September 05, 2022
A 3 1/2-year-old Illinois buck with a 13-point non-typical rack shed more than his antlers this year. The whitetail also dropped the head of a 2 1/2-year-old 9-pointer that he had been carrying around for months. The 13-point lives on an 870-acre farm owned by Neil Armatti from Michigan.
“The 13-pointer is an up-and-comer on my farm,” Neil says. “He was a regular on my farm during the fall of 2021. I passed him up a number of times. I had him at 22 yards one time when I took a video of him with my cell phone.”
Neil got plenty of photos of the 13-pointer on trail cameras. One of those images, taken on Dec. 1, 2021, shows a large cyst on the whitetail’s left rear leg. Neil explains that the cyst popped and the fluid that was inside drained. The buck appeared to be fine after the cyst drained, according to Neil.
“That buck disappeared during late December,” Neil adds. “I wondered what happened to him. I didn’t know if somebody shot him or if something else happened to him. I run 20 cell cams and 30 to 40 regular trail cameras on my farm to keep track of deer activity.”
On Feb. 4, 2022, one of Neil’s cameras captured a photo of the missing buck; and what he saw surprised him. “‘Oh my gosh,’ I said when I saw the photo,” Neil remembers. “The buck had the head of a dead buck in his antlers.”
That photo explained what had happened to the missing buck. The whitetail obviously got his antlers locked with the younger buck during a fight, and that predicament curtailed his movements. The 13-pointer most likely killed the smaller buck after their antlers became locked, probably by breaking its neck.
After the buck died that the 13-pointer was locked with, coyotes are thought to have eaten most of the carcass. That is what has happened in similar cases. By Feb. 4, all that remained of the dead buck was his head and hide. At that point, the live buck was probably able to move more freely than it had been since it became locked with the other buck. The dragging hide may have eventually pulled free from the dead buck’s head when it snagged onto something. Coyotes could have also played a role in pulling the dragging hide free.
There are records of hunters shooting bucks like the 13-pointer that were carrying the heads of other bucks they locked antlers with. Carrying such a burden has to be a major handicap, which reduces the chances of survival for deer of such encounters. The extra head has to get in the way of eating normally. The dead weight also has to make bucks more vulnerable to predators.
Some two-headed bucks that aren’t taken by hunters probably end up dying as a result of their burden, but Neil found proof that the Illinois buck he had on camera survived. He found one of the surviving buck’s antlers next to the head of the buck the whitetail had been carrying. Neil made the find on April 9. “I knew where the 13-pointer lived, so I spent some time walking in that area to see what I could find,” Neil says. “I came over a ridge, and lo and behold, there was one of the buck’s antlers along with the head of the buck he had been carrying around. I found the shed and head 300 to 400 yards from where the photo had been taken of the buck on February 4.”
When the 13-pointer lost the antler, the dead head also dislodged, freeing the living buck from the extra weight it had been carrying. Neil was not able to find the buck’s second antler. Based on the photo Neil took of his unique find, rodents such as squirrels had obviously chewed on the shed antler before he found it. So, the buck could have lost the antler a week or two earlier.
If the bucks locked antlers during late December, and the living buck shed the extra head with its antler during late March, the deer could have been two-headed for about three months. It’s amazing the whitetail survived that long.
Neil shot what he thinks is the father of the 13-pointer last fall on his farm. The buck he killed had a 15-point non-typical rack with similarities to the antlers of the younger buck. The antlers of the buck Neil killed scored 167, and it is his best buck from the farm.