The Wilson County News, a newspaper carrying this column, reported a rare antlered whitetail doe being shot recently by a Wilson County woman.
A Texas game warden verified the gender and instructed her to tag it as a “buck deer.” Tagging it as an “antlerless deer” (the other license option) would have been improper since it had six-point antlers.
Antlered doe deer are almost as rare as cows roosting in treetops. Well, maybe not that rare, but rare enough that most wildlife biologists and game wardens have never seen one. Debbie Ray shot this antlered doe on their Kendall County deer lease with a .308-caliber rifle her husband, Gene Ray, had given her as a present. They had seen the deer during the 2018 season but didn’t shoot it. This year, she took it, never doubting that it was a buck. Only after they saw it on the ground did they realize the anomaly.
I contacted two respected wildlife biologists who said they had never seen one, confirming the rarity. One was Dr. Charles DeYoung, distinguished professor at the Cesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M-Kingsville – and its founding director and authority on white-tailed deer. He sent me several research papers that confirmed that white-tailed does usually do not have antlers. Reindeer and caribou do, however. Debbie Gray’s deer was neither.
The fascinating papers DeYoung sent were by other researchers and strained my layman’s knowledge of scientific wildlife terminology acquired around campfires with wildlife biologists and by serving as executive director of the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society.
That research somewhat confirmed the popular notion that antlered does are infertile, although there has been evidence of several antler-bearers having organs suggesting fertility – one even containing milk in its udder. Antlers were typically described as abnormal or even “freak antlers” by one researcher. Many antlers remained in velvet and were not dropped each year like normal buck antlers do. Some deer were even found to be hermaphrodites (containing both male and female reproductive organs).
An interesting observation reported was that one doe was reported during the rutting period to develop a swollen neck and belligerent disposition. No appropriate comment comes to mind.
Debbie’s deer had small, curved antlers tips which extended just past each other in the opposite direction.
The other authority I contacted was Dr. Jerry Cooke, former TPWD big game director. He had never seen such a doe, either, but referred me to Rod Marburger, another biologist who had experience in this area. Marburger, himself, was somewhat of an anomaly, being the only T.U. graduate working with mostly Aggie biologists. Rod held his own and was respected for his work ethic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach him.
He once sent me his “accident history,” though, which included, “Once during a spotlight deer survey, I fell out of the pickup bed and landed in the mud. They backed up and bumped me, later noticing my hat had muddy tire tracks on it.”
Who says science can’t be fun!