Hemorrhagic Disease Can Be A Problem
One fall day, a rather long time ago, I was working at a deer check station and a hunter brought in a deer with long, splayed, flaking hooves. A biologist working at the station immediately recognized that this was a sign that the deer had been infected with a viral disease known as epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), but had recovered. Apparently deer that recover from the disease can exhibit splayed, flaked hooves.
Almost every year we hear about small, isolated pockets of deer found dead in the summer, near water. When this occurs, people are concerned, as they are about any wildlife species where numbers are found dead. Hunters also get concerned, speculating that the deer herd will be devastated. Based on the numbers of deer we have running around, this doesnít seem to happen.
However, some deer do die, and the cause is usually epizootic hemorrhagic disease. Three years ago there were outbreaks in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. EHD is a seasonal disease, and it usually affects deer in pockets of habitat, rather than being widespread. In other words, you get regional outbreaks of this disease.
EHD is found where the biting midge (Culicoides) is found, because this insect is the vector and carries the virus. About seven days after an infected midge bites a deer, it will die. Actually, not all deer bitten by infected midges die. Apparently two-thirds will survive and they remain immune the rest of their life.
It is most common to find dead deer starting in late July and running to late October, but September seems to be the peak month. When conditions favor the midge, and when you have high numbers of deer, you tend to get outbreaks. Climate seems to be a major factor. Intense drought conditions seem to coincide with outbreaks of EHD and that appears to be the cause for this summersí outbreaks across Tennessee and North Carolina.
During a drought deer congregate near water sources, and the biting midges can infect more than one deer at such locations. With the major drought in the South, some biologists are concerned that deer populations could be affected in wider areas, rather than the local regions as are usually found. So far EHD has not been found in large numbers in West Virginia this year, however in past years we have had scattered outbreaks of EHD.
Deer that have the disease often appear feverish with swelling around the head, neck, eyes, and tongue. They may hemorrhage (hence the name) and bleed from the mouth, and they may also have trouble breathing. Because of the fever they drink lots of water and usually die close by.
There is no reason to fear this disease as humans do not contract it. And deer do not spread the disease from one to another. Apparently the virus dies rather quickly when the deer dies, so it isnít spread from a dead deer to living deer.
There isnít much anyone can do to prevent EHD. If weather conditions are right, and the midges are out in high numbers, some deer will die. A nice early cold spell in August may knock down midge numbers and this obviously helps prevent the disease. The warmer climate found in the southern United States is the reason that EHD is more prevalent there.
Apparently weather conditions were ripe for EHD in the summer of 2002 as more than 70 different pockets of EHD were found in the United States with close to ten found in West Virginia. But such outbreaks are not that common and since many deer that are infected will recover, EHD is not a long-term threat to our valuable white-tailed deer.
Why Deer Disappear
Itís happened to every bowhunter I know. Gun hunters too. Youíve scouted a good buck, got him figured out, you are ready to do the deal, but then he just up and disappears. You move your stand, hunt hard for the next few days, but he is gone.
In the past, when that has happened to me, I attributed the disappearance to a variety of reasons. Maybe another hunter shot the buck. Maybe there was too much hunter activity in the area so he became totally nocturnal. Did he get hit by a car? I know that happens to some dandy bucks every year.
We know that in whitetail country yearling bucks disperse in the fall. In our area around 50-70 percent of all yearling bucks leave their birthing area in September and October. This dispersal is normal, and the bucks will move to an entirely new home range, usually around five miles from where they were born (though some go much further). The reason they leave is because of aggressive encounters with other yearling bucks. In areas where there are lots of older bucks, the yearlings do not fight as much (because they are intimidated by older bucks), so dispersal rates are lower.
No matter what the cause, the result is the same. A bunch of young bucks that live on the farm you hunt, leave. However, a bunch of young bucks that live on surrounding lands, also disperse, and they will come to your area. Yes, some come and some go. If you hunt in good, thick cover (i.e. good habitat) then more young bucks that disperse may take up residence there. But if your habitat is over browsed, then fewer of those young bucks may decide to live there. Though no one has ever collected such data, my guess is that if the area you hunt is poor deer habitat with little understory, more yearling bucks disperse out of the area than bucks that come in.
