Mutant Deer … Fact or Fiction?

The variety of deer encountered can add excitement to the deer hunt. You just don’t know what you will see. In addition to the prized, perfectly shaped antler growth of the typical deer are the many and varied forms of non-typical antler growths.

A “typical” is a deer with regular antler configuration on both sides of the skull. Typical antlers need not be exactly alike or absolutely perfect to be classified as typical.

A “non-typical” is a deer with irregular or unusual antler growth. Deformities fall into this wide category. Non-typicals may range from fist-sized globs of antler with mushroom shapes to massive tangles, which look as if the deer got some driftwood stuck on his head.

The deer in velvet butting bluntly and deforming the soft antlers in the early stage produces mushrooming on antlers.

Palmation is an often-desirable trait of some non-typical deer. This flattening and widening of the antlers produces racks similar to the shape of those of moose. Palmation is prevalent in the fallow deer imported to various areas of the country. Fallow deer, which have escaped from preserves or have been released in this country have helped to bring more palmation into the whitetail populations everywhere through interbreeding. Palmated antlers are also called “cactus.”

Other than injury to the antlers in the tender velvet stage, the greatest reason for racks significantly altered from the norm is hormonal imbalances. Calcium metabolism problems and bone tumors alter too.

Antlered does are actually hermaphrodites. Antlers on the female are produced in some animals by non-functional ovaries and in others by a malfunction of the adrenal cortex which results in a hormonal imbalance.

Antlerless bucks usually result from very early castration or from malfunction of the pituitary gland. A hunter’s arrow or bullet or a predator attack can castrate a buck.

There are over 30 sub-species of Odocioleus Virginianus, or the Eastern whitetail deer, from Central America to the tundra of the North Country in Canada, with all sorts of crossings and variations in between. Differentiations between sub-species of the whitetail are an interesting subject to explore. The more popular subjects are the “Coes” deer of the Southwestern states and the “Keys” deer of the Florida Everglades.

The principal deer of the United States is called the “Virginia whitetail deer” because the first specimen described scientifically was killed in Virginia in 1784.

Some say that albino deer should be culled from the herd. It is said that this mutation results from in-breeding. True albinism is an inherited trait, but partial albinism may occasionally result from improper diet, an accident to the tissues involved, or even psychological shock.

In terms of overall population levels, albino deer are rare, appearing more frequently in certain regions than in others. Many hunters insist that they have spared the lives of white deer they could have shot. Someone who does shoot an albino deer usually receives scorn from the hunters who claim to have let it go. Some hunters are quite superstitious about these animals as were some Native Americans who traditionally revered the white phases of various animals. It is your right as a licensed hunter to harvest an albino during deer season; this is not illegal.

True albinism is a genetic trait that is passed down the line. However, it takes an albino of both sexes to produce a guaranteed albino fawn, and the chances of an albino doe and an albino buck managing to find each other during this brief period are minimal. If the deer is a really exceptional trophy, it is easily understandable that the hunter may be tempted beyond his limits of resistance to take it. Let’s hope he receives a minimal amount of scorn for doing so. The taking of white does is considered to be in poor judgment, but they, also, are tempting. It is at times such as these when the handy pocket camera would serve the need to record such encounters and provide you with something to show to friends. The photo of a live albino left in the field to continue the show is of greater value than the photo of a dead one.

The black phase of the deer is no less common than the white one. Sightings of black deer are less frequently reported because they are not so outstandingly visible. Since most deer sightings are in the darker hours, the black deer is camouflaged very well. The black deer is solid black, black as an Angus cow, with the usual white underneath, on the tail, and around the nose, eyes, and ears. These colors make a striking contrast. The black phase is called “melanism.”

Some areas have “calico” or “pinto” deer, terms used to refer to deer with blotches of white, black, red, or brown in unusual places. Biologists call these deer “piebald.” Sometimes whole local deer families are blotched in coloration.

Hunters who observe adult whitetail deer with fawn spots in the fall deer season are probably seeing the results of a fallow deer, which is spotted at maturity, having been crossbred at some point of time. Whitetail fawns lose their fawn spots in about August of their first year.

Mixing deer breeds is going to turn up more and more mutants. Sitkas, fallows, red deer (axis deer), and other animals imported from one area to another are going to create many phenomena over the next years as mixed breeding results in odd racks and colors. A tree can fall on a game-proof fence at a zoo or exotic game ranch and start a whole new breed of deer. The result of such interbreeding will not be dramatic, however, since the foreign genes introduced will be absorbed into the local gene pool and made less conspicuous as time goes on.