For one Utah deer living in trophy buck country, androgyny may be the key to survival

(Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources | Jeremy Houston) A rare antlered female deer looks at the camera for a photo. This photo was taken in June.

She spends winters east of Kanab and the rest of her time between Panguitch and Alton, in an area of Utah known for its trophy deer hunting.

For many of her species, living on the premium hunting territory known as Paunsaugunt unit could be a problem. But for this rare antlered doe, her home turf and apparent genetic abnormality could be the key to her longevity.

“There’s more bucks on that unit [where she lives], and that kind of allows hunters to be a little bit more selective with what deer they are harvesting, and so a deer with antlers that size wouldn’t even be close — like even in the realm — of what a hunter with a tag for that unit is looking for,” said Phil Tuttle, outreach manager with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

So, he said, “The chances of that deer being harvested ever are really, really low.”

As long as she stays in that unit, doe hunters will look past her thinking she’s a he, and buck hunters will pass her up — with her small, lopsided rack — for the renowned behemoths they trekked to the unit in southwest Utah to bring home.

DWR staffers first learned of the antlered doe in the late fall of 2017, when they shot a net at her from a helicopter to collar her in order to track and study deer migration patterns.

(Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources | Jeremy Houston) A rare antlered female deer was captured and collared by DWR officials so they can study deer migration patterns. This photo was taken in late fall of 2017.

When staffers got close enough, they were surprised to find the deer was a she — despite the antlers, Tuttle said.

Like male deer, Tuttle said this antlered female sheds and regrows her antlers every year. Officials believe she has a rare condition that caused her reproductive organs to develop differently, which led to abnormally high testosterone levels and has apparently triggered the antler shedding and regrowth.

Tuttle said it’s unclear if the deer has ever reproduced.

If a buck hunter did happen to shoot the female deer, Tuttle said they wouldn’t get in trouble because the animal did have antlers.

But DWR officials don’t want people shooting collared deer, or any of the animals that are collared for tracking, according to its Facebook page.

“Because capturing and collaring deer is an expensive and time-consuming process, we ask that hunters avoid harvesting them,” the post states.

The post about the deer on the DWR’s Facebook page had garnered 430 comments by Thursday evening and nearly 900 shares.

Many commenters wondered if the animal had ever reproduced and the legal ramifications for hunting a deer with a collar, or shooting this female deer thinking it was a male. Some told their own tales of hunting what they thought was a male animal, only to learn afterward it wasn’t. Others saw the androgynous deer as a bit of an LGBTQ icon.

Whatever it was that drove commenters’ curiosity, Tuttle said he was surprised by how popular the post was.

“It’s kind of interesting and definitely rare, and it’s just kind of fun to see rare things, and people get a kick out of it," Tuttle said.

For now, he said, the DWR doesn’t have plans to study the deer further — but he didn’t rule it out, either.