But as I described at the outset, bigger, older bucks also disappear. Not all big bucks disappear, but some do. I wanted some answers, so being the old Professor, I went to the scientific literature and discovered some answers. I found a recently completed thesis done by James Tomberlin from North Carolina State University. His work gave me a possible answer to why some big bucks suddenly become invisible. It isnít magic. The data prove otherwise.
Jim did his research on Chesapeake Farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The farm is 3,300 acres of great deer habitat; a good mixture of agricultural crops and hardwood forests. Jim put radio collars on 15 bucks over several years and followed them every day from summer, through the pre-rut, rut, post-rut, and winter. All of the bucks he followed were at least 3 Ĺ years of age.
He found that some of these older bucks make some long range movements out of their home range. They may stay only a few hours, they may stay a few days, or they may stay away even longer, but the point is that they leave and go to an area they have never visited before.
Letís look at the data. In late September to mid-October 13 percent of the bucks left their home range for an extensive movement. From mid-October to the first week of November, 40 percent of these older bucks did the same thing. During the rut, from November 5-25, 58 percent of the 15 older bucks Jim was tracking left their home range. After that, these excursions into new areas dropped and by January on 17 percent of bucks were leaving and returning to their home range.
Since Tomberlin had radio collars on the deer he also knew when they moved. From mid-October to early November 70 percent of the excursions were initiated at night. But during the peak of the rut in November, 73 percent of these movements were done during the day. So weíve got over half of the older bucks moving clear out of their home range and much of that movement is initiated and takes place during hunting hours. If this doesnít convince you to stay in your tree stand all day long during the peak rut, nothing will.
We know that bucks get a little crazy chasing does in November. In fact, that is why we see so many dead deer along the highways in November. But they also just up and leave their home range at this time of the year, apparently looking for does. Tomberlin found that some bucks kept moving and then returned to their original home range from 8-30 hours later. But he also found that a few bucks got to their new area and then remained in one spot for up to 24 hours. He speculated that this was because the buck found a hot doe and tended her. If she was bedded, then he also bedded nearby. Since the doe is in estrus for 2-3 days, the mature buck will stay with her until she is ready to breed. That is apparently what was happening.
So, there you have it. No magic here. The big guys just leave, and return later. They may be leaving your area, and some may be coming to your area. Either way, you need to be out there. For many of us, we are now approaching the greatest time of the year. Time to hit the woods.
Eat Healthy, Eat Venison
Iíve been eating deer meat all of my life. My dad was a public school teacher and mom a part-time secretary. Needless to say, with four children, deer meat was extremely important to our family. We didnít eat it because it was healthy, although it was. No, we ate deer meat because it tasted good, was inexpensive, and it filled the freezer.
In my later years finances have not been anywhere near as bleak as in my youth, but we still consume one-two deer per year. Yes, it still tastes great, but we also eat deer meat because it is healthy. There have been a number of studies documenting this and I want to summarize a few.
At Kansas State University they compared 3.5 ounces of beef to the same amount of deer meat. Deer meat had 158 calories, but the beef contained 40 percent more. Deer meat had 1.25 grams of saturated fat and 112 mg of cholesterol. Beef contained 223 percent more fat and 125 percent more cholesterol. Lean beef did a bit better with 31 percent more calories, 189 percent more fat, and 118 percent more cholesterol. From this one comparison, it is quite obvious that deer meat is healthy food. Oh yes, though this study did not mention it, my guess is that there were no chemical additives in the deer meat. Hmmm....good.
