The Game Commission has recently added some links to its website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) that will allow successful hunters to learn how old or how big the deer they bagged really is.
The most reliable way to age a deer is to pull one of its front teeth and examine a cross section of the tooth under a microscope. As a tooth grows, it adds rings, much like a tree. By counting these growth rings, a technician can determine the age of the animal. This method, while quite accurate, tends to be relatively time consuming and expensive.
For aging deer quickly and reliably in the field, biologists have established another method using tooth wear and replacement patterns on the lower jaw. Because virtually all deer are born during a relatively short window from mid-May to early June, deer taken in the regular deer season tend to be 6 months old, 1 years old, 2 years old and so on. Deer in each of those ages groups will exhibit specific numbers and types of teeth along with tooth-wear patterns that indicate with reasonable certainty how old the animal is.
The Associated Press
Information from the Game Commission might help a hunter estimate a deer’s age and weight.
To help hunters learn how to age deer they have taken, the Game Commission has posted online a short instructional video about this process. To view the video, go to the Game Commission's website and click on the "YouTube" icon in the upper right-hand column of the homepage, then select the link to "Deer Aging.mov."
Another common question among hunters is "How much does that deer weigh?" Unless they have access to a proper scale and have weighed a lot of deer, most hunters aren't very good at estimating the weight of deer. I know I'm not, but maybe that's because even an average-sized Pennsylvania whitetail feels like it weighs 400 pounds if you've had to drag it uphill for a half mile or more.
To help hunters estimate the weight of deer, the Game Commission offers a wonderful little chart that makes it easy. Simply measure the girth of the chest of the animal directly behind the front legs, then look up that measurement on the chart. Not only does the chart provide the estimated live weight of the animal but also the field-dressed weight and the approximate number of pounds of edible lean meat the carcass will produce. For example, a whitetail with a chest girth of 36 inches would have an estimated live weight of 135 pounds, would field-dress at 104 pounds and yield about 61 pounds of meat.
This chart has been around for many years, and several meat processors and other folks who have checked its data against animals they have actually weighed said the data is reasonably accurate. So if you are interested in knowing what your deer weighs, remember to measure its chest girth and look it up on the chart, which is available on the Game Commission website by clicking on the "White-Tailed Deer" icon in the center of the homepage and selecting "Deer Weight Chart" in the "Deer Hunting" section.
Of course, the question most deer hunters will be asking themselves over the next week is "Where will the deer be on opening day?" For many, that will be more problematic than usual this year. The acorn crop seems to be practically nonexistent throughout most of our region. Over the past three or four weeks while turkey and small-game hunting or just out for a hike, I've visited eight or 10 sites in Blair, Cambria, Clearfield and Huntingdon counties, and I don't recall seeing a single acorn anywhere on the forest floor. Most other folks I've talked to echo those findings, with the optimistic report on the mast crop I've heard being "darned few."
How this factor impacts the quality of the hunting in a specific area is hard to gauge, but it certainly makes things more complicated than the oversimplification of "find the food and you'll find the deer."
Personally, I often find that I see more deer in the area I hunt during those years when food sources are scarce. Possibly the deer are more scattered and have to spend more time finding food in the lean years. But deer hunting is a sport that embraces so many variables, and no two seasons are ever the same. I think that is a big reason so many of us keep at it year after year.