In most species of deer (excluding reindeer) the female, or the doe, does not grow antlers. However deer are sometimes observed or hunted that are found to have antlers. Reports of antlered does can be found for blacktail deer, elk, moose, mule deer, red deer, roe deer and whitetail deer.
The phenomenon is sufficiently common that some state hunting regulation refer to a season for "antlered deer" rather than male deer--as an antlered doe is difficult to distinguish from a male at a distance.
A study of whitetail deer shot by hunters showed that between one third of one percent and one percent did not have the external appearance of being males and the majority of these were does.
However hunters may be less likely to take does because their antlers are typically less developed than those of bucks and so less desirable as trophies. So the real incidence may be towards the upper end of this range.
Male deer begin to grown antlers each years after a surge of testosterone. Females can sometimes experience a similar surge or reduced affect of estrogen and they also possess the bony pedicles from which antlers are grown.
Most antlered does display only velvet antler and do not shed their horns. There antlers are often much smaller than in males, but some impressive exceptions have been spotted.
The causes of this phenomenon include: atrophy of ovaries (included in aged does), and deer that are hermaphrodites (a deer with one ovary and one testicle) or pseudo-hermaphrodites (a deer with no ovaries but that looks, externally, like a female). In these cases the doe is often sterile.
Conversely antlers can sometimes develop in conjunction with pregnancy and many time they have been seen on lactating does with fawns. It may be particularly associated with first pregnancies.
Examples of does in velvet antler
- Antler growth of 8-point Sebec doe extremely rare (2014)
When a Massachusetts hunter shot what he thought was a good-sized buck last weekend, he ended up with the surprise of a lifetime: The 8-pointer that John Burdick shot turned out to be a female deer. The deer weighed 244 pounds (live weight) and had a
- Al Ward: Young hunter downs doe with horns (2012)
- Michigan Hunter Bags Potential Record Antlered Doe (2010)
- Why do does have antlers? (2009)
- Kansas Hunter Bags 27 Point Antlered Doe (2008)
An animal that seems lime a does and had hard polished antlers from which the velvet/skin has been shed are probably not biologically females. there are usual hermaphrodite deer or males deer that have not developed secondary sexual characteristics.
There are a few exception in cases where deer have a large tumor or other disorder that can produce the sustained testosterone levels needed for the antlers to fully develop and harden.
Examples of does in polished antler:
- Dixon, J. (1927). Horned does. Journal of Mammalogy, 8(4), 289-291.
- Donaldson, J. C., & Doutt, J. K. (1965). Antlers in female white-tailed deer: a 4-year study. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 699-705.
- Doutt, J. K., & Donaldson, J. C. (1959). An antlered doe with possible masculinizing tumor. Journal of Mammalogy, 40(2), 230-236.
- Haugen, A. O., & Mustard, E. W. (1960). Velvet-antlered pregnant white-tailed doe. Journal of Mammalogy, 41(4), 521-523.
- Seton, ET. Life-histories of Northern Animals: An Account of the Mammals of Manitoba, Volume 1. Scribner, 1909
- Wislocki, G. B. (1954). Antlers in female deer, with a report of three cases in Odocoileus. Journal of Mammalogy, 35(4), 486-495.
- Wislocki, G. B. (1956). Further notes on antlers in female deer of the genus Odocoileus. Journal of Mammalogy, 37(2), 231-235.
Other discussions of antlered does
- Why do does have antlers? | Oklahoma Nature Blog
Antlered doe in late July at Lake Thunderbird. Photo by L. Dillon Have you ever noticed that Oklahoma deer regulations don't specify harvest of 'bucks only', but rather refer to 'antlered deer'? That's because some does have antlers. I first saw the