From the following table, you can see how deer meat compares to beef, pork and other wild game. This North Dakota State University study also showed that deer had much lower amounts of fat. Elk, moose, caribou and antelope did too. Saturated fat in all wild game was far lower than for beef or pork. Same for the caloric content. Although not shown in the table, deer, elk and moose also had a tad more protein than beef, but in this study, the cholesterol content of deer meat was about one-third higher than beef. Interestingly, elk and moose meat had about the same amount of cholesterol as beef. I love elk and moose meat. You would too.
Nutrient comparisons of various big game animals and beef and pork in 3 ounces per serving.
Species Calories Total Fat (gms) Saturated Fat
Beef 259 18 7
Pork 214 13 5
Deer 134 3 1
Elk 124 2 1
Moose 114 1 0
Caribou 142 4 1
Antelope 127 2 1
A study done at the University of Missouri provides even more reasons to eat venison. In a 3 ounce serving of beef, there were 184 calories, 3 grams of saturated fat, and 73 mg of cholesterol. Pork was almost identical in content to beef as was roasted chicken. Roasted deer meat had 134 calories, 1 gm of total fat and 95 mg. of cholesterol. For all you wild turkey hunters, 3 ounces of uncooked turkey had 121 calories, no saturated fat and only 55 mg of cholesterol. Michigan State University research was the same. Fewer calories, much less total and saturated fat, and just a bit higher in cholesterol.
So, what is the bottom line here? Clearly, heart doctors would love for all their patients to switch to wild game diets. Indeed a study done at Colorado State University looked at blood from people who ate big game meat for six weeks. Before and after comparisons showed lower total cholesterol, lower proportions of good and bad cholesterol (interesting since the content is a bit higher in deer meat), and much lower triglycerides. This sounds like healthy food to me.
Vegetarians often talk about the unhealthy impacts of meat in their diets. Maybe so, but from all studies I found (and the results were quite similar in all those studies), it would appear that indeed, eating wild meat is just plain good for you. In many states, including our own, hunters donate thousands of pounds of deer meat to homeless shelters, soup kitchens etc. Minnesota just passed a venison donation law wherein deer hunters there will be asked to voluntarily donate $1, $3, or $5, when they buy a hunting license, with the proceeds going to pay for butchering donated deer. If you are a non-resident hunting in Minnesota, you automatically pay a $5 surcharge with funds going to the same fund. They expect that this surcharge alone will raise over $100,000 a year to butcher deer. What a great idea. And non-hunters will help because the first year $160,000 extra dollars will come from general revenues. After that, all bonus deer tags bought by hunters (cost $13 each) will have an added $1 surcharge. My guess is that hunters will not complain about this at all.
The animal rightists can scream and holler all they want about hunting and Iím the first to admit that there are some things about hunting and a few hunters that bother me. But these meat donation programs, largely funded by hunters, are just another example of the way hunters step up when it comes to saving habitat, managing wildlife, and putting healthy food on the plates of the less fortunate. Over the next months, half the homes in West Virginians will consume a lot of deer meat. Tasty, and it sure helps to keep the ole heart beating.
They Just Walk Away; Deer Dispersal
A few years ago, on my Ohio lease, I had a super eight point walk under my stand the first day of October. He didnít quite meet our 125-inch minimum, so I let him pass. "What a dandy heíll be next year," I thought to myself. "Iíll hunt that big buck next fall." Well, maybe Dave, but the fact is that we never saw that buck again. He just vanished. And it seems to happen all the time. We see good young bucks with great potential on our property, and some of them just seem to be swallowed up into thin air. Where do they go?
Here is another puzzle we observe every year. At the same time when some of our yearling bucks disappear, new small bucks seem to pop up out of nowhere. Weíve hunted an area fairly hard, think we have all the bucks in the area pegged, then come mid-October, here comes a bunch of new, but small, bucks. Whatís that all about?
The answer to this mystery is called "dispersal," and it occurs every fall when 50-90 percent of all yearling (1 Ĺ-year-old) bucks emigrate out of their birth home range. They depart, and set up living quarters in a whole new area. Some bucks disperse in the spring, but most do so in the month prior to the rut. In my area, thatís October. Some bucks may move as far as thirty miles, but the average dispersal distance is five. Such movement could prevent inbreeding from taking place. But dispersal may also lead to higher mortality as bucks move into areas that are new to them. Some may be hit by automobiles. Others may lose fights to bigger bucks. Maybe dispersal is meant to happen so that only the strongest survive.
