Deer Hunting photo
Sometimes whitetail antlers don’t grow into the tall, thick, symmetrical racks we all dream about. Sometimes they develop into mangled globs of headgear, better suited for a sci-fi movie than the cover of a hunting magazine. Outdoor Life has investigated a handful of stories involving these mutant deer, also known as cactus bucks, including this 34-pointer taken by Michael Rothman in Kentucky. We take a closer look at Rothman’s buck and explain how deer develop mutant racks.
Rothman hunted and scouted hard through the 2011 season, but he didn’t spot this buck until it turned up on a trail camera on December 8. However, he couldn’t hunt the deer right away because he was signed up to volunteer on a Ft. Knox hunt for two days. “It drove me crazy. I would close my eyes and all I would see was that deer,” he said.
By the time Rothman was able to get back to hunting his family’s 325-acre farm, the buck had disappeared. Muzzleloader season was winding down and in a desperate attempt, Rothman decided to spend the night in a shooting house overlooking a field that deer were pounding. But after a cold night in a sleeping bag, Rothman woke up and watched the deer filter out of the field before legal shooting light.
On the last day of muzzleloader season, Rothman opted to hunt a stand tucked back in the timber. By 7:00 a.m. five does slunk past him. In half an hour another five does snuck in from behind Rothman. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the mutant buck only 50 yards away. The does were acting spooky and Rothman knew there wasn’t much time. The buck stepped behind a tree and Rothman brought his gun to his shoulder. When the deer stepped out, he squeezed the trigger. Rothman called a bunch of his hunting buddies, pulled out a pack of smokes and fought off the shakes. “I smoked two cigarettes, just standing there shaking.”
Soon enough, Rothman and some of his friends and family found the buck. The deer was healthy, and had an estimated weight of just under 200 pounds. But, the buck had no testicles.
Buckmasters scored the deer at 221 4/8. It has 34 points and the circumference around its bases was about 8 inches. The “bull horns” sweeping off the side of the rack measured about 16 inches a pop. Even though it was December, the rack was covered in velvet.
Mutant-racked deer, also known as cactus bucks, generally develop because they were born without testicles or their testicles were damaged at some point. Because of this genetic mutation (or injury), a cactus buck is not able to produce enough testosterone to shed his velvet in early fall. This disrupts the natural development cycle and keeps the buck from shedding his antlers in late winter, according to David Yancy, a deer biologist with the Kentucky DNR. Each year the buck will grow another rack on top of the one he already has. Justin Corn, killed this freak nontypical 30-point buck in Kentucky last year that could break the state’s archery nontypical record of 234 1/8 inches.
While mutant bucks are rare, they are not unheard of. Out of the 55,000 antlered bucks Kentucky hunters kill each year, Yancy says the DNR typically hears about 3 to 5 freak bucks. In one of Yancy’s cases a doe developed a tumor near her ovaries. This caused the deer to produce extra testosterone and grow antlers. Similarly, this 30-point deer taken in Illinois this year had no male genitalia, according to a local newspaper. The newspaper said the deer was a doe.
While “cactus bucks” sport gnarly, misshapen racks, they are otherwise normal and healthy. It’s safe to eat venison from these deer and their deformed antlers are not caused by any outside environmental factors. Yancy says the mangled racks are most likely caused by genetic mutations. This buck was taken near Ft. Scott, Kansas in 2010 by Sean Lucas. Even though it was killed in December, it sports 19 points all covered in velvet.
This deer is not the typical “cactus buck.” It’s rack droops down below its face. Maddux took this deer on opening day with a crossbow. “I first thought it was a doe with something hanging off the side of her head. Didn’t think much about it till this year, when I caught it on my trail cam,” he told Other than it’s rack, the deer appeared to be healthy.
For more on freak-rack bucks and whitetail genetics, visit the links below. The Million-Dollar Deer? Freak Show Bucks: A Hard Look at Breeding For Antlers Illinois Bowhunter Tags 30-Point Freak Buck Photos: Freak Bucks From 2010

Michael Rothman killed this gnarly 34-point cactus buck last season in Kentucky. We take a closer look at this deer and just how freak-rack bucks develop.