Wyoming biologists just got a lot of data to sort through and analyze following 2020’s big game hunting seasons. Thanks to increased hunting check stations and research projects that called for samples, over 4,000 big game teeth from elk, whitetail deer, moose, mule deer, antelope and more were donated by hunters last year, Buckrail reports.
Biologists use the teeth to determine age class within herds, which are used to determine management strategies, and learn more about population dynamics. For example, in 2020, the oldest hunter-harvested antelope was 13.5 years old, according to Buckrail. Other record ages for 2020 were an elk at 16.5 years old, a whitetail deer at 12.5 years old, a mule deer at 12.5 years old and a moose at 11 years old.
“For 2020, we’ve aged 827 pronghorn teeth so far,” said Molly Bredehoft, coordinator of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WGFD) tooth aging program. “That’s much higher than just a few years ago in 2018 when only six teeth were submitted and analyzed. In 2019 our number of pronghorn teeth increased to over 500 due to a research project at the University of Wyoming, and this year’s high numbers are due to the continuation of the research.”
She says that figuring out the age of a tooth is “similar to counting rings on a tree.” Biologists count annuli, which are “deposited in layers in the root of an animal’s tooth each winter,” according to Buckrail. And which tooth they use to age the animal depends on the species: first incisors are used for mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, moose, bison and other ungulates. To age bears, biologists need the upper first premolar; for mountain lions, the second upper premolar; and for bobcats, the canine, according to WGFD.