One reality is that the exchange of yearling migrant bucks may not be equal. Your property might be producing bucks with greater antler potential than those that move in. If, for some reason, your area has very high emigration rates and those that move in have lower survival, there can be a net loss of yearling bucks. Yes, there is a lot we do not know about dispersal, but some new research is starting to cast some light on this phenomenon.
In recent years there has been an increased emphasis on deer management strategies that include improving habitat, increasing doe harvests and protecting younger bucks. Learning why bucks disperse may relate to such strategies (eg. if dispersal is lower, you might keep more of those high-quality younger bucks growing on your property). This leads us to the real question, why do yearling bucks disperse?
It is known that yearling bucks move out, even if the habitat is good. Thus, there are probably social pressures that are the cause. A 1992 study suggested that female relatives (including the mother) of the yearling buck drive him away, and in so doing reduce the chance for inbreeding. This same study showed that fawns orphaned before they reached one year of age had lower dispersal rates than those that stayed with their mother longer than one year. Hmmm. Mother present, bucks disperse. Mother absent, fewer disperse. Not only that, orphaned bucks had higher survival rates, probably because they didnít have to leave their home range. This study then has ramifications for deer management. Remove the mothers via a harvest and you could end up with more bucks on your property.
But hold on. Another larger and more recent study done on the eastern shore of Maryland, contradicts this. In this study they observed that bucks orphaned as fawns and non orphaned bucks dispersed at the same rate. (Note, this doesnít mean the above study was wrong, it just means that we got two different results in two different situations.) The Maryland study also found that the yearling buck-adult doe aggressive interactions were the same for those bucks that dispersed and those that stayed. From this they concluded that dispersal was not caused by maternal aggression as earlier research had showed.
The data here also showed that before quality deer management (where higher numbers of adult does are harvested, and small-antlered bucks are not harvested) there was an average per year total of 39 emigrants and 31 immigrants ... a net loss of eight yearling bucks per year via dispersal. Researchers believe this is because survival of young bucks living outside the area was low due to heavy hunting pressure, leaving fewer deer available to move into the area. After quality deer management an average of 26 bucks walked away and 37 bucks moved in ... a net gain of eleven bucks. The gain was attributed to the fact that fewer young bucks dispersed from the area. Researchers observed that 70 percent of yearling bucks walked away from their birth areas before quality deer management, while 55 percent did so after quality deer management.
Finally they noted that those bucks that dispersed were involved in more sparring activities with other yearling bucks than those that did not leave their birth places, before and after quality deer management. And they noted less sparring in general after quality deer management. What does this mean?
All young bucks push and shove, and in so doing, they learn who is dominant. However, itís rare for a young buck to spar with an older buck. Thus, the researchers suggested that dispersal is caused by breeding competition between young bucks. That there is less sparring after quality deer management reflects that there are more old bucks around, and the little guys leave these bigger bucks alone. In addition, the presence of older bucks reduces the sparring between the yearling bucks. And it is this lower rate of sparring between yearlings that reduces dispersal rates after quality deer management.
The bottom line is that if you remove more adult does and protect the young bucks on your property, you get less dispersal, and thus will have more bucks. Just another reason to harvest more adult does.
How Important Are Acorns For Deer?
Hunters talk about acorns all the time and one gets the impression that deer cannot survive without them. Although that isnít true, the obvious question is just how important are acorns for deer?
In answering that question, letís also consider whether white oak acorns are better than red oaks, and which of these is the most important for deer. Now what do we know about both species? White oak acorns mature in three months while red oak acorns mature in 15 months (two growing seasons). White oak acorns are high in carbohydrates and this provides more readily available energy, while red oak acorns are high in fats and this provides energy as well.
