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Buck Hunting

Consider Passing up Shots at Young Bucks

slogan graphic encouraging voluntary restraint

Every year, tens of thousands of NY hunters enjoy the opportunity to bring home a handsome 2.5-year or older buck. Still, about half of the antlered bucks taken in NY are only 1.5 years of age (yearlings). Yearling bucks generally weigh about 20% less and have 50% smaller antlers than they would as a 2.5-year-old. The primary reason New York doesn't have more older, larger-antlered bucks in the harvest is because many get taken as yearlings. But the good news is that this is completely within the power of New York hunters to change simply by choosing to pass up shots at young bucks.

You Can Change Your Deer Hunting Experience

decline in yearling percentage of harvest
Decreasing harvest of young bucks
is an unmistakable trend.

For NY bucks to get bigger bodies and larger antlers, they simply need to get older.

Older bucks are more challenging to hunt and yield more meat for the successful hunter. These bucks create more rubs and scrapes and vocalize more - all things that add to the hunting experience.

As more hunters choose to pass young bucks, all hunters will enjoy the opportunity to see and take more older bucks.

Many New York hunters are already choosing to pass up young bucks. In 2015, about 48% of the adult bucks harvested in the state (excluding areas with mandatory antler restrictions) were 2.5 years old or older.

What Can You Do to See More Older Bucks?

girl with harvested mature buck
  • Choose to let young bucks walk.
  • Improve the habitat by creating young forest and enhancing natural forage and cover for deer.
  • In many areas, taking an antlerless deer instead of a young buck would help meet overall management goals and bring the deer population into better balance with the habitat, which in turn improves deer condition.
  • Work with your neighbors and hunting partners to cooperatively reduce harvest of young bucks, meet your antlerless harvest goals, and improve habitat conditions.

Learn the Differences between Yearling and Older Bucks

Nearly all bucks in New York with 4 points or less are only 1.5 years old. In central and western New York or other high quality habitat areas, about 30% of yearlings have 5-6 points and 15% have 7-8 total antler points. However, the overall size and shape of their antlers remains small, with antler spreads generally less than 12 inches, well inside the ear tips.

After the shot, check out the teeth of your deer to see whether it is a yearling or older buck.

comparison of bucks at three different ages
These bucks from Washington County, NY demonstrate typical age-related differences in body size and antler growth.
(Photo courtesy of QDMA)

Yearling Buck Older Buck
Body Size similar to adult doe larger than adult doe
Legs appear long and skinny appear more stocky due to deeper chest
Muscles often not clearly defined well defined in shoulders and thighs
Body Shape slender, belly tucks up belly flat or even sagging
Antlers thin, spread narrower than ear tips spread almost as wide as ear tips on 2.5-year-old, wider if older

Note: there is considerable variation in antler growth within age classes of bucks depending on local habitat quality.

Evaluation of Buck Management Options

In recent years, some hunters have expressed strong interest in increasing the number of older, larger-antlered bucks in our deer population. This could be accomplished through a variety of regulatory and non-regulatory approaches. New York hunters have divided opinions about buck hunting and many greatly value having the freedom to choose what type of buck to harvest. DEC worked with experts at Cornell University to evaluate various buck hunting strategies (e.g. mandatory antler point restrictions, 1-buck-per-hunter rule, shorter season, voluntary restraint) in a way that accounted for regional variation in hunter values and the impacts on harvest, population management, and hunter satisfaction. Based on that study, DEC concluded that regulatory changes are not appropriate or most compatible with hunter values. Encouraging hunters to voluntarily pass up shots at young bucks best balances hunter interests across the state and is now our management direction. For more information see PDF links below.

Doesn't DEC already have a Mandatory Antler Restriction program?

DEC does have Mandatory Antler Point Restrictions in 11 Wildlife Management Units in southeastern New York. This program will continue as DEC encourages hunters elsewhere to practice voluntary restraint. Over time, as more and more hunters in the broader region opt to pass on young bucks voluntarily, hunters in the units with mandatory restrictions may be interested in seeing the restrictions lifted.

To learn more about DEC's buck management decision process and outcomes, see: