What kind of deer would receive the nod for the rarest kind of trophy whitetail? How about an antlered doe in full velvet — especially if that doe flaunts 18 points and measures 11 1/2 inches at its base? Bedford County, Virginia’s Les Spradlin pursued this broadbeam for four years until November 2014, when he killed it during the state’s general firearms season on his own land. When the 42-year-old hunter rolled the animal over to begin the field-dressing process, he began to realize he might have accomplished something unique.
The story of the Virginian’s quest for the doe began in 2009 when the animal was first glimpsed in October during early bow season. The deer’s cactus-like antlers were too small to make the deer a shooter, and the animal was slight in body size as well. In 2010, Spradlin saw the animal only once, and that was on a September trail camera photo showing the whitetail feeding under a white oak.
Scanning trail camera photos the following September, Spradlin once again noted an image of the deer under that same oak. But this time the deer — with its jumbled mass of antlers larger and much more impressive – was definitely worth pursuing, and Spradlin decided to devote his 2011 season to the trophy. Les has killed several dozen bucks scoring 125 inches or better in his 30 years of hunting and is a confirmed trophy hunter.
Although Spradlin captured one more photo of the deer in September 2011, he never saw it during hunting season.
“Both times I had trail camera photos in 2011, the doe was with a group of bachelor bucks, some of them quite impressive,” he said. “I figured that he was just on my land during the summertime and went elsewhere come fall. One of my deer hunting philosophies is that a big buck doesn’t want competition for his does, so he goes where he can be the undisputed number one when the pre-rut begins.”
In 2012, Spradlin observed the deer during hunting season for the first time in three years. The doe, which he had now named Crazy Deer, walked by at a distance of 85 yards — well out of bow range — and proved to be the only sighting that year. The following year brought more frustration as the deer was either observed well out of range or only captured on camera.
“By 2014, I was totally frustrated with Crazy Deer,” said Spradlin. “I had determined that it had about a home range of just 200 yards on my 600-acre property, but I also had decided that the deer went nocturnal during the rut because it was such a wise, old buck. I decided that putting up numerous stands in the core area and hunting from them only when the wind direction was perfect was my best chance at success.
“Some stands were placed because of wind direction, others were put near heavy cover (that section of my land has numerous 2- to 3-acre thickets with open fields in between), and some were what I call observation stands. Those types of stands don’t give me much of a chance of killing a trophy but are positioned at places where I can see a long way and can help me decide where to put a stand where I can have success. After all my analysis, I put up five different stands positioned in places where I thought I might be able to kill Crazy Deer.”
Spradlin feels his land is more of a morning locale, as the numerous postage-stamp-size bedding areas make hunting in the afternoon a risky proposition. Little margin for error exists, he believes, for him to arrive at a stand site in the evening without bumping numerous deer, which in turn could alert other whitetails that a predator — Spradlin — is afield.
So pre-dawn on the morning of Nov. 20, Les climbed into a treestand in Crazy Deer’s home court. At 9 a.m., Spradlin was unable to resist killing a coyote that meandered by, so he decided to still-hunt back to his house given that he had now disturbed the area. The Virginian is a dedicated still-hunter, believing that the tactic, executed correctly, is a marvelous game plan for moving into shooting range of a trophy buck.
“My usual approach is to walk a few steps, then glass,” he said. “When not moving, I use the binoculars to look for a flicker of movement, tuffs of hair, the tips of an antler, or maybe even eyes or ears. In fact, I would rate binoculars as being behind only a gun or a bow as essential gear for deer hunting.
“When I am scanning with binoculars, I feel as if I am truly in a deer’s world. I’ve even seen deer watching me as I was watching them. That November morning, I still-hunted for 2½ hours and only covered about a thousand yards. I stopped at and looked over every tiny thicket with my binoculars, hoping to spot Crazy Deer.”
Around 11:30 a.m., Les jumped up the doe from about 150 yards away. Crazy Deer ran another 70 yards distant until Spradlin’s bleats stopped it. Employing a .300 WSM Tikka and a Primos Trigger Stick bipod, the Virginian squeezed off a shot. As the doe sprinted away, the construction business owner felt the shot was on target, but he still felt a moment of doubt when the whitetail ran robustly for some 150 yards, slowing down only upon entering one of the many thickets. It was at this point that Les called his brother Lester (his father, Les says, had quite a sense of humor in the naming realm) for assistance.
After Lester arrived, the two men decided to approach the thicket from different angles. Fascinatingly, Lester spooked a 160-class buck (a mossyhorn that a neighbor killed a few days later) on his way to the copse. He then called Les to tell him his shot might have gone awry. A short while later, though, the brother found Crazy Deer dead within the thicket.
At first Les thought his trophy was a buck that had suffered an injury to its testicles. The sportsman never field-dresses his deer until he arrives home, feeling that no good can come of gut piles in his hunting area and that deer are much easier to eviscerate and butcher when they are hanging. It was only at his skinning shed that Spradlin realized he had killed an antlered doe in velvet — perhaps the rarest kind of trophy whitetail.
When does grow antlers, it is typically because they possess an unusual amount of testosterone for a doe but not nearly as much as a buck has. Nevertheless, these does also typically experience normal reproductive success. Joe Hamilton, founder of the Quality Deer Management Association and now a QDMA senior advisor, has been a biologist for nearly 40 years. He explains the phenomenon of antlered does in velvet is quite rare, but the incidence is higher in some areas than others.
“There’s no explanation for such variation in the occurrence of velvet-antlered does among regions of their range,” said Hamilton. “Usually, these aberrations are linked to congenital deformities.
“Some velvet-antlered does reveal only external female organs and carry the male organs within the body cavity or just under the skin,” he continued. “Those with external male and female organs are referred to as hermaphrodites and could have enough testosterone to produce a normal antler growth cycle. Such deer are not expected to be successful at reproduction.”
Hamilton adds that does like Crazy Deer have a low enough testosterone level that they can “carry on through life as a reproductively active female and have fawns.” These antlered does also typically do not transition into possessing hardened, polished antlers, again because of the low testosterone level.