Over his career as a wildlife biologist, Joe Hamilton of South Carolina has aged tens of thousands of deer jawbones, and whenever he encountered a jawbone that strayed from “normal,” he saved it. This article provides a tour through a few of the weirdest jawbones in Joe’s and NDA’s collection. Whenever you’re examining jawbones this season, keep an eye out for whitetails with bad teeth.
Start your tour with a look at a normal, healthy lower jawbone from a whitetail so you know what deer teeth should look like.
Finally, in 2019 I came across my own addition to this collection of deer in need of dentistry. My dad killed a mature buck on our family farm in Georgia, and I cleaned the jawbones for Dad to display with the mount (I believe age is just as much a part of a hunt story as antlers). When I boiled and cleaned them, I noticed the buck had an enormous abscess in his left jaw. The infection was so bad and had been there so long that the battle between bacteria and the buck’s immune system had destroyed part of the bone, leaving a hole through both sides of the jaw and exposing the roots of the buck’s molars. The pain of such an untreated infection would likely put you and me out of action, yet this buck was chasing does and participating in the rut when Dad shot him.
Yet another example of the toughness and resilience of whitetails. Despite injuries and afflictions like those you saw here, they survive and keep going. It’s a good idea to pull a jawbone from every deer you harvest so you can estimate age, but you also never know when you might add your own strange jawbone to your collection of outdoor curiosities.
Lindsay Thomas Jr. is the editor of Quality Whitetails magazine, the journal of the National Deer Association, and he is NDA's Chief Communications Officer. He has been a member of the staff since 2003. Prior to that, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.
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