I hear various versions of it all the time from fellow deer hunters – “age over score”. Yeah right! I am not buying it for a second. 99.9% of all deer hunters are going to shoot the largest antlered buck they can no matter how old it is. That’s just a fact, no matter how inconvenient it may be for some. If a 160” 3 year old is standing next to a 140” 8-year old, the youngster takes the hit almost every time; ”Almost” as in 99.9% of the time.
I am not going to lie to you, I like big antlers. I mean I REALLY like big antlers! At the same time I strive to shoot bucks that have had a chance to reach thier full potential and that means getting some age on them. With that said, I am not going to insult your intelligence by trying to get you to believe that I put age above score. The truth is I want both age and score in the bucks I shoot! Now if I have to choose between the two I am going to tell you that like almost every other deer hunter I am going for the giant rack over the worn teeth and grey face.
I “get it” that there is a certain pride in taking an old buck that has evaded hunters for several years. They know all the tricks in the book and true “old” bucks are very rare; I am talking bucks at least 7 ½ years old here. For the record I consider bucks 5 ½ and older to be mature but I don’t consider 5 ½ and 6 ½ year old bucks to be “old” per se. However once they reach 7 ½ they are venturing into senior citizen territory.
Let’s take a look at a true “old” buck that is still alive and is 9 ½ years old this fall. In searching through my trail camera photo files I can find photos of this buck as far back as 2011. I think we can all agree that this buck is at least 3 ½ years old in this photo so using that figure would make him 9 ½ this year.
These photos from 2011 show the buck as a 3 1/2 year old when he had his best rack.
Here is the same buck 3 years later in 2014 as a 6 ½ year old. At this age he is older than any buck most hunters have ever shot but his rack is already headed downhill. Would you shoot him? Well here is also a photo of another younger buck that was on the same property the same year. Now which of the two bucks would you shoot? Remember, it’s “age before score”!
This is the same buck 3 years later as a 6 1/2 year old and a photo of a 4 year old buck that was on the same property at the same time. Which buck would YOU shoot?
Now let’s jump ahead 2 more years to last season, 2016 when the buck was 8 ½ years old. He is really showing his age now with the gray face and hi rack leaves no doubt it is the same buck. There are almost no deer hunters who have shot legitimate 8 ½ year old bucks, including myself. If anyone says they have I want to see the document showing the teeth were actually aged by a trained biologist. So here is a buck older than any buck most hunters have ever taken; would you shoot him? What if he was standing next to this younger buck that was living on the same farm with him last year? Remember, its “age over score”!
Here is the same buck 2 years later when he is now 8 1/2 years old. In the second photo is a 3 1/2 year old buck that was on the same property that season. While a lot of hunters say they would shoot the older buck in this case, I know better. The bigger rack takes the hit almost every time.
I think by now I have made my point. The old adage “age over score” was coined by a frustrated deer hunter who can add a few years to the age of his buck and nobody can easily prove it inaccurate. So let’s just be honest, most of us are going to shoot the biggest antlered buck we can and if he also happens to be old that is just icing on the cake. Sure, plenty of us are going to let the 3 year olds walk but a lot of deer hunters will shoot them and call them 4 or 5 year olds.