Antlered does are not as uncommon as you may think – just ask the Missouri hunters who were lucky enough to take one of these unusual ungulates during the 2011 deer season.
Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) resource scientist Emily Flinn, who specializes in deer biology, stated earlier this month that her office received five reports of antlered does being taken throughout the state in November alone.
In an interview with the MDC, Flinn reports, “Female deer can grow antlers if they have higher-than-normal testosterone levels. In most cases, does’ testosterone levels are too low for full antler development. They usually are small and poorly formed, and they aren’t completely hardened. They typically are still in velvet when hunting season arrives.”
However, that wasn’t the case with two of the Missouri does. One, a 9-pointer taken in Platte County, and the other, a 10-pointer shot in Wright County. Both does boasted a totally symmetrical, fully hardened rack that any buck would be proud to carry.
Missouri deer hunter, Mark Ortiz, shows off his 2011 antlered doe, one of five taken in the state throughout November alone.
So why do some does have hardened antlers and others have crazy non-typical velvet-covered ones?
According to Flinn, antlered does fall into one of three categories.
The first category consists of female deer with unusually high testosterone levels. These females are likely to grow underdeveloped smaller sets of antlers and typically can still reproduce.
In category two, the deer are likely male, but posses some female features. These deer often can grow fully functional racks.
The third belong to the true hermaphrodites, animals with both male and female organs. These are typically the animals that produce the unusual racks, often still covered in velvet well into the hunting season.
This non-typical doe’s antlers still bare velvet late into fall.
“We only know about the ones that hunters shoot, and probably not even all of those,” Flinn continued. “It seems likely that some are field-dressed without the hunters noticing the anatomical oddities. If you shoot an antlered deer, you’re pretty much going to assume it’s a buck. If it’s early or late in the day, you might field dress it without noticing the presence or absence of some anatomical oddities.”
In some regions of the country, as many as one in every 65 female deer can grow antlers or as few as one in every 4,437, says Flinn. If the Missouri deer population is estimated at about 1.4 million, and five of the nearly 200,000 deer taken in November were antlered does, then about 40 more of the rare trophies are roaming the countryside.