Imagine seeing the buck of your dreams step into your sights. Your heart starts racing as you exhale calmly and squeeze the trigger. That stout buck with points aplenty becomes yours with the crack of a rifle. Elation ensues as you track your trophy, setting him up for photos and excitedly planning to share your hunting tale. As the adrenaline rush dies down, you flip your deer over to begin the process of skinning and gutting but something is amiss. Despite having antlers, the buck you just killed is missing some of the standard buck anatomy. Much to your surprise, this deer with a full rack of antlers is actually a doe.
Photo: Bates Co. News Wire, Mark Ortiz
While this tale may sound like a farfetched one, it is actually possible for a doe to grow antlers. Just ask Chuck Rorie and Anthony Youngers who together killed and skinned just that: an antlered doe. The deer in question bore an 8-point rack and looked every bit the buck they expected it to be, yet it was not. Before you dismiss this as another exaggerated hunter's tale, however, you might want to hear out MDC Resource Scientist Emily Flinn who places the odds of finding such a creature at as few as one in 4,437 and as many as one in 65 female deer.
What is the reason a female deer might sprout antlers impressive enough to put her male counterparts to shame? It all comes down to the science of hormones. Since testosterone is present in both male and female bodies, all it takes is an imbalance to grow antlers. The body of a buck is typically rich with testosterone which results in a large rack. A doe, however, does not normally have the amount of testosterone needed to develop antlers, though she does have some. All it takes is for the testosterone balance to swing away from that which is normal for a doe into a range that is typical for a buck and the result is a female deer with antlers. Though these antlers are typically unimpressive, they can achieve surprising size, especially for a deer that nature did not intended to have antlers in the first place. Sometimes these antlers will retain the velvet for an extended period of time and in other cases they will fully develop, such as the case with 9- and 10- point female deer taken in Missouri this year. In a couple of cases around the country, these deer have even grown racks as large as 27- and even 30-points.
One key point worthy of mention when it comes to antlered does is they are frequently described as appearing externally female. This is to say that their sex organs present as female although the inner workings could complicate things a bit. Sexually ambiguous deer could be one of three things:
- Does with large quantities of testosterone.
- Deer that are actually male but have female features.
- Hermaphroditic deer that have both male and female reproductive organs.
Photo: Ohio Sportsman
Also blamed for cervid oddities such as females with antlers are things such as tumors, first pregnancy, and degeneration of adrenal glands and ovaries. Though we may never truly know what causes antlers to grow on a specific deer short of thorough physical examination, the possibility certainly exists that you could be closer to finding one that you expect. With that in mind, may the next antlered deer to step into your sights be exactly what you anticipate it to be.
Have you any experience with an antlered doe of your own? Have you been surprised by any other physical oddities upon closer inspection of deer you harvested? Tell us about it in the comments!