Curious what thoughts are. I’m not asking what age class is most difficult to kill, because then you have to take into account how few animals reach ___age and how many of those are around depending on where you are located etc.
The question is: In an individual buck’s lifespan - at what age will he be the most difficult to kill? Unfortunately some eastern US guys prob haven’t had the chance to hunt 7-10 year old deer, but I’d love to hear your opinions. Does wariness peak at prime age? Ie: 5-7tears old? Or does it just seem that way because we don’t care as much about them once they’re over the hill, or “not quite ripe” as the Wensels would say? Do they get smarter and harder to kill every year until they die? I’ve got my own opinions but I’d love to hear yours!
In my limited experience once the hit 4.5 they become tougher to kill. I’m sure they older the get they keep getting smarter. I will see three year olds in daylight often but they are a lot less visible at 4, maybe more so at 5. I think the biggest jump on wariness comes from 3-4 though.
I'm not absolutely sure but I think it has just as much to do with how much pressure they've seen. But age is definitely a factor. From my 40 plus years of hunting deer it does seem that the more wary ones are at least 3.5 years old and their curiousness has turned into more cautiousness.
Hmmm...I don't think there is one answer here, in our experience it varies by each specific buck. For instance, there is a buck that we are pursuing this year as a 6 year old that my son has seen 5 times, most recently on Saturday and as close as 86 yards that evening. He missed a 27 yard shot at him about 10 days ago. In short, he has been more visible this year in terms of daylight walking than at any time in his history.
This is confirmed by both first hand observations and also trail cam pics. He is no less intelligent, but he is also nowhere near as reluctant to go for a walk in the daylight this year.
A few years ago we killed an 8, perhaps 9, year old and that year was the first time we saw him in the daylight since he was a 3 year old. And we saw him 4 separate times before we got him.
For the most part though, once they get to 4 years old they do seem to wise up a bunch, but 2 or more years later, some of them will let their guard down more often in the daylight than they seem to at ages 4 and 5.
When he's a fawn and with his momma. Hands down, the doe offers him the most security over his entire lifetime lol. All bets are off, once she starts breeding, then he becomes an idiot, and that continues until he turns 2. I suspect a deer lacks the brains like we think, and continually gains instinct and life experiences, that gradually just make him more and more guarded and tougher to kill. Once a buck reaches that age where he finds out that nighttime activity offers him the least chance of interaction with humans as a prey animal, he simply becomes a virtual nocturnal ghost.
In my experience (illinois) those 5-6 year old bucks are the hardest to kill. I've learned that with good scouting and cautious hunting that those same bucks at age 7+ tend to develop small core/home areas and if you can narrow down where they are, they can be killed. Finding them is the hard part. It seems that as they mature they feel safe in a specific area and unless you know where that core area is they will continue to live there until bumped or killed. Brutally cold weather with snow on the ground is the only constant that will get all deer on their feet (in my opinion) and concentrated to food sources if available.
I agree with Lou, I havent killed many bucks over 5.5, I know of two that were for sure and a couple others maybe. I think once a buck loses interest in does thus not participating in the rut they become very hard to kill. I am not sure what age that is and may depend on the buck. I missed a 29 yard shot at a buck I know that is 7.5 years old at least on Saturday afternoon. It is only second time I have ever seen him in daylight and he lives and spends 99% of his time on a 140 acre property I hunt. I first got pics of him when he was at least 3.5 year old and 120" buck, now he is mid 150"s and for my area that is a true giant! Trust me, I am sick over it!! Shawn
Seems like pressure would be the main thing; a deer that goes 4-5 years getting a pass every time it steps in front of a hunter is not going to develop the wariness that a 2.5 YO buck is going to have to have learned on hard-hit public land.
Especially in places where scoped centerfire rifles are the number one choice among the local hunters.
Every year there are a few giant old bucks killed that no one has ever seen before, never got on trail cams. They just happened to make a mistake. Maybe getting senile or careless after so many years of successfully avoiding humans? Animals get senile too.
I'm a firm believer that some bucks fall into what I call the buck IQ Bell Curve. I proved demonstrated this with a scientific trail cam survey that I conducted years ago and was published in QDMA's magazine on two mature Adirondack bucks.
