Reports of antlered female white-tailed, black-tailed, and mule deer go back more than a century and have been noted throughout the whitetail’s range. Prevalence data vary. It was reported that 1 in 4437 “bucks” were actually antlered females harvested in Pennsylvania. Thirty years ago, it was generalized as 1 in every 1000-1100 adult females had antlers. However, reports of antlered females have not increased with the increase in either-sex harvest across the whitetail range.
Most antlered females have velvet-covered pedicels or small spikes with some branching, and can produce fawns. Antler development is a complex interaction of hormonal cues. Researchers have noted that females can have a testosterone surge caused by a hormone imbalance, first pregnancy, tumors, or degenerative conditions of the ovaries or adrenal glands. This single surge can cause the growth of antlers in velvet. Postmortem examination by researchers around the country indicates that does with antlers in velvet tend to be reproductively functional, or to have complete but malformed reproductive tracts, or to be true hermaphrodites in which the ovaries are more developed than the testes.
Adult females with hardened antlers have been reported but far less frequently than those with velvet antlers. These animals are usually males possessing female external genitalia. These animals are likely a male pseudo-hermaphrodites – teats present but unlikely to have ovaries or uterus with testes and penis present but not externally visible. A case in South Carolina described a six-point with antlers in velvet that externally appeared to be a doe but only vulva, clitoris, vagina, and cervix were present. The testes were located in the body cavity.
Jeannine Tardiff Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist, Deer & Elk Management Section
PA Game Commission