When bowhunter Earl Phillips stepped onto his property to go hunting in Clifton, Virginia, he had hoped to bag a decent-sized buck. However, what he got was something he never expected.
Although he didn’t get his bucks, he didn’t walk away empty-handed. Instead, the bowhunter arrowed an extremely unusual deer— an antlered doe with a fully-formed 8-point rack. However, when he first saw the deer, he thought it was a whitetail buck.
“I’d been seeing the deer on my trail camera for about three weeks,” Phillips said in a recent interview. So when he decided to go out and hunt on Sunday, November 20, he chose to hunt in the afternoon after a cold front hit the area.
“I got in at about 2 p.m. I heard a little rustling, and I saw one buck come as he was being pushed away,” he said. “Then I saw the bigger buck come. He came within 20 yards of me. I double-lung shot him, and tracked him for maybe 30 yards.”
Later, after he found the “big buck,” he saw something odd. The deer had a fully-formed rack and external female reproductive organs.
“I immediately knew I needed to call somebody,” says Phillips about the surpirse. “I’ve heard stories and done a little bit of research on antlered does. I knew this was definitely a rare harvest. It would’ve been my best buck to date, and I’m a pretty avid hunter.”
Bowhunter bags potentially hermaphroditic deer
Immediately after, the bowhunter called a federal biologist, who told him the deer was a doe. In addition, he told him he thought the abnormal doe may even have been in heat.
Although the National Deer Association couldn’t formally examine its internal reproductive organs, the conservation group said the deer might be a true antlered doe or even a hermaphroditic deer.
“A true doe with antlers that has functioning doe reproductive organs and can actually produce fawns, but also has antlers would be extremely rare,” says Lindsay Thomas, NDA Chief Communications Officer.
“More commonly what you see in cases like this is hermaphrodites, which have some mix of both male and female reproductive organs, but none really functional, or cryptorchid bucks…The fact this deer has hard antlers is unusual. If it is a functional doe with functional antlers, it would be the rarest of all the ‘intersex’ conditions seen in deer.”
In addition, Phillips says the doe weighed 190 pounds. “I’m a meat hunter. This is the first deer I’ve actually wanted to go after because of the unique antlers, as well as its size. Even not knowing it was a doe, it was a solid 8-pointer. This is the first deer I’m going to get mounted.”
He added: “I deal with PTSD. A lot of times, I’m just in the woods for mental clarity and have time to sit and think,” he adds. “For me, harvesting this deer was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I just want to share it with as many people as possible.”