Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Mother Nature’s mixup

Monacelli bags ten-pointer, but is it a buck, a doe, or neither?

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 11/15/17

When Mark Monacelli dropped a ten-pointer north of Cook last week, he assumed he had just bagged a nice trophy buck. The story, in the end, turned out to be a more complicated one.

Some of the …

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Mother Nature’s mixup

Monacelli bags ten-pointer, but is it a buck, a doe, or neither?

Posted

When Mark Monacelli dropped a ten-pointer north of Cook last week, he assumed he had just bagged a nice trophy buck. The story, in the end, turned out to be a more complicated one.

Some of the deer’s unusual characteristics became apparent as soon as he approached it lying in the snow. For one, the deer’s antlers were still in velvet. Normally by deer season, the velvet has long since been worn away as male deer spar with other bucks or rub their antlers on trees and brush.

And there were other oddities as well. “It had a very skinny neck,” said Monacelli, who serves as St. Louis County Recorder when he isn’t out hunting. “It didn’t appear to be in rut.” As most hunters know, a buck’s neck tends to swell, sometimes significantly, during the rut. The reasons aren’t entirely clear, but biologists believe it’s most likely due to the flood of testosterone that male deer typically produce this time of year. Like other steroidal hormones, large amounts of testosterone can quickly build muscle mass, in both deer and humans, and that appears to be what’s happening with most bucks this time of year. A skinny neck generally means the deer wasn’t producing enough testosterone to produce neck swelling.

But it turns out that Monacelli’s unusual deer wasn’t simply a case of a hormone imbalance. As he started to gut the animal, he recognized that its genitalia were unusual to say the least. While it had male parts, the animal’s testicles were almost non-existent and it urinated out the back end, like a doe. It’s a condition that occurs occasionally in humans, too, but doctors can typically make necessary anatomical changes surgically.

When it happens to wild deer, they can end up looking a lot like Monacelli’s deer.

“It’s an amazing animal,” said Monacelli. “I’m still stunned this was possible.”

The situation is exceedingly rare, but not unknown. “This seems to show up a couple times a year,” said DNR Tower Area Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch. “I usually read about it in the paper.” But considering that hunters shoot about 175,000-200,000 deer every fall in Minnesota, the one or two like Monacelli’s are truly exceptional. After spending some time researching the phenomenon online, Monacelli said such deer are typically females that have higher-than-normal levels of testosterone, which prompts antler growth. Rusch agreed. “The bottom line is it’s a hormonal imbalance.” In this case, it appears the deer was producing just enough testosterone to grow antlers, but not enough for them to harden or for the deer’s neck to swell. The antlers often remain more-or-less permanently on the deer, rather than dropping off after the rut, as in most male deer. It’s unclear if Monacelli’s deer has had antlers for a long time, but they do appear to be unusually worn, with many of the tips appearing to have broken off. Monacelli said he plants to have the deer mounted.

The deer, as described by Monacelli, was probably incapable of breeding, but that’s not always the case. When female deer grow antlers they typically still have a fully functioning reproductive system. Monicelli’s deer appears mostly male, but without functioning testicles. The deer’s otherwise unusual plumbing wouldn’t allow for the growth of young within it, so it likely wouldn’t be described as female.

In either case, it was an unlikely conclusion to Monacelli’s quest for a buck. But one thing is certain, said Rusch. “He’s got a legal buck no matter what it has down below.”

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