160-Inch… Doe?

Deer biologist sheds light on Justin Buchanan’s 14-pointer with no male parts.

John N. Felsher | November 28, 2022

Justin Buchanan, of Roberta, with a 160-inch deer killed in Crawford County that was missing male parts.

A Crawford County sportsman made a great shot and thought he bagged the biggest racked buck of his life. He did, but this one came with a surprise. With all due respect to the late radio great Paul Harvey, “… and now for the REST of the story.”

Justin Buchanan, of Roberta, hunts a 53-acre lease in Crawford County on the border with Peach County about 8 miles from Byron. A gas line runs through the property. A pine forest grows in about half of the tract with the rest a hardwood bottom crisscrossed by several gullies. Justin built a box stand about 8 feet off the ground at the edge of the gas line.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, Justin climbed into the box stand with his 16-year-old nephew, Braylon Johnson, well before daylight. The elevated stand gave the hunters excellent visibility down the gas line. About 300 yards away from the stand, a well-used natural game trail crossed the gas line.

At about 8:30 a.m., a big deer stepped out from cover on that game trail. It stood at the edge of the gas line, hesitant to cross the 30 yards to the woods on the other side before checking all directions for danger.

“We had been out there for a while,” Justin said. “It was the first really cold day we had this season. At first, I just saw that it was a big-bodied deer. Then, I looked through the scope and saw the antlers. We both said to each other, ‘That’s a big deer.’ I couldn’t tell how many points the deer had. All I could tell was it had a really big rack.”

Justin put the scope crosshairs on the shoulder of the biggest deer he had ever seen and fired. The .270 slug found its mark about 300 yards away, hitting the animal right behind its shoulder for a double lung shot. The deer ran across the gas line as the sportsmen waited another 45 minutes in the stand before going to look for it.

“When I saw the rack, I didn’t take time to count the points,” Justin said. “I immediately put the crosshairs on its shoulder and fired. After I pulled the trigger, I started shaking out of control and couldn’t stop. I had to take the long shot when I could because deer don’t usually come much closer to the stand than that. It was either shoot it or lose it and probably never see it again.”

With that hit, the deer wouldn’t go far. The deer raced across the open gas line and disappeared into the thick brush and forest. The hunters found it about 10 yards into the woods on the other side of the gas line. Justin rejoiced over taking the deer with the biggest rack of his life.

“When we got to the deer, I looked at the glands on the back of its legs and they were just white,” Justin said. “The glands had no color or smell. It had three little dried-up pieces of velvet stuck to the antlers, but the rest of the rack was hardened.”

Happy that he killed the biggest deer of his life, Justin and Braylon brought the animal out of the woods and headed to the processor with anticipation of the backstrap, steaks, sausage and other fine venison cuts the large animal would yield. On the way to the processor, Justin called Jeremy Williams of Williams Whitetail Taxidermy in Reynolds and told him about the big deer.

“I told Jeremy, ‘I don’t think the deer are rutting.’ He asked, ‘Why do you say that?’ I told him about the glands on the deer. He asked if I shot a doe with antlers. I pulled over to check the deer. Sure enough, she had no male organs. Jeremy told me to bring the deer straight over to the taxidermy shop. He wanted to see it.”

The men hung up the deer to skin it. Jeremy went through it and cut into it. The men could not find any trace of male organs in the deer whatsoever, but they did notice the huge rack. Jeremy rough scored the 14-point rack at 160 inches.

“I’ve killed a lot of deer, but I’ve never seen a deer like this,” Justin said. “It was the deer with the biggest rack that I’ve ever killed. I was super ecstatic about killing the biggest ‘buck’ I ever killed and this ‘buck’ turned out to be a doe. I didn’t know it was a doe until about 2 1/2 hours after I shot it. I’m going to get a shoulder mount. I wish I could have afforded to mount the whole body.”

Charlie Killmaster, the chief deer biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in Social Circle, heard about the Crawford County deer and had photos sent to him. Some does do grow antlers. He usually hears of maybe two to four antlered does killed in Georgia each season, but never one this big.

“I have never heard of a true female whitetail with hardened antlers this big,” Charlie said. “Most of the time, antlered does that are biologically female with no male parts will only have two very small antlers like a spike on each side that never shed velvet. I just can’t imagine any 100% female would produce enough testosterone that would produce hardened antlers like this. There must have been a substantial amount of testosterone in that deer to harden those antlers. A true antlered doe is probably more rare than a hermaphrodite, which I suspect this deer was. I have seen some substantial antlers that would have scored high come off hermaphrodite deer, but this one was the biggest I’ve ever seen.”

Killmaster said that sometimes an animal can be a hermaphrodite, one possessing both male and female reproductive organs. The testosterone from the male organs produces the hardened racks common on bucks. True female deer can also grow small antlers on rare occasions but usually do not produce large quantities of testosterone needed to grow huge racks.

“A deer might have external female parts, but it might also have male parts that never fully developed,” Charlie said. “These would likely be found internally. A deer must have a tremendous amount of testosterone in its body to complete a set of antlers like the ones this deer had. I’m not sure what actually causes this at the cellular level in deer, but in any population of mammals, things can go wrong. It’s probably from something that happened inside the womb. Perhaps two sperm cells fertilized an egg or two cells joined together with both male and female chromosomes.”

Killmaster also described another type of deer, what scientists call a “cryptorchid.” This means an animal with a testicle missing from its scrotum. The testicle might not be completely missing, but it might have stopped somewhere along the “path of descent” to drop into the scrotum.

“We usually see more cryptorchid deer than a true hermaphrodite,” Killmaster said. “These are the ‘cactus’ bucks with the big cactus-shaped antlers that never shed their velvet. These antlers just continue to grow. One of its testicles doesn’t fully form or descend into the scrotum. Testosterone is being produced in the testicles. It’s the rise in testosterone in deer around September that causes those antlers to shed the velvet and harden. This deer must have had some male sexual organs inside her somewhere.”

Since some does can grow antlers, the state of Georgia doesn’t differentiate between “does” and “bucks.” The regulations read “antlered” or “antlerless” deer. With 14 points, Justin’s 160-class doe certainly registered in the legal “antlered” side of the law. It also counts against his antlered limit.

“I heard about an 8-point doe killed in 2017,” Justin said. “A biologist said he had never seen a doe with hard antlers without velvet on it. My deer had hard antlers and was even bigger than that 8-point. I think this deer had been acting like a buck. The deer’s tail was stained and we could smell the estrous on it. She also had two gouges in her face and the tip of one of its tines had been broken as if it had been fighting with bucks. It also had bark all over its antlers as if it had been scrapping trees. This deer was confused.”

Justin placed several trail cameras on his hunting lease. In the six years he hunted that property, he never once spotted such a deer. However, he possibly captured an image of this giant antlered doe.

“I had no idea this deer even existed,” Justin said. “Three years ago, on the day after deer season ended, we went to pull the cameras up and got a photo of a 12- or 14-point deer on the gas line. It came out at 3 a.m. I don’t know if it was the same deer or not. It didn’t look quite the same. Pictures I’ve seen of antlered does all look like does, thin with skinny necks. The one I shot didn’t. It had a big head. I never would have even thought she was a doe if the taxidermist hadn’t told me.”

There were no male parts on Justin’s Crawford County 14-pointer, but a biologist says it must have been producing testosterone somehow to grow a rack that shed velvet and hardened.

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  1. Dirtroad Johnson on November 29, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    Wonder if anyone aged & weigh that deer?

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