A group of hunters in Alabama were more than surprised when they hoisted up an 8-point deer on a rack to be skinned. What they fully expected to be a prize buck turned out to be quite the opposite. The deer had no visible male reproductive organs, only female ones.
Outdoorsman Matt Kelley, who leads charity hunts throughout west Alabama in addition to hosting the Equip Outdoors Radio Show and Podcast, was hunting with friends when one of the group killed an 8-point whitetail deer that had no visible male reproductive organs.
“We took pictures and got him back to the skinning shed,” Kelley told the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources earlier this month. “I said something about the tarsal glands not even being black; it’s not even rutting. Somebody else said something about how skinny his neck was … Then the guy who shot it was starting to skin it and said, ‘Boys, this is a doe.’”
Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s Deer Program Coordinator Chris Cook said the deer is what wildlife biologists refer to as a “pseudohermaphrodite.”
“A deer like this with hardened antlers will have testes inside the body cavity,” Cook said. “They don’t have fully developed male or female organs. They may have external female organs, but they would have to have underdeveloped testes that were still large enough to produce enough testosterone to have that antler growth. While it may look like a doe on the outside, it’s not truly a doe. But it’s not a buck either. It’s very unusual for a functioning female to have antlers like that.”
Kelley described the moment when he and his cronies noticed the missing testes.
“Then the guy who shot it was starting to skin it and said, ‘Boys, this is a doe,’” Kelley told officials.
He added, “What was more crazy was the guy who shot it said the deer was actually not chasing a doe but walking behind it. The doe urinated, and this deer lip-curled just like a buck would. The landowner has had this land all his life, and they’ve never killed one like it his whole life. It’s a significant rack for a buck. If you looked at it, you would say this one was a shooter.”
Cook went on to explain that the percentage of true does with antlers is only about 0.1% of the total population. He then said they are fully functional females but have small, velvet-covered antlers that are not fully developed or hardened.
“I’ve seen a few over the years that looked like does externally that had antlers,” says Cook. “But it’s not physically possible to do that and be fully-functional does. I’ll get reports about a few each year in Alabama. The ones I usually hear about are the ones with fully developed antlers but are still covered in velvet. They have enough testosterone to start the antler growth but not enough to complete the cycle.”