Non-Typical Whitetail Racks: 6 Reasons Why

The author explains why some bucks grow “funkadelic” antlers, which he strongly prefers over symmetrical racks.

Non-Typical Whitetail Racks: 6 Reasons Why

Thick, gnarly bases and sticker points are often found on a whitetail buck that has reached a ripe old age.

I’ve always been fascinated with things that are a bit odd. Picasso paintings, paraprosdokians, Rob Gronkowski break dancing — these, and other off-beat things, always catch my attention and have me asking, “How and why did that happen?”

Antlers fall into this category. Many hunters dream of big whitetail typicals that push the B&C minimum of 170, but I’ve always preferred non-typicals. Thick, gnarly bases, kickers or stickers, drop tines and extra points, these are the antler characteristics that have always floated my boat.

One of my fantasies is to kill a good-sized buck with a drop tine. I’ve seen a couple while bowhunting, but they’ve always been just a wee bit out of range.

I feel blessed to have killed some gnarly old whitetail bucks. And a long time ago I did shoot a monster mule deer in Sonora, Mexico, that has 17 measurable points and scored an official 243 B&C points. I suffered a tequila haze for a few days afterward.

Reasons for Non-Typical Racks

Ever wonder how “funkadelic” bucks got that way? Here are a few reasons.

1) Pedicle Damage: While doing his doctoral research at Auburn University, Gabe Karns found that what he termed SOOS (Spikes On One Side) bucks had funky antlers due to injury, not genetics. Karns noted that, in human populations, most people missing limbs were the result of accidents, not birth defects, and it’s the same with deer and antlers.

In his study sample size of 71 SOOS bucks, 44 of the buck’s problems could definitely be assigned to injury, 34 of which were skull trauma due to fighting. He was not able to determine if the others were caused by other earlier trauma, such as leg injuries, old gunshot wounds, or other injuries, though past research strongly indicates this was probably the cause. Karns also reported that any pedicle damage, regardless of cause, had a high probability of affecting future antler growth.

2) Body Damage: Biologists have long known that skeletal injuries — especially to the major bones on the legs — commonly result in antler deformities. This deformity almost always occurs on the opposite side of the body, probably because the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa. It is also interesting to note that if the injury is not all that bad, the antler deformities will occur only in that year. 

3) It’s All About Genetics: A deer’s genetic makeup definitely plays a role in its antler configuration. According to Kip Adams of the National Deer Association, research tells us that about 50% of wild deer have the genetic makeup for stickers, drop tines, forked tines, and palmated beams. Generally speaking, though, such abnormalities don’t appear until a buck has some age on him. Hunters rarely see such abnormalities because in most areas bucks are killed before they get old enough for such funkiness to appear. 

4) Grandpa’s Antlers: In some cases, bucks that live to a ripe old age see their antlers become funky. Those few that do live that long find that their bodies begin to deteriorate (I can relate to that!). An old buck’s energy is directed toward keeping vital organs healthy and strong at the expense of its bones. Overall rack size starts to shrink, and often new characteristics — gnarly bases, sticker points, smaller forks, and so on — begin to appear.

5) What’s a Cryptorchid? Some bucks retain velvet-covered antlers long into the fall, and beyond. Some people call them stags, but the scientific name is cryptorchid. It occurs when one or both testes are absent from the scrotum. We also refer to bucks that have a damaged teste also as a cryptorchid. When this occurs, a buck gets the usual initial shot of testosterone, which stimulates the early stages of antler growth. But without two normal testes, the second, end-of-summer testosterone surge doesn’t happen, and antler growth stops. When this occurs, the velvet usually remains intact.

6) That’s a Doe? For a host of reasons, the occasional doe receives a big testosterone shot, and will grow antlers as a result. These are usually spikes, which remain velvet covered. No two antlered does are alike; most do not shed their antlers, though some do. And the rare antlered doe will have more advanced, polished antlers. These deer are often hermaphrodites or pseudo-hermaphrodites, which means they have the reproductive organs of both sexes. Now that’s crazy stuff!

I haven’t even talked about albino and piebald deer, which is the subject of another column. I actually shot a 12-point piebald buck in Saskatchewan many years ago that scored a tick over 140 P&Y points. Talk about funky!


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