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Antlered does or hermaphrodite deer?

Hunters bag does in disguise!

Last year hunters around the country were buzzing when news broke of a hermaphrodite deer taken on a Florida WMA (“DeBary hunter gets ‘strange sex’ surprise” March, 2007 Woods ‘n Water). Hang on to your horns, because we have two weird and wacky tales for you this month.

Thirteen-year-old C.J. Nowling of Jay, Florida took his first buck on Jan. 3, 2008 while hunting with his grandfather in Santa Rosa County – or did he? What the boy and his grandfather didn’t realize – until they were cleaning it – was that the 6-point buck was actually an antlered doe. “In most of these cases, what we find is that the deer has a combination of both male and female internal sex organs, and the external sex organs are usually underdeveloped and not well defined,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologist and Deer Management Program leader Dr. Robert Vanderhoof said.

“Deer with both male and female sex organs are called hermaphrodites. Often, underdeveloped males, called cryptorchids, can be mistaken for antlered does because they also exhibit poorly developed external sex organs,” he said.

But after close inspection of the carcass and its entrails by veterinarian David Summerlin and FWC wildlife technician Mike Graves, the 110-pound deer Nowling shot had only female sex organs and its antlers were hard and well-polished. “In most cases, antlers on female deer tend to be malformed and stay in velvet. A doe with polished antlers, which is what I’m told this young man shot, is quite a rare occurrence,” Vanderhoof said. “Females with polished antlers are almost always infertile and usually have tumors on their reproductive organs, which produce the hormone testosterone, necessary to enable polished antlers to develop in deer,” Vanderhoof added.

Interestingly enough, four days later and halfway across the state in Levy County, Cale Barber, of Williston, shot another antlered doe – this one with a 4-point rack. The deer weighed 142 pounds, which is large for Florida deer, especially a doe.

And, just like Nowling’s 6-point, its antlers were also hard and polished, and it had only female reproductive organs, as confirmed by FWC biologists Elina Garrison and Bambi Ferree, as well as FWC veterinarian Mark Cunningham. The day started out quite normal for Nowling and his grandfather, Waylon Nowling, also of Jay, who were deer hunting on a friend’s 2,000-acre tract of land on the Escambia River known as the “Downey Ranch.”

“I think the deer were going through somewhat of a pre-rut, and that last snap of cold weather really had them moving that day. We saw two different groups of deer as we walked to the stand, and we ran out another group when we got there,” Waylon said. As the pair sat in a shooting house, they watched a couple of different groups of deer, a few turkeys and a mature black boar hog come into the two-acre food plot that afternoon to graze on wheat and oats.

“Earlier during the hunt, I saw one pretty decent buck but could never get a good shot at him,” C.J. said. However, at approximately 4:45 p.m., a nice 6-pointer stepped out of the woods and into view along with a doe. That’s when the eighth-grader took aim at the deer with his .243 rifle and made the 175-yard shot.

“It was a heck of a good shot, and we couldn’t climb down out of that stand quick enough,” Waylon said. “I’m not sure who was more excited, me or him.” But it wasn’t until they had the deer hanging up to clean that Waylon noticed...”Houston, we have a problem.” That ‘he’ deer is actually a ‘she’ deer with horns.

Texas also produced a big-racked doe this past season, when Cliff Smallwood of White Oak, Texas downed what he thought was a respectable 9-point on Nov. 30 while working on a lease he shares with Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden Jeff Cox in Central Texas. Just prior to beginning work on a hunting blind, Smallwood heard a noise he thought was a feral hog. Cox walked up a hill, looked over the ridge where he saw and heard a deer making a grunting noise typical of aggressive bucks.

Smallwood shot the deer and went to field dress the animal as Cox began work on the blind. Smallwood soon made several odd discoveries. First of all, his big buck had a nine-point rack and two tines broken off from fighting! Its neck was swollen (typical of bucks during the rut) and there was dried blood and hair on the tips of the antlers from where it had been fighting. But, then the hunters noticed the deer’s tarsal (musk) glands located on the inside of its hind legs were snow white and the legs were not stained dark reddish brown as is the case with many rutting bucks. When they lifted its rear leg, they saw the buck was a doe!

It had no male organs or genitals, but did have teats like a doe. “It was a doe with antlers,” Smallwood said. “The strangest thing I have ever seen.” The antlered doe had a substantial rack with polished antlers. One Texas biologist estimates one to three such antlered does are taken each season in Texas, some carrying 9- and 10-point racks scoring as high as 130 B&C inches.

In most cases the antlers carried by a doe are small and covered in velvet. Regardless of size, antlered does are considered a rarity that can occur among deer species that deliver male-female twins. What causes the anomaly is open for debate, with some biologists saying at an early stage of development, testosterone in the male twin’s blood is shared with the female twin and other claim it is the result of excessive testosterone levels caused by a hormone imbalance, or problems with the ovaries or adrenal glands.

Occasionally, deer have been known to develop both male and female sex organs.