Phil Klein peered into the woods from his deer stand in north-central Minnesota, hunting near his father, when he heard the sound of a doe bleating nearby.
“I knew it was my dad’’ trying to attract a buck by mimicking a doe, he said.
“Five minutes later, this deer comes crashing out of the swamp, about 50 or 60 yards away,’’ Klein said. “At first I thought it was a doe, then I noticed it had antlers. But it looked really odd. I counted 8 points, so I shot.’’
Klein, 29, of Champlin, and his dad, Jeff, 57, of Rogers, were in for a surprise.
“My dad came over to help me find it, and he got to the deer first. All I could hear him yell was ‘velvet!’ ”
The 8-point deer’s antlers were covered in velvet, which should have been long gone by November. “It was in full velvet, 100 percent perfect.’’
Then Klein field-dressed the deer and noticed something else odd: “It didn’t have any male genitalia.’’
His 8-point buck was actually an 8-point doe.
“It really didn’t dawn on me for a while,’’ Klein said. “Then at lunch I told my dad, ‘That thing’s a doe.’ He thought I was crazy.’’
But the pair checked the gut pile for evidence they might have missed, and concluded the deer with male headgear was indeed a female. About 10 family members hunt in his group, and they were astounded.
“My grandpa and his brother have been hunting this land for 40-plus years, and this is the first time we’ve seen anything like this,’’ Klein said. He took some ribbing from his group. “You get a lot of grief for shooting a deer like this,’’ he said.
It could be jealousy. The odds of bagging such a deer are astronomical.
“They’re not common at all,’’ said Lou Cornicelli, Department of Natural Resources wildlife research manager. “It’s an anomaly. We shoot one every couple of years.’’
Last year, hunters killed about 90,000 does, and there were no reports any of them had antlers, Cornicelli said. In 2011, hunters killed about 107,000 does, and just one was reported to have antlers. “There might be one or two killed that we don’t hear about, or that hunters don’t even know it’s not a doe,’’ he said.
The cause is an overproduction of testosterone. Whitetails of both sexes produce testosterone, but if a doe produces too much, antlers can result — sometimes small, but sometimes big.
“Someone shot an 11-point or 14-point doe a few years ago,’’ Cornicelli said. And those rare does may have antlers one year but not the next, he said. Most antlered does lack enough testosterone to lose the velvet on their antlers, he said. Spotting or shooting a doe with a hardened, velvet-free rack would be even more unusual, Cornicelli said.
Antlered does still generally have female reproductive organs, he said. Though rare, he said the DNR isn’t interested in examining or studying the carcass of such deer.
“From an anomaly perspective it’s interesting, from a biological perspective, it happens,’’ Cornicelli said. “It’s just too much testosterone.’’
Meanwhile, Klein is deciding whether to have his unusual trophy mounted. “Everyone wants me to,’’ he said.
“I would,’’ said Cornicelli, an avid deer hunter. Because the antlers aren’t fully developed, he said a taxidermist typically has to inject a preservative into them to maintain the velvet.
Antlered does aren’t the only oddities roaming the woods. Albino (white) deer completely lack the pigment melanin. Piebald (two-toned) deer are mottled white and brown.
“We see very few of those,’’ Cornicelli said.
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