QUESTION: Last year I hunted with an outfitter who imposed an antler score minimum of 140-inches, or any "mature buck."
I hear hunters use the term "mature buck" a lot, but I'm still a little confused about what that means, exactly. Can you help clear this up for me? - Dan S. of Iola, WI
ANSWER: I'd like to put this one to rest once and for all. Your confusion is not unwarranted, as different folks have different interpretations of the term.
Those managing for quality bucks will sometimes define deer that are at least 3 1/2-years-old as "mature."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've even heard a rather knowledgeable individual proclaim that a whitetail is not mature until it is 6 1/2-years-old.
Both are incorrect.
The very definition of the word "mature" is the point of age at which something stops growing.
Annual plants mature in one year. Perennial plants may take several years before they stop growing and go to seed. Trees might take decades or even centuries to reach the stage at which they cease to grow. Some trees never fully mature before they die.
A deer's skeletal structure continues growing until some time in its fourth year of age. After that, they might continue to add body weight and antler mass, in the case of bucks. But they have ceased the growing process.
Biologically, a mature deer is any deer 4 1/2-years-old or older - period.
However, if my outfitter says 3 1/2, I'm certainly not going to argue.