Photo: Acton Crawford/Unsplash

How well do you know your big-game antlers? Here are 6 things hunters should know about headgear


It’s rare to see antlers on female cervids other than caribou (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)


Occasionally, a hunter will shoot an antlered animal that has female rather than male reproductive organs. In a healthy female, hormones such as estrogen normally inhibit the growth of antlers. However, antlers may appear if the female experiences a surge of testosterone due to a hormonal imbalance brought about by injury, disease or a degenerative condition of the female organs or glands. When this occurs, the female usually grows small spike or forked antlers that remain in velvet until winter.

Caribou aside, the highest frequency of antlered females occurs in white-tailed deer, at approximately one in every 3,000 females. Most often, such females are still capable of breeding and producing fawns. Occasionally, a cervid with fully branched and polished antlers also has female sexual parts, or sometimes both male and female organs (this is what’s known as a hermaphrodite). The rarest of such genetic mutations is the pseudohermaphrodite, which is a cervid with external female parts, but functional internal male reproductive organs and normal antler development. During the rut, that is likely one very confused animal.


Summerland, B.C.’s Brian Harris is a retired wildlife biologist.