White oaks are sweeter tasting while red oaks have more tannin and are bitter. And white oak trees drop their acorns in a more compact time period (two weeks or so), while the acorn drop in red oaks is spread out over a longer period of time. The result of these two things is that the white oak acorns are eaten first, and then the deer switch to the red oak acorns. Thus, both species are very important for deer. In years when there are no white oak acorns, they need the red oaks and vice versa.
In the South, acorn production is fairly reliable because the weather is not as cold and you donít freeze out the acorns in the spring. But in the North, in West Virginia, spring weather greatly affects acorn production in the fall. Some years you just have one of the two species, and in some years you have neither. Some years you get a few acorns, but not a full bloom. And when acorn production is low, insects get most of them. Research seems to show that white oaks produce good crops of acorns every three years and red oaks every four years. Of course due to the weather, this can vary from one part of the state to another.
Is there anything anyone can do about that to reduce the variability in acorn production every year? Yes there is. Dr. William Healy, retired and living on a farm in rural West Virginia, did several studies on the impacts of forest thinnings and found that thinning your stands will increase acorn production. Although they still found there were years with no acorns, the consistency of thinned trees increased. And so did the amount of acorns produced.
Here is how you can do this. After the leaves drop, check out your white oak acorn trees. Stand beneath the tree and examine the crown. If other trees are crowding the crown, then thin the trees around that tree. This increases the branch density high in the tree and thus you get more acorns. Do this and watch the acorn production increase.
There is a myth about oak trees that I want to dispel. For years itís been said that if you fertilize an oak tree, you will get more acorns. Not true. Open up that crown cover and that will work.
We know that some individual oak trees are better acorn producers than others. Research done in nearby Pennsylvania showed that only 30 percent of the large, healthy white oaks produced any acorns even in good seeding years and an even smaller number produced large numbers of acorns. Another study showed that 13 percent of the trees produced 40 percent of the acorns. So, scout around and find the white oaks that are the best producers and mentally mark them down.
You can also find the best trees by taking binoculars and counting acorns in the tree. Hit the woods between August 10-25 and count acorns. If you count 18 or more acorns on one branch, that is an "excellent" tree. Twelve-17 is "good", 6-11 "fair" and below 6 is "poor." So, find those excellent trees and hunt them in future years, because the deer already know where they are.
Lots of people hire timber companies to come to their property and harvest trees so that they can make some money from such timber sales. But what type of cutting should you allow timber cutters to do on your land if you want to take deer into consideration?
Clearcuts increase browse for the first five years. This will give you 1000 pounds of browse per acre per year for those five years. Shelterwood cuts leave some trees to "shelter" regenerating trees. Select cuts are bad for wildlife. The logger takes the best trees and leaves the rest. It sounds good when presented to you, but it doesnít work for wildlife.
Two-age management may be your best option as it allows you to leave mast trees. This option creates food and cover, but you need to be careful here. Some timber operators will take out trees that you wanted saved and you wonít even know they are gone. So create a penalty clause in your contract, and mark all the mast trees you want saved. Mark the tree, mark the location of each tree on a map, and get the exact location of each tree with a GPS. In addition, take the map and walk your site showing every tree you want saved to the timber operator. Then when he signs the clause, he knows you mean business when it comes to saving certain oaks and other mast producers.
And the deer will know you mean business in producing more acorns. How important are acorns for deer? In our area they can be very important so pay more attention to them and improve your hunting success.
Deer Inbreeding Not Possible
Over the years Iíve heard deer hunters say this many times. Those inferior spikes will get older and pass their inferior antler genes off to their offspring. So, shoot those rascals now or weíll have small bucks running all over the place.
