April 30, 2008
When I observed the "he-she" deer four years ago, my understanding of the world of whitetail deer changed forever.
Having grown up a whitetail hunter in South Texas' McMullen County, I've seen plenty of beautiful deer over the years. The thing is, bucks have always been bucks, and does have always been does. At least, this was the case until four years ago, when my understanding of the world of whitetails changed forever.
The story began in the year 2000. While watching a group of does feed one day, I noticed one of them was different. She had what looked like black holes on top of her head, similar to those on the forehead of a buck after he has shed his rack. This seemed strange to me - but another observation was even stranger. When this doe urinated, the stream shot straight back and pulsed, like water from a sprinkler. I was amused by this, but soon forgot about it.
The next year, while I was hunting in the same spot, I watched a high-racked 7-pointer walk out. I noticed the buck was still in full velvet, and with it being November, I knew this shouldn't be. I had my video camera with me, so I started filming the velvet buck. And then it happened: The "buck" put up his tail and urinated from the back end - and the flow pulsed like a water sprinkler! The doe from the previous year immediately came to mind . . . this was the same deer!
I observed the "he-she," as I came to call this unusual whitetail, for the rest of the season. The deer seemed to have become somewhat of a loner, except for a 2 1/2-year-old buck that was with it most of the time. All of the other deer seemed to avoid it. I really sort of felt sorry for this deer, because it didn't quite fit in. I appreciated the young buck that seemed to accept the "he-she" and gave it some company.
As the next year's season rolled around, I thought of this odd deer often and wondered if I would see it again. To my delight, the velvet-antlered deer showed up again, but it was no longer a 7-pointer. Having not shed, the antlers had now grown some more tines and were now taking on an awesome, freakish appearance. The young buck, which was now an 8-pointer, was still hanging out with his strange friend.
I filmed and watched the two deer the rest of hunting season and then on into May. The little buck had shed his antlers by then, but the "he-she" was still in velvet. I had come to the conclusion that this had to be a hermaphrodite, an animal with both male and female organs.
I showed the videotape to Macy Ledbetter, our local state game biologist and a good friend. Macy said he believed the "he-she" was an antlered doe, but I was skeptical, because of the strange urination pattern. I decided that, Lord willing, if the "he-she" was back the next season, we would find out the answer to this mystery.
Now let's move ahead to October 2003. On my very first trip out to scout for deer, lo and behold, I spotted my old friend. This year the "he-she" had developed more sticker points and an 8- to 9-inch drop tine. The buck that had befriended the "he-she" was an 8-pointer again, and they were still traveling together.
Our property is low fenced, so the "he-she" was a free-ranging deer. With no guarantee the odd animal would even be on the ranch when gun season came in November, my anxiety was almost too much to bear.
On opening weekend I went out with high hopes of taking the strange deer, but to no avail; every time I would see the "he-she," it was 300 to 400 yards away. Now, this range might be a sure shot for some of you, but four years of living with this deer had made me decide not to take any chances. I set my limit at 200 yards, and the wait was on.
On Nov. 8, after I'd sat in the cold drizzle for two days, the "he-she" and its companion came out at their usual 400 yards. After a few minutes, however, something spooked the deer, and they sprinted into thick brush about 200 yards from me. I said a little prayer, and the "he-she" walked out at 190 yards. Finally, after four years and many good memories, the deer was mine.
I called Macy, and he came on out so that we could finally have the mystery solved. As Macy had guessed, the "he-she" was a she. The genitals and internal organs were all female. A minor physical deformation had caused the unusual urination pattern. The antlered doe sported 17 very unusual points, still in full velvet.
Although I felt sad for the 8-pointer losing his running buddy, I am very thankful for the time I was able to spend watching and documenting the "he-she," as well as for the opportunity to harvest such an odd but beautiful whitetail.