Georgia Hunter Shoots Rare Fanged Whitetail

Brian Murphy | October 28, 2023

Did you know that white-tailed deer once had fangs? A doe killed in Morgan County still exhibited this throwback.

Georgia hunter Trey Claus accomplished something on opening morning of firearms season that few deer hunters ever will—and it’s not taking a Boone and Crockett buck. While nearly as rare, Trey harvested a whitetail doe with canine teeth in its upper jaw, a rare occurrence dating back to when the whitetail’s ancestor possessed large canines and no antlers. Over time, whitetails slowly replaced these canine teeth with the antlers we know today, but a tiny fraction of deer still exhibit this evolutionary throwback.

I was fortunate to be the one to make this discovery, the first in my nearly 40-year career as a deer biologist. After a successful opening morning during which one mature buck and four does were harvested on our Morgan County property, fellow hunter Trey Claus asked if I would age the doe he harvested so we could record this information in our harvest log book. Upon slicing open the jaw tissue, I immediately spotted the small canine teeth and quickly let Trey know he had shot a proverbial unicorn.

Just how rare are canines in whitetails? No one really knows. I’ve personally seen about a half-dozen cases during my career. Watkinsville taxidermist Jake Rowe indicated that he had seen only about 10 cases over the past 15 years, so it is certainly uncommon. While little is known about this oddity, it is interesting that this is the second discovery on our property over the past decade and two of the cases observed by Jake Rowe came from bucks killed on the same property just weeks apart. Clearly there is a genetic component. Sadly, I suspect most cases are overlooked or missed by hunters. So, next time you harvest a whitetail, don’t forget to check its upper jaw for fangs!

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