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Can Whitetail Does Have Antlers?

There are many anomalies in the whitetail world. One of them is the fact that sometimes female whitetails can grow antlers. You may have seen reports of deer shot with huge antlers and claim that the deer was a doe. The question is if it is a true antlered doe or if there is another possibility.

Are Antlered Does Real?

It seems that every year we get a few reports across the country of so-called “antlered does”. According to science, it is more likely that these deer being reported are actually hermaphrodites and not real does. They are two types of hermaphrodites.

  1. True hermaphrodite. This deer could have both male and female organs. Although true hermaphrodites may also possess the organs of one or both sexes and show the outside organs of the opposite or both sexes. These cases can be very different from each other. True hermaphrodites are a result of a genetic anomaly and do not result in one single outcome every time.
  2. Pseudohermaphrodite (also know as cryptorchid). This deer would have internal male or female organs that would not be easily identifiable. Pseudohermaphrodites have the internal organs of one sex but the external organ of the opposite. So they are different from true hermaphrodites because they only contain one internal and one external sex organ.

In both situations, the hormones these deer possess can be mixed up. As a result, some of them can grow antlers. It depends on how much testosterone they produce. If they produce more testosterone then the average doe they can grow small or large antlers that may stay in velvet year-round. If they produce normal buck levels of testosterone, they can produce regular hardened antlers every year. Hermaphrodites are a case by case basis because these genetic abnormalities are not the same every time.

RELATED POST: TOP WHITETAIL DEER MYTHS

Yes, Antlered Does Exist!

 While actual antlered does are possible, they only grow small antlers and do not produce the testosterone needed to harden their antlers. Because of this, they stay in velvet year-round. The chance of a true antlered doe happening is a small 0.01% or about 1 in 10,000 does. The size of the antlers depends on the levels of testosterone the doe is producing, the higher the levels, the larger the rack.

A true antlered doe will exhibit this kind of antler growth. The condition is extremely rare. Most reports of antlered does are more likely cases of hermaphrodism. Photo courtesy of Larry's Taxidermy of Ogdensburg, NY.
A true antlered doe will exhibit this kind of antler growth. The condition is extremely rare. (Photo: Larry’s Taxidermy of Ogdensburg, NY.)

What Does Science Say?

A group of scientists in Pennsylvania did a study on the 160,000 bucks harvested between 1958 and 1961. While this population was only bucks hunters had killed and reported the percentage of antlered does is considerably less than recently said, I am sure this is because most antlered does are considerably smaller than actual bucks which makes them less attractive to hunters. Though some of these does can grow a respectable rack.

Here is the abstract of the study:

Forty-seven antlered female deer (Odocoileus virginianus borealis) were reported among 162,000 bucks killed during four hunting seasons in Pennsylvania, 1958-61. Their distribution in the state was not uniform. The viscera of 31 antlered does, so-called, were examined. Of these, 17 were functional females, 4 were males with undescended testes in the intra-abdominal fat, 1 was a hermaphrodite, 1 bore an adrenal-type tumor, and 8 others could not be classified with the material available. The antlers of 25 were in the velvet, while only 6 had polished antlers, normal among males at that season. The condition of the antlers when related to that of the internal organs correlated very well with the theory of antler growth as developed by the late George B. Wislocki and his associates, and now under investigation by R. J. Goss. The adrenal glands showed no consistent abnormalities.

John C. Donaldson and J. Kenneth Doutt
The Journal of Wildlife Management

Read the full report here

Hunters who shoot an 'antlered doe' likely have killed a hermaphrodite, which has ovaries and testes, neither of which would be noticeable to an untrained eye. The deer may appear to be female, but the branched (and sometimes hardened) antlers are an indication that it most likely not a true antlered doe.
Hunters who shoot an ‘antlered doe’ likely have killed a hermaphrodite, which has ovaries and testes, neither of which would be noticeable to an untrained eye.  (Photo: DDH)

Every now and again we will get a report of a rather large “antlered doe” such as this 220 lbs deer. As we know this is not a true antlered doe but these false deer can be classified in these 5 categories.

  1. True hermaphrodite
  2. Pseudohermaphrodite
  3. Does with degenerated ovaries
  4. Does with diseased ovaries
  5. Deer with no recognizable pathology(extremely rare)

Thanks for reading my article about antlered does. I hoped you enjoyed it and learned something you didn’t already know. If you like my content subscribe for my weekly update.

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