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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

rare deer
A piebald whitetail in the woods. (Photo: Charles Ray)

There are so many kinds of rare deer within a species, and we lined up a lot of the better-known rarities that whitetails have to offer.

Whitetails are among the most treasured game species in North America. As a result, they get a lot of attention each fall and winter.

But not all of these are what most people would classify as “normal.” Some of them exhibit unique genetic or otherwise circumstantial traits that make them much different from their fellow whitetails. There is no doubt, plenty of oddities occur in the deer world. Some you’ve heard of, and others you likely haven’t. Regardless, check out these 11 whitetail anomalies.

Rare Deer in the Wild

Antlered Does

While most people believe it’s impossible for does to produce antlers, it isn’t. In fact, a small percentage of female whitetails produce antlers. Generally, when it happens, these are very small. Regardless, the driving factor is testosterone. The balance between testosterone and estrogen helps control the antler production process.

Furthermore, does that have lower testosterone levels, but that are high enough to produce antlers, generally remain in velvet year-round. In contrast, does with higher levels of testosterone tend to shed their velvet and become hard-antlered, like most normal bucks.

Still, regardless of how the doe’s antlers look, she still has ovaries and an anatomically correct reproduction system. Her testosterone levels might be too high to enter estrus, conceive fawns, or carry them to full term, but she still has the correct lady parts.

Cryptorchid Bucks

rare deer, cryptorchid deer
Logan Hanks shows off his cryptorchid buck. He bagged this deer on January 2, 2020, in Tennessee. (Photo thanks to Logan Hanks)

There are other instances of what might appear to be an antlered doe but isn’t. Also known as cryptorchid bucks, pseudo-hermaphrodites have incorrect, dysfunctional reproductive organs. In most cases, these deer have either ovaries or testes internally, but have the opposite gender’s external organ.

According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), Cryptorchidism can also be a condition where the testes do not descend into the scrotum. In early fall, rising testosterone levels trigger velvet shedding, but since crypto bucks lack adequate testosterone levels to do this, they never peel velvet and shed, ultimately remaining in velvet, and continuing to grow over time. They might or might not shed their antlers in winter.

Hermaphrodites

Then you have true hermaphrodites. This is when an antlered animal expresses both ovaries and testes. Furthermore, it’s possible that they could express one or both associated external organs. Some of these have antlers that remain in velvet indefinitely, while others execute the typical antler growing, velvet shedding, and antler casting processes.

“The lines between these [three types — antlered does, hermaphrodites, and pseudo-hermaphrodites] aren’t as clear as the textbook examples themselves,” said Growing Deer’s Grant Woods.

“You can also have a doe that is a true hermaphrodite, but then injures its scrotum (just like a buck) and then stay in velvet (instead of shedding). So, there is a hodgepodge of possibilities beyond the textbook cases.”

Albino Deer (Legalities Apply!)

Most animal (and some plant) species produce a minuscule number of albino representations. According to most resources, only one in 25,000-30,000 deer are truly albino. Generally, with true albinism, it’s a product of the absence of pigment, resulting in a white coloration. Unfortunately, most albino animals can have extensive health problems, and some species die shortly after birth. 

Some hunters might not realize it, but it’s illegal to shoot albino deer in some states. Certain states have banned the killing of albino (and in some cases piebald) deer either in specific areas, or statewide, including in Illinois, Iowa, New York, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin. (Note: This is not a comprehensive list!)

No scientific reasons were stated in each of these occurrences. It’s believed the laws were passed due to sentiment, not science. In fact, albino and piebald deer are genetically inferior from a health perspective and tend to experience significant health problems.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Law Enforcement Coordinator William Morris weighed in on the issue. “It wasn’t something the agency pushed for,” Morris said. “There is no biological reasoning for having it. It doesn’t benefit wildlife at all. Someone came up with the idea. We really have no rhyme or reason for it other than someone proposed it and now we have it.”

Piebald Deer

While similar to albino deer, piebald whitetails are different. These are partially brown and white, with unique colorations and markings throughout their body.

These are rare deer but less so than others. They seem to occur at a rate of approximately one in 1,000-1,500 deer. 

Melanistic Deer

The rarest whitetail color phases aren’t albino or piebald. It’s melanism. Melanistic deer — and representations found within other species — have an increased volume of black pigmentation.

Deer that express this trait have too much melanin. The odds of this occurring in wild deer are so low that the exact numbers are still unknown. They’ve been reported in only 29 states, and they’re most prevalent in central Texas.

Bullwinkle Deer

Another mysterious rare deer occurrence in nature is the Bullwinkle deer. This is when the snout and nose of a deer grow to unnatural proportions. In many ways, these deer begin to look more like a moose than deer.

Despite two decades of research, and approximately 10-15 cases, scientists still don’t know the exact cause of this condition. All that’s known is that a certain bacteria seems to be the culprit of the inflammation. How it’s contracted is unknown.

Dwarf Deer

Just as with other biological fauna, whitetails have dwarf (small) animals within their species as well. This is very rare, though — the odds of occurrence are unknown. Still, it happens. I’ve seen it myself.

Doppelkopf Deer

Doppelkopf bucks are some of the rarest of oddities in the outdoors. This is when bucks fail to shed their old antlers and grow another set right next to them.

Essentially, this results in two sets of antlers at one time. According to most scientists, this is most likely due to an injury to the antler pedicle, but there are still many unknowns with this condition.

Tongue Out

Most of the time, when a deer has its tongue hanging out, it’s due to high fever. This is a common symptom of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). That isn’t the case every time, though.

If a deer always has its tongue out, but is otherwise healthy, it could be due to an infection inside the mouth, or an injury that’s since healed, but left the deer with extensive issues.

Record-Class Bucks

While more common than the other anomalies on this list, record-class bucks are also a rare occurrence. To make the Boone & Crockett (B&C) record books, deer must surpass either the 170-inch typical or 195-inch non-typical thresholds. This is very difficult for a deer to do, and it’s very rare for a hunter to find one and kill it. According to B&C, a hunter’s odds of killing a record buck are 1 in 20,000.

Odd Antlers

While some people believe antler deformities are genetic based, most of the time, these are not. Instead, when an odd antler deformity occurs, it’s generally injury related, especially if only one side of the rack is abnormal. Typically, this is a result of an injury to the pedicle, to the antler during the growing phase, or to the buck’s body prior to antler growth.

Final Thoughts: Rare Deer in the Wild

All things considered, the odds of you seeing one of these whitetail anomalies in the wild are quite low. But with all the different anomalies out there, you’re likely to see some of these occurrences if you’re paying attention.

These are moments that should be treasured. After all, the world would be a boring place if everything looked the same.

When Should A Hunter Pass on a Buck?
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