We have lots of small yearling bucks in my home state of West Virginia simply because we have no rules to prevent them from being shot. Hunters say they want bigger bucks, but many shoot the first little buck that comes along. Although Iíd rather see us go to a system that protects smaller bucks, that apparently isnít going to happen, so lots of small-antlered young bucks are killed in West Virginia every fall. Among those small bucks are a fair number of spikes and a few hunters still hang onto the idea that we must shoot those "inferior" spike bucks to prevent inbreeding. As mentioned above, the thought is that a spike is inferior from a genetic point of view, and as he ages his antlers are always inferior and he will pass those inferior genes to his sires, and those sons will also have inferior antlers.
Iíve never believed that, and now there is real science to show that inbreeding cannot occur in the wilds of West Virginia, or any other deer hunting state. Hereís why.
First, research shows that the dominant buck in the area is only on top for one year. Thus, even if he has inferior antlers, he wonít be passing his genetic makeup to that many offspring. Second, new DNA research shows that the average buck only sires a small number of fawns each year, and in fact, he only sires a relatively small number of fawns during his lifetime. Who knew?
When I was a kid, my dad taught me that the average buck probably mated 8-10 does per rut. Now pap did teach me a lot about deer and deer hunting, and I am forever grateful that he took the time and made the sacrifice to take me hunting. Hunting opened up doors to my wildlife professor career, and to my outdoor writing career. I can never repay my father for that. But, on this one particular point, pap was wrong.
DNA research now shows that the average buck only mates one-two does per year. And a five-year-old buck only sires enough does to produce 8-10 fawns during his lifetime. What this means is that all bucks sire does. And, in fact, a study recently published in the Journal of Mammalogy by six of the top deer researchers in the country, shows that old bucks do not do all the mating. Approximately one-third of all fawns are sired by bucks that are 1.5 or 2.5 years old. So, three-fourths of the fawns are sired by older bucks as we always thought, but the fact that one-third are sired by younger bucks is a surprise.
The study showed that even when older bucks are present, younger bucks still mate some does. Here is how I believe this happens. An older buck is tending a hot doe. Heíll stay with her for two-three days or so until he breeds her. While he is busy, the young guys will mate other hot does in the area. The old guys canít get it all done. He may have the juice, but he doesnít have enough time. If my dad was right, given that a buck may tend a hot doe for three days, for an old buck to mate eight does per rut, heíd have to run and chase does for at least 24 straight days. Thatís enough to kill an old geezer. (Of course, I am not speaking from experience here, but I believe it would wear a guy out).
There are factors that would change the above. The adult sex ratio (eg. If you had lots of does) and the buck age structure (eg. If you had lots of young bucks as we do in West Virginia), would influence the competition for does. But the bottom line is that almost all bucks mate some does every year. And, every buck only mates one-two does. Now older bucks may mate a few more does, but in general, bucks do not mate many does each year. Given all this, inbreeding cannot occur.
I have a whole chapter on spike bucks in my book, "Whitetail Racks" (available at www.knowhunting.com) and there are data that show that the old adage, "once a spike, always a spike," just does not hold up. Following hundreds of radio-collared bucks, Texas researchers showed that spike-antlered yearlings catch up to their bigger brethren by age four. So, a buck that has four points as a yearling will have antlers about the same size as a yearling spike when they reach four years of age. The spikes may be a tad smaller, but the difference is insignificant.
So, fear not. Just because a small-antlered buck mates does, does not mean we will end up with lots of small-antlered bucks. Canít happen, and it doesnít happen. If you are seeing lots of small-antlered bucks, it is because they are yearlings. But next fall donít be surprised if you hear a hunter start talking about shooting spikes to prevent inbreeding. Some things never change.
What Makes Antlers Go Wrong?
When it comes to deer, nothing gets peoples attention more than nontypical antlers. First, let me explain what nontypical antlers are. As a buck ages, his antlers usually get bigger with each passing year. The first year he may have three points on each side. Each side may not be exactly symmetrical to the other, but they are close mirror images. The next year he may have four points on each side, then, if he lives long enough, he may be a ten pointer with five points on each side.
Again, each antler may not be a mirror image of the other, but they usually are fairly close. Note however, that just because an eight-point buck is symmetrical doesnít mean that all eight points look alike. In fact, no two bucks have antlers that look like another. There are differences, sometimes subtle, but they are there.