Basically, the theory is that bucks start out dumb, then get smarter, then when they hit post maturity they become somewhat arrogant and that arrogance leads to carelessness. I saw it last week with that 'Old Dirty Bastard' buck that would walk around grunting all day long. BTW - we got a report on that buck from a hunter that saw him 10 years ago, so now we think he's likely closer to 15 than 10.
Of course every animal is an individual so there's no clean answer to this question.
In my experience in this heavily pressured part of Missouri, bucks don't get "easy" to kill again until after they turn at least 7.
From a management stand point, if we get them 4 years old, we expect them to do the rest. Had a four year old buck that was fairly daylight active last year during the rut...this year he is totally nocturnal even on the cameras.
I've killed two really old whitetail bucks...…...Both were 9.5 years of age verified through cementum analysis. (Matson's Laboratory) This last one we named "droopy" regressed big time between 8.5 and 9.5 and coincidentally became much more visible. I agree with some previous statements that it's a curve. Some bucks are warier and or smarter and make it through their first few years alive. They gain experience and become very nocturnal and reclusive aside from the rut. As they move into older age classes......7+ , they seem to become more visible. Perhaps they start to lose their vision, hearing and acute sense of smell.
The first buck mentioned came in directly downwind and snorted a couple hundred yards out whether at me or something else but continued to walk by at 12 yards for an easy kill. This last buck from a couple years ago was searching for does with a young buck in tow and I actually tried to stalk and miss a couple shots at him. He circled through some waterways between winter wheat fields and actually winded me and spooked back to his bedding area across the fence on a private lease. An hour later, he followed does right by my tree stand for an easy 20 yard shot.
It's hard to get good solid data as very, very few deer live that long in the wild.
A button buck is the dumbest deer in the woods. His mommy has kicked him out and he wanders around in broad daylight looking for company. Then if he survives to four things change and only during the rut is he more careless. However, an old doe with fawns is the sharpest deer in the woods. I watched for two years an old doe that had three fawns each year. The fawns would walk right under my tree but she wouldn't even come to the edge of the field until it was dark and then she took a different path from the fawns.
Apauls, I’m an eastern US Hunter (MA) and most times I get a big mature buck on cam here I believe they will make it through gun season no problem. It just seems their habits keep them alive most likely being mostly nocturnal, living in the thick and nasty spots, or traveling where most hunters tend to over look. Not sure if it’s smart or just natural habits.
Like most superlative questions the answer is not usually a single answer.
IMO a 4.5-6.5 year old buck is often less cautious during the rut than a 2.5 year old buck. They just seem to rut harder and can get themselves in a pinch because they are hyper focused on procreation. That is for a very short window of time.
Outside of that statement I think you could say that they get harder to kill with each year that goes by.
Love the conversation, and I also agree that deer are individuals and certain will have certain traits. It’s been my experience that the “hard to kill bell curve” seems to peaks at 5/6 years old as well. Very cool observations by many here. Keep em coming!
In general, I’d agree with several others above, from 4.5 to 6.5 yr old bucks seem to be a different animal than younger/older bucks, but I also think individual bucks personalities can vary greatly. One of my best bucks was 6.5 (at least) and I never laid eyes on him a single time, until the day before I killed him. Another buck I finally killed, was at least the same age as the first one, yet we would see him several times each year before he got killed. He wasn’t that impressive looking of a deer, other than he was big bodied, and a bully, which was one of the main reasons why I killed him. He was definitely one lucky deer. He almost got shot a bunch of times, but one thing or another would save his hide, until his luck finally ran out.
In general, I think trophy bucks get harder to kill each year they survive another season. As Lou said, at some point the oldest bucks no longer participate in the rut, then they become even harder to kill. Nearly every year I find old trophy bucks running in bachelor groups while scouting prior to the season. Those same bucks seem to disappear as soon as the hunting season starts. They've found sanctuaries where they know they're safe, and seem to have an internal calendar that tells them exactly when to go there.
On the flip side, we have old bucks with less desirable antler traits that get a pass from hunters every year. Those bucks seem to get less wary and more visible each season. As we speak, I'm chasing 2 old bucks with good mass, but funky antlers, that fall into this category. I know both bucks are at least 6-7 years old, and they both seem dumb as dirt. Of course, I still haven't stuck one of them, yet, so who's the real dummy? ;-)
"Of course, I still haven't stuck one of them, yet, so who's the real dummy? ;-)"
I have used this line many times, season after season, to describe my "success rate" on bucks that I called "dumb".
