How to age a roe deer from its antlers

There may be more roe deer in Britain now than ever before. Learn more about these intriguing mammals which now thrive in modern landscapes and how to age them from their antlers. 

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Roe deer opening spread

There may be more roe deer in Britain now than ever before. Here's how to age a roe buck from its antlers.

 

HOW ROE DEER ANTLERS GROW

You can learn a lot about a roe buck simply by looking at his antlers.

Roe have simple antlers that take the same time to regrow (about four months) as those of larger deer.

Antler size is determined by age, condition and food; a buck can produce a poor set one year but a good set the next.

In Britain, some of the biggest roe buck antlers are found in Wiltshire and Sussex.

Yearling

© Sandra Doyle/ The Art Agency

Roe antlers grow on pedicles, part of the frontal bone of the skull. A male kid develops a small button on his pedicles during his first few months; this will be shed in spring, when he grows his first antlers: usually short spikes.

Year two

© Sandra Doyle/The Art Agency

The buck’s second set of antlers are usually short, though they may feature small tines (points) and a secondary branch. The antlers have little pearling (knobbly lumps) on the main shaft; the coronet at the base is small.

Year three

© Sandra Doyle/The Art Agency

By now the buck’s antlers usually have three tines (normally the maximum in roe). The pearling is developing; the coronets are still separate. Overall, the antlers still look fairly slender. The pedicles get shorter each time the antlers are cast.

Years five to seven

© Sandra Doyle/The Art Agency

The antlers look best at about seven years old; in a strong buck they will be 30cm long, though generally still with three tines. The antlers are thicker, the pearling covers much of the shaft and the coronets usually meet.

Perruque

© Sandra Doyle/The Art Agency

Deformed antlers are common in roe deer – the most extreme form is a ‘perruque’. Rising levels of testosterone normally stop antler growth, but if this does not happen (due to a testicular injury) the antlers become a spongy mass of bone and velvet.

 

FACT FILE

Shoulder height 0.6–0.75m.

Length 0.85–1.4m.

Weight 8–22kg.

Appearance Graceful deer with a white chin and rump patch and a black nose; coat is redder in summer. Male’s antlers 
are short and erect. Muzzle shorter than in red deer; stance more upright and ears more pointed than in muntjac.

Diet Mainly the leaves and buds of trees, shrubs and wildflowers; also arable crops and grasses.

Breeding Rut takes place July–September. Female gives birth in April–early June after a 10-month gestation (including five months of delayed implantation); the usual litter size is twins. Young are independent the next April or May.

Habitat Open woodland, especially rides, clearings and areas bordering fields; frequents farmland if thick hedgerows are present. Increasingly moving into suburban habitats.

Lifespan Usually up to 10 years.

Status Britain’s most numerous deer; pre-breeding population estimated to be 500,000–800,000.

 

For more information on understanding the British deer rut visit here

To see Sam Rowley's red deer photo gallery visit here

View images of fallow deer moving through the urban environment at night here

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