But what I want to talk about are the bucks that have huge differences in their antlers. Things happen, especially when the buck is in velvet, that creates nontypical antlers, where there is a lot of non symmetry. Nontypical antlers are sets of antlers that do not look normal. They may have additional points ("kickers") at spots on the antlers where you donít normally find a point. One antler may be smaller in size than itís mate. You might have drop tines coming off the main beam. You might have split brow tines or "stickers" coming from one of the tines. Or in an extreme case of nontypical antlers you may see points coming out all over the main beams. In fact, you may even get an entire extra main beam, a secondary main beam if you will. Regardless of the additional tines, a big nontypical buck is an impressive creature.
What causes nontypicals? There are lots of reasons a buck may be a nontypical. If the antlers or the base of the antlers, become damaged while they are growing in the summer, and in velvet, you may get a nontypical. For example, antlers grow from a boney projection of the frontal bone known as the pedicle. There are cells there that precipitate the growth of the antler. Now, if that pedicle gets damaged in any way when the antler is just starting to grow, some weird things happen. Letís say the buck bangs his pedicle against a tree limb in June. If the cells on the surface of the pedicle are moved by this damage, antler tines will develop from those cells. That is why we sometimes see tines growing out of a deerís skull in weird places. . . between the antlers, near the eye, etc. In fact, to prove this is how such antlers develop, researchers took these special cells and transplanted them on various locations on a deer and antlers grew, from legs, from various places on the head, etc.
As an aside, let me note that such experiments arenít done for the heck of it. There has been a lot of research on growing antlers because it is the fastest regenerating tissue on the body in any mammal. So researchers are looking for clues to help human body parts regenerate. Iíd give a million dollars to regenerate the nerve to my diaphragm to get my breathing back. Maybe someday, thanks to whitetail antler researchers.
Back to our story. Nontypicals can also be formed if there is skeletal damage to the legs, hip or shoulder of a buck. Letís say a buck gets hit by a car and breaks the back right leg. The next year there is a very good chance that the right antler will be deformed. If the injury heals before the subsequent year, heíll grow normal typical antlers. If not, he will always have one deformed antler and it will always be on the opposite side. Itís called the "contralateral effect" and has something to do with nerves crossing over from one side as they ascend to the brain.
Then there are hormonal issues. I remember a few years ago a friend called to tell me that there was a "buck" in his backyard eating apples, and it had two fawns with it. I asked if the buck was in velvet, and he said "yes, " so I immediately knew it was a doe with antlers. It is rare, but it happens and it is caused by hormonal problems. Such "bucks" never shed their antlers and are always in velvet.
Perhaps the oddest looking nontypicals are the "cactus" bucks. These are bucks that are in velvet and have points sticking out all over their head. Take the buck pictured here, shot by my friend Steve Mercer in Virginia last year. This buck had very small testes. When a buck has that condition, or has no testes at all (meaning they havenít descended from the body cavity and thus do not function) you get cactus bucks. Since they never shed, each spring new antlers develop on top of the old ones. Further north these extra antler tines may freeze in winter and break off, but if the weather isnít too bad, antlers tines grow over old antlers tines and you get these weird looking bucks. The older they get, the weirder (is that a word? Yes there is) they get.
When Steve sent me this photo I immediately asked if the back leg was damaged because one antler was more deformed than the other. He said that the knee joint was broken and healed up, but you could tell it had been busted up in a former year. So, this buck was a nontypical for two reasons; no testes or small testes and a busted leg.
There is one more reason you get nontypicals . . . age. The older the buck, the more likely he is to develop nontypical points.
Now, having gone through the reasons you sometimes get nontypical bucks, whatís the point Dave? The point is that nontypicals are special deer, that hunters and nonhunters alike enjoy seeing. Itís all about those weird extra points. All along I thought extra points were special because you kicked them after scoring a touchdown. Not so.