Biologist suspects hemorrhagic disease contributed to 11-point’s gnarly rack
Dr. Jeffrey Anderson and his father were riding in their Ranger checking on cattle early last month on family property bordering Bayou Pierre in Natchitoches Parish when they jumped up a very odd-looking buck that neither one of them had ever seen before.
“I couldn’t really get a good look at him,” said Anderson, who owns the Red River Veterinary Center in Coushatta. “All I knew was he had a freak rack of some kind.”
But the veterinarian’s curiosity in the strange buck was piqued, so he set up a box stand, a feeder and a trail cam in the immediate area along an overgrown fencerow to see if he could get any intel on the deer.
A conversation he had with a neighbor shortly thereafter spurred his interest even further.
“He starts telling me about a buck with really big, dark, gray horns with points going down and sticking out that he had shot at two years in a row on the property line,” Anderson said. “He said, ‘I hit him one year because we found some blood and some bone, but we never found the deer.’”
The following weekend, on Saturday, Dec. 12, Anderson and his 18-year-old son Garrett went to check the camera and the feeder where the big deer had been spotted just days earlier.
“We’re riding along on the Ranger, and I kind of point at the bushes and tell my son, ‘That’s where we jumped that buck up the other day.’ And my son says, ‘Stop! Back up!’ And this buck is 50 yards from us laying in a brush pile looking at us. He’s there again.
“So we look at the buck and I see this old freaky rack with big gray horns, and the buck has his head on the ground just looking at us out of these bushes. He’s 100 percent hidden as far as he knows, so we sat there for 30 seconds looking at him. But we don’t have a rifle, so we take off.”
Father and son made the mile-long trip back for their guns, then returned with a plan.
With Garrett positioned about 150 yards away, Anderson headed for the treetop where they had seen the buck bedded down.
“I wouldn’t shoot him laying down because I wanted my son to kill him,” he said. “He jumped up and ran directly to Garrett.”
Leaning against a tree, Garrett’s .308 found the mark — literally on the nose.
“The buck trots out to my son, stops and looks back at me,” Anderson said. “But right when he looks back at me, Garrett shoots him. The deer twisted his head around, and my son shot him right in the nose. It deflected the bullet, and it skimmed across the top of his back.
“I hear him shoot and the buck’s flipping around and I said, ‘You got him, you got him.’ So we’re all excited, and all of a sudden he sits up cow-style, kind of gathers his wits and takes off. So Garrett made the kill shot on him then.”
Anderson said they quickly recovered the deer from a ditch, but the reclusive old buck had another surprise in store.
“It wasn’t heavy at all, with a small neck,” he said. “It was actually doe-like, and its tarsal glands had minimal scent. The first thing I did was pick his hind legs up and there’s no testicles.”
If you like unsolved mysteries, this is where the story takes an interesting twist.
Anderson’s plan was to dissect the buck to see if he could learn more about it and its unusual rack, but he had to make an emergency vet call, his son had to go pick up a friend and his father and brother were busy cooking for a function.
Because it was unseasonably warm that day with highs in the low 80s, Anderson instructed Garrett to bring the deer to a local processor to get it taken care of quickly.
“We’re all excited from the hype of killing the deer, and I’m not thinking to tell these guys, ‘Hey, I want to know if he had testicles in his abdomen. Save me his inguinal area so I can dissect it, and all that.’ I don’t do that.”
When he called the processor the next day to make that request, it was already too late.
“He said, ‘Well man, I threw it away, and I’m sure the coyotes have drug all that off,’” Anderson said. “So with me being a veterinarian, I missed out on the perfect situation to dissect the deer and get with the biologists and tell them, ‘This is what my buck did, and this is where its testicles were.’
“I ended up throwing all the evidence away.”
Scott Durham, a biologist director with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, sent pictures of Anderson’s buck to Dr. Jim LaCour, the state wildlife veterinarian, who surmised that the buck had likely contracted hemorrhagic disease at some point in its life.
“It’s a virus transmitted by midges or gnats,” Durham said. “It’s very common in our deer herd. You can see effects of it sometimes earlier in the summer and into the year, but late-summer and early-fall is the most typical time.”
The weird antlers likely result from the disease, Durham said.
“The antlers actually look kind of poor,” Durham said. “It just didn’t shed off well. It probably impacted his ability to vascularize, and maybe even affected his hormone levels to some agree.”
Anderson said that diagnosis makes sense with the deer’s lack of testicles.
“I read up a little bit and some of that stuff says they can have decreased testicular development if they have hemorrhagic disease,” Anderson said.
The good news is Durham said there typically aren’t any human health implications when consuming deer with hemorrhagic disease.
“If the deer is obviously really poor and skinny and malnutritioned, we wouldn’t advise eating that kind of deer,” Durham said. “But as long as the muscle tissue is good and robust, there’s typically no problem. We’ve never had any issues with human health from that disease.”
Anderson confirmed both of the buck’s hind limbs above the hocks had knots on them where the animal apparently had been hit by bullets, presumably from his neighbor.
He plans on mounting the deer to preserve a very unique rack from a buck that apparently lived on the back edge of his property for years without ever being detected.
“We’ve got a camera 600 yards away from we shot the buck, but never had a picture of him,” Anderson said. “He had the perfect little hideout. There’s no telling how many times he’s seen us around.
“They’re just masters of disguise.”
Don’t forget to enter photos of your bucks in the Nikon Big Buck Photo Contest to be eligible for monthly giveaways and the random drawing for Nikon optics at the end of the contest.
Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.