I think older bucks are easier to pattern because they stay on pattern. They know how to stay alive with a very defensive pattern. Notice i said they're easier to PATTERN, not necessarily kill. On the other hand 2.5 and 3.5 year olds don't seem to be very predictable, especially during the rut. They just show up and I get unexpectedly lucky.
My gut says at 4.5-5.5 most deer (bucks or does) become incredibly hard to kill. But there are fewer bucks in that or older age class than does (most likely) and the older you go the more "needle in haystack" it all becomes.
So, given the crossover of how common they are (relatively speaking) and hunter opportunity that results, I think 5.5 probably hits the peak health and elusiveness.
I think some old deer are just born spooky, nocturnal and generally scared of their own shadow - even by whitetail standards. Personality in that sense helps them age.
Some deer have a rabbit's foot.
Once in a while those two cross over and a deer is never killed.
Any age over 4. I strongly believe bucks 4 but especially over 5 years old should be given a classification of their own as a sub-specious so different is their behavior compared to more juvenile bucks.
Having killed very few 5.5 year or older bucks I’m certainly no expert, but I’ve deer hunted for fifty years and it’s my opinion that “hard to kill” will vary with individual bucks. I think Bill Winke shed some light on it and he says lots of bucks become more visible in the daylight and roam less with advanced age. He knows much better than I do.
I’m no expert. But obviously the older age classes are a different animal. 5-7 they are just different.
However, where I am at least, it seems those are the deer that have smaller ranges, and you’re actually more likely to encounter them
I think 3 year olds would be super hard to kill if you’re hunting one specific one, because they travel so much. Seems like I get a lot of pics of nice 3 year olds, but actually see them less than the older age classes because they’re traveling so much. There are exceptions. I passed one 3 year old 3 mornings in a row this year ;)
I wish I was better at this. But they fool me a lot
While they are animals, use a human analogy... there are 15 year olds running a rough life that are more hardy/street smart than 40 year old sheltered counterparts. It’s about life experiences ie pressure more than it is a number. That said for any individual in one setting of pressure I can’t see how they ever get dumber as they get older even past prime.
1.5 year olds are the hardest. Not easy coming up with a new way to say "Needed one for the freezer" 5 or 6 tags in a row. And then there's the conversation with your QDM neighbor that takes some delicate navigating.
I think, in heavily pressured area, bucks that live to an older age do so because they have habits that make them less susceptible to hunters. I believe these habits are learned from their time spent with their mother, especially if their mother is a mature doe. I don't know if it is as much age that makes them difficult to hunt as much as it is habit. As someone stated above, nature has a way of sorting out the dumb ones.
I the area I hunt the mature bucks have a very small home range, probably because of wolves, I have cameras out and in 2 spots that are 2.5 miles away, in 12 years I have never had cross over of bucks between the spots. I think the broaden their range a little late rut. This small home core make them more difficult to kill
I think i've hunted about every type of deer. 4 year old smart deer, 4 year old dumb deer, 5 year old wandering deer, 6 year old nocturnal deer, 6 year old deer that lived on 40 acres and moved in daylight constantly (still took a whole season to get an arrow in him!). Overall, i've killed many 4 year olds, and only a few 5+. So i guess i'd say they're smartest at 5-6. But like others have said, so tough to put them all in one category.
I like this thread, and I fall in the theyre all individuals camp.
Years ago, about a half mile from my house I saw a huge buck standing with a doe in mid November. It was dark but my headlight caught him, and he stood there while I shined a flashlight at him. 15 yards off the road. I finally said hi and he ran off. Back in those days I had access to pretty much every inch of land I could walk to from my house. I put out trailcams and hunted that deer hard. Never ever got a picture or saw him.
Was starting to wonder if I hallucinate the whole thing. 3 years later I picked up a shed in the same ten year field 100 yards from where I saw him. Drop time broken off. And just one side, but I know it was the same deer.
They can be pretty sneaky.
Every year I see big bucks I never get pictures of and get pictures of bucks I never see. Its just odd. Maybe I suck at putting out cameras. I kind of think older big bucks dont pay much attention to trails. They just walk where they want. Just a theory. Im rambling, and I quit. Stay healthy all.