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8-Point Surprises Hunters in Sumter County

This 8-point taken by Melvin Dobbs on an Equip Ministries hunt in Sumter County was not what the hunters expected. Photo by Matt Kelley

By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Matt Kelley and his hunting companions were celebrating the harvest of an 8-point by one of the group, but they were in for a surprise when the whitetail was hoisted on the skinning rack.

The deer had no visible male reproductive organs, only female.

Kelley holds fund-raising deer hunts in Sumter and Greene counties for his Equip Ministries, a substance abuse prevention ministry with a focus on the outdoors.

“On one of our hunts, we took five bucks, and one of them was (what they thought) was a nice, wide 8-point,” Kelley said. “We took pictures and got him back to the skinning shed. I said something about the tarsal glands not even being black; it’s not even rutting. Somebody else said something about how skinny his neck was.

“Then the guy who shot it was starting to skin it and said, ‘Boys, this is a doe.’”

Kelley, who hosts the Equip Outdoors Radio Show and Podcast, said the deer weighed 175 pounds with eight scorable points, including two kickers on the base of one antler. The deer was taken in Sumter County just across the Tombigbee River from Marengo County.

“What was more crazy was the guy who shot it said the deer was actually not chasing a doe but walking behind it,” he said. “The doe urinated and this deer lip-curled just like a buck would. The landowner has had this land all his life, and they’ve never killed one like it his whole life. It’s a significant rack for a buck. If you looked at it, you would say this one was a shooter.”

Chris Cook, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Deer Program Coordinator, said the 8-point taken by Kelley’s group was what wildlife biologists call a pseudohermaphrodite.

“A deer like this with hardened antlers will have testes inside the body cavity,” Cook said. “They don’t have fully developed male or female organs. They may have external female organs, but they would have to have underdeveloped testes that were still large enough to produce enough testosterone to have that antler growth. While it may look like a doe on the outside, it’s not truly a doe. But it’s not a buck either. It’s very unusual for a functioning female to have antlers like that.”

Cook said the percentage of true does with antlers is only about 0.1% of the population. These does are fully functional females but have small, velvet-covered antlers, not fully developed, hardened antlers. He said does produce a small amount of testosterone from their ovaries but not enough to produce hardened antlers.

“I’ve seen a few over the years that looked like does externally that had antlers,” he said. “But it’s not physically possible to do that and be fully functional does. I’ll get reports about a few each year in Alabama. The ones I usually hear about are the ones with fully developed antlers but are still covered in velvet. They have enough testosterone to start the antler growth but not enough to complete the cycle.”

The deer's rack had a scoreable sticker off the base of one antler. Photo by Matt Kelley

With about a week remaining in the 2021-2022 deer season in most of the state, Cook expects hunter success to be driven by weather.

“Down in south Alabama, it should be one of the best weeks to hunt, just because of what’s going on in the deer population with the rutting activity,” he said. “In other parts of the state, things have tailed off quite a bit as far as deer activity. The peak of the rut has been over a month or more, and the deer are back in the routine of just moving to eat.

“If we get good weather in south Alabama and other areas that have a late rut, we should have the opportunity to have a good week of hunting. If we get rain and warm weather, it will probably affect hunter activity more than deer activity, but it definitely affects the harvest rate.”

From what has been posted on social media, Alabama hunters have had another good year of harvesting deer, including some that fit into the trophy category.

“Like every year, a lot of good deer have been taken all over Alabama,” Cook said. “I think the overall harvest is down a little. Last year, with the change in the possession rule, we got a huge increase in what was reported in Game Check. It went up more than 100%, so we’re still trying to figure out what is normal.

“I know the warm weather and bad hunting weather during the month of December didn’t help. The January weather was better, and the harvest bounced back. The southern part of state has most of its harvest the last part of the season. With good weather the rest of season, we could end up right where we were last year.”

Cook said that, after the phone survey and Game Check numbers were compiled, the harvest last season was estimated at 272,731 deer. He said in previous years the harvest estimates have been around 215,000.

“As we keep getting more data from Game Check, it will allow us to determine a trend,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how this season’s harvest looks with both the phone survey and Game Check tools.”

Cook said the number of big bucks taken by Alabama hunters has increased in the past few years because of a variety of factors.

“I think people have just gotten into the habit of not shooting every buck they see,” he said. “Some of that may be the three-buck limit. I think it may be a change in attitude for a lot of hunters. For social media, it’s all about antler size. They may not shoot the small bucks they see. It’s definitely changed deer hunting, for good or bad.

“And every year, people are more and more into deer management. They manage for better habitat and better deer. It’s a progression that’s been happening the last 25-30 years. People who grew up hunting in that environment are now raising their kids and hunting in that same kind of deer management situation. It builds on itself.”

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It was only when the deer was hoisted on the skinning rack that the hunters discovered the deer was different. Photo by Matt Kelley

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