When you think you've seen everything that could wander past a deer stand, something new turns up.
That's what happened to Harry Campbell last weekend while we were hunting in Screven County.
Just after daylight, a rifle shot echoed from the edge of a cut cornfield, where Harry's stand overlooked a swampy creek drain.
We had seen hogs there, and plenty of deer signs too, so I was optimistic. When I drove over to pick him up for lunch, he was grinning ear to ear.
“Killed a buck,” he said. “But it’s funny looking.”
The deer was a nine-pointer, but funny looking didn't begin to describe the odd rack, which was covered in coarse, hairy velvet and dark bumpy knots.
We also noticed its long, slender neck, which had no hint of swelling for the rut.As we rolled the deer into my truck, we realized why. He was a she.
Harry’s “buck” had female parts, right down to the milk sacks in its belly. At the skinning shed, the antlered doe became a celebrity of sorts. Other hunters snapped iPhone pictures and speculated, but no one – including me – knew what would cause such a bizarre condition.
I later called wildlife biologist Charlie Killmaster, who heads up the whitetail deer program for Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.Antlered does, he said, are quite rare, but they do turn up occasionally.
“It's an infrequent anomaly,” he said. “I usually hear about one or two a year, out of about 400,000 deer killed annually, so it isn't very many.”
Several things can cause a doe to grow antlers.
There’s also a condition known as cryptorchidism.
“That's just a buck that never developed testicles, which can cause some crazy growth changes.”
A second possibility is that the deer was a hermaphrodite – having both male and female organs, he said.Such anomalies are usually linked to imbalances in testosterone.
“Does are actually capable of growing antlers in the presence of testosterone,” Killmaster said. “It’s a remnant of evolution.”
Antlered does usually never shed their racks, which also tend to remain in velvet indefinitely and can grow into odd shapes.
The rack on Harry's deer, we figured, had been there all along. Beneath the tatters of velvet, the antlers were a darkish black – like the color of dried blood.
DUCK SEASON OPENS SOON: It's almost time for duck season, and the heavy rains that blessed Georgia throughout the year have created plenty of great habitat for waterfowl – and waterfowlers.
“This year is the complete opposite of last year in terms of water conditions,” Georgia waterfowl biologist Greg Balkcom said. “This year we have plenty of water, and many of our isolated wetlands are full and ready to support ducks throughout the winter.”
An additional benefit of all the rain in the early spring was the increased brood-rearing habitat for locally breeding wood ducks.
According to duck banding data from this summer, wood duck production is up and duckling survival seems to be good this year.
Natural duck food plants should be in abundance given the wet conditions during the growing season here in Georgia, and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service waterfowl population surveys across the northern U.S. and Canada indicate a healthy waterfowl population, so this duck hunting season has the potential to be a memorable year.
Georgia's hunting season for ducks is Nov. 23-Dec. 1 and Dec. 7 - Jan. 26.