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Idaho Fish and Game

Kenny White-tailed deer

Clearwater wildlife blog series: Installment #3- White-tailed deer teeth results


North Idaho white-tailed aging study

Last fall, Fish and Game asked hunters pursuing white-tailed deer in Clearwater units 8A and 10A to provide a tooth from their harvest as part of an ongoing effort to learn more about the age structure of deer in northern Idaho. The goal is to better understand white-tailed deer ages within popular hunting units. Teeth submitted by hunters were sent to the lab for aging. 

Results from the lab allow biologists to evaluate the age structure of harvested white-tailed deer. To help encourage participation in this effort, hunters who submitted a tooth from their harvest will be receiving the age results from their tooth in the mail.

The first year of tooth collection is wrapped-up, teeth have been analyzed, and results are on their way to hunters—so keep an eye on your mailbox. For those interested in results from the first year, or if you are a hunter who submitted a tooth and would like to know how your deer’s age compares to other deer submitted as part of this effort, check out the break down in the following sections describing those results for units 8A and 10A.

Kenny White-tailed deer

These bucks were both harvested in the Clearwater and sampled as part of the aging effort. Based on photos, can you guess which buck is older? Or, if you really know your stuff, try and guess the age of each buck and keep reading to find out if you are right!

How old are Clearwater White-tails?

Based on the region’s 605 white-tailed deer teeth aged at the lab, the oldest deer submitted in the Clearwater was a 15 1/2-year-old doe harvested in unit 10A. In terms of bucks, there was an 8-way tie at nine and a half years of age for oldest. Three bucks harvested in 8A and five harvested in 10A each reached this benchmark. 

Why are deer aged to the nearest half? Deer are aged to the nearest half because the majority of fawns are born in May and June, meaning they are half way through their current year of age during fall hunting seasons. 

8A Doe Harvest
8A Buck Harvest

*Buck harvest includes males aged at ½, or button bucks, although these individuals may not have sported antlers at the time of harvest.

The majority of unit 8A’s 240 sampled white-tailed deer were between the ages of one half (that year’s fawn) and three and a half years old. However, there was a strong showing from deer four and older as well.

10A Doe Harvest
10 A Buck harvest

*Buck harvest includes males aged at ½, or button bucks, although these individuals may not have sported antlers at the time of harvest.

Of the 365 sampled white-tailed deer from unit 10A, most deer were between one half and three and a half years of age. However, a strong number of sampled does and bucks exceeded four years of age.

Interpretation of results

So, what do these ages mean? Deer populations generally have greater numbers of younger deer than older deer. Because younger deer are recruited into the population every year through births and older deer leave the population each year through deaths, the natural progression of young-to-old deer establishes this pattern. As managers tasked with managing this species, we expect most deer harvested to be younger simply because there are more young deer than old deer in the field and available to hunters. Based on the proportions of deer age classes observed in 8A and 10A, populations are following an expected trend. Lastly, a good indicator of population health is the strong portions of harvested deer in the 4+ category. Deer in these age classes are mature and are, and likely have been, contributing back to the population through reproduction.

These statistics are valuable for understanding harvested white-tailed deer age structure in these units, but it is important to remember that these summaries may not be perfect representations of deer populations. Factors such as hunter preference for notching their tag on bigger bodied deer to fill the freezer or bucks with larger antlers to fill their wall could influence which deer are harvested. It is also possible hunters who harvested larger or noticeably older deer were more inclined to submit a tooth to learn the age. These points should be considered when interpreting the data.

9.5 year old white-tailed deer
9.5 year old buck
3.5 year old buck
3.5 year old buck

Although the antlers of the 5-point buck are larger, the 4-point buck was much older. Findings like these are interesting because they demonstrate that aging attempts based on antler size or configuration alone can be deceiving!

Next steps

The 2023 hunting season was the first of two seasons for white-tailed deer aging. IDFG staff will continue collecting teeth in units 8A and 10A during the upcoming 2024 season to help build upon our understanding of white-tailed age structure in these units. If you are a white-tailed hunter planning to hunt one or both of these units and are interested in submitting a tooth for aging, request a tooth envelope by calling or stopping into your regional IDFG office. 

Efforts like this highlight the value of hunter participation in the science and management of wildlife resources. Whether you are interested in the age of your harvest from a science-based position, personal interest standpoint, or would just like to add another fact about your deer to the bragging material list for next hunting season, Fish and Game sincerely appreciates your involvement with this effort. 

If you have white-tailed deer questions you would like to see addressed in future blogs, please send those questions to:

Thank you for taking the time to read this article and good luck on your next hunting adventure!