The old Brewster County mule deer had an odd, narrow rack, and appeared to be 5 ½ to 6 ½ years old — clearly a “management buck.”
It was tagged for culling, but hunters on this Big Bend-area ranch soon learned this deer was no buck, but a rare “antlered” doe.
Mike Micallef, who operates the popular Fort Worth restaurant, Reata, was guiding two clients on his family’s CF Ranch near Alpine. The hunters, also from Fort Worth, had already had success on the property.
Lawyers Bruce Moon and Ken McAlister, 460 miles from home, hunted javelinas at the CF Ranch last February and decided to come back to hunt elk and management mule deer.
At about 5 p.m. Dec. 29, Micallef, the hunters and guide Chris Chopelas saw a group of muleys, including some does, a nice 10-point buck, and the deer with the tall, narrow rack.
“Not very pretty,” Micallef said of that deer. He asked McAlester to shoot it. The deer was hit and ran.
But something wasn’t right when they found it at the end of a 50-yard blood trail.
“Chris noticed that the glands looked different and, upon spreading the animals legs, the lack of genitals,” Micallef said.
The first explanation was that the deer was an antlered doe: a female deer carrying an unusual supply of the male hormone testosterone — enough to grow antlers.
“I heard of them in whitetails,” Micallef said, “but I never heard about a mule deer.”
“We heard about bucks being killed that didn’t have testicles or testicles that didn’t drop, but this definitely wasn’t that.”
Micallef videotaped the necropsy of the deer, and removed the female organ. The footage was put on YouTube (http://youtu.be/wCdW-xP73CM), and also sent to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Sul Ross State University.
Occurrences of antlered does in mule deer are so rare biologists have very little data to draw on, said Billy Tarrant, TPWD’s Trans Pecos district leader.
He said there are other examples of deer with misplaced parts or the wrong ones altogether.
A cryptorchid male, he explained, is a buck with testicles that remain in the body cavity, but never drop. A hermaphrodite has both male and female sex organs.
Tarrant said he’d like to get tissue and hair samples from the deer for testing its DNA to confirm it’s a female.
“But,” Tarrant added, “as of today, based on the video Mike provided us, we feel like it’s a true antlered doe, and a pretty good one.
“What makes this kind of unique is the size of the antlers. It’s a pretty good rack.”