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Antlered Does

Updated on February 7, 2017

Female deer and elk with antlers are occasionally discovered by hunters and naturalists. While rare, antlered does occur regularly in most species.

Female elk with horn (1900)
Female elk with horn (1900)


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.

Doe with Horns (1891)
Doe with Horns (1891)

Velvet Antlers

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.

Polished Antler

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.


Does with antlers happen on a predictable basis when natural patterns of sex hormones are disrupted by tumors, genetic defect of advanced age. As such, while rare, they are pat of the normal diversity of the species.


  • 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.


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    • Shaddie profile image

      Shaddie 2 years ago from Washington state

      I really like this article.

    • psycheskinner profile image

      psycheskinner 4 years ago

      Longer hubs do better, overall. But a short hub on a niche topic often does quite well. So the ones that seem to have an audience get made longer.

    • David Trujillo profile image

      David Trujillo Uribe 4 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

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