues to grow through its first three years. Available minerals go to the skeleton first, then the antlers. Once the skeleton is done, more minerals are available for the rack, and it shows, particularly at the bases.
Antler diameter equal to or larger than a buck's eyes will indicate an older animal.
Take this with a grain of salt, but older bucks also seem to have darker bases.
Having said all that, body features are also a good way to field-judge a buck's age. Read "No Bones About It" in a 2013 issue of Buckmasters Magazine.
By age 4 1/2, a buck can now properly be referred to as mature. It has a fully muscled neck that blends smoothly into its deep chest and muscled shoulders. Its formerly narrow waist drops down to even with its belly, forming a more or less straight line. Legs might appear slightly short for the body, and tarsal glands will be noticeably large and darkly stained with "scalding" down the leg during the rut.
More subtle cues include a rump that appears full and rounded, tight skin around the jaw and the stomach and back do not yet sag.