When deer hunters hear the term “unique antlers” they often first think about a gnarly non-typical rack or maybe a big buck with droptines that look like handles.
But in December 2015, Casey Burnett of Alabama killed what definitely classifies as a unique buck. He and his lease partner saw the buck on their game cameras three months earlier and began plans to hunt it. Then Burnett was successful in December on a mid-morning hunt with his rifle.
Deer hunters and biologists call this a cactus buck. Pretty obvious, yeah? The knobby antlers are usually covered all or in part with velvet. Bucks with antlers like this are suffering from a lack of normal testosterone production caused by hypogonadism or cryptochidism. This means their testicles either did not drop from their body cavity or are very small.
Testosterone helps with antler growth each spring and summer when they’re covered in blood-enriched velvet. Then, they shed this velvet and the testosterone is key for reproduction. Once the level decreases when the peak breeding period ends, antlers are shed after a last burst of testosterone and the process begins again.
In bucks with hypogonadism or cryptochidism, though, that burst never occurs and they retain the antlers. Each year the blood-enriched velvet grows again and continues to do so. Bucks may rub off some of the velvet in autumn but not all of it, helping create the scrubby cactus appearance.
In the course of writing about deer hunting over the years I’ve only encountered two bucks like this. Both were in north Alabama, and the first one back in the 1990s looked similar to Burnett’s with thick bases and “beer can” antlers.
These kind of bucks definitely are unique, to say the least!