MORS follower Trent Hansen tagged a beauty of a mule deer buck he harvested in eastern Montana this season. This whopper of a deer has approximately 26 points and is a stag or “cryptorchid”, which can result in what is referred to as a “cactus buck”.
But, what is a cactus buck, and how does it happen? An article by Scott Bestul via Field and Stream has some good information, and we summarized it here:
Every year, hunters encounter remarkable typical and nontypical bucks, but none capture attention quite like the distinctive cactus buck. Typically, a cactus buck develops unusual masses instead of normal antlers due to damage to its testicles, leading to a decrease in testosterone. While there’s enough testosterone for initial antler growth, it’s insufficient to complete the velvet-shedding process. The buck may retain its rack through winter, and the subsequent growth in the following year results in a unique and gnarly appearance—a defining trait of a cactus buck. One common cause of damaged testicles is likely fence crossings, with a poorly executed jump potentially leading to long-lasting consequences for these fascinating deer.
However, not all instances of lowered testosterone levels in bucks are attributed to external injuries; recent research associates diseases like EHD and “blue tongue” with a significant drop in testosterone. The impact of these diseases can affect antler development, offering a plausible explanation for the existence of cactus bucks, particularly when EHD strikes in late summer during the velvet stage. There is ongoing research exploring the impact of compounds in certain plants that could potentially “chemically castrate” bucks if consumed in sufficient quantities. Additionally, the ingestion of specific molds is considered a factor that might influence testosterone levels and result in abnormal antler growth.
Adding to the intrigue, hermaphrodite deer could develop what appears to be a typical rack. However, the presence of estrogen in the mix may tip the hormonal balance, with the female hormone potentially dominating over the male, causing a delay in the velvet-shedding process.
So, there are several reasons that cactus bucks exist, and it is pretty cool that Trent Hansen tagged one. Congratulations!
“I was out looking for pronghorn before the general season when I first came across this deer and noticed he had an unusual rack. A few weeks went by, and I found him again. After looking him over, I decided I would take him. I was surprised to find that he had 26 points. The deer was harvested in eastern Montana on private land open to public hunting. Thanks to all private landowners who allow public hunting on their property.”