HENDERSON — D'oh! It was a doe.
When Joel H. Grimshaw had the large deer in his sights on his father's farmland off Whitney Road on Nov. 1, he assumed by its impressive size and antler rack that it was a buck.
But after shooting it from about 75 yards with his .308 rifle, Mr. Grimshaw realized the buck didn't stop there. But a freak of nature did.
It was a doe sporting the eight-point rack, a very unusual animal. Also, the deer was huge, weighing 188 pounds after being field dressed.
When Steven R. Heerkens, big-game biologist for Region 6 of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, heard about Mr. Grimshaw's take, he said it almost seemed impossible. Does usually don't grow horns, especially that big, and 188 pounds is huge for any deer.
But Mr. Grimshaw, a physical therapist and co-owner of South Jefferson Physical Therapy, said the animal definitely was a doe.
"There was no mistaking," he said. "We obviously noticed there were no testicles."
Mr. Grimshaw's hunting partner, Henry Legault of Watertown, confirmed it.
Mr. Legault is a more experienced hunter, and he said he talked Mr. Grimshaw through the steps to field dress the animal. That's when Mr. Legault noticed something.
"I said, 'My gosh, Joel, it's a doe!' It had all the female parts. I've never seen anything like it," he said.
After it was field dressed, the animal's size presented another challenge.
"It was so huge, we couldn't drag it off his father's field," Mr. Legault said. "We hooked it to a truck."
Mr. Heerkens, contacted later after being e-mailed a snapshot of Mr. Grimshaw with the deer and told about the reputable nature of the hunters, said such a doe is very unusual.
"That kind of rack and that body size and hard antler doesn't make a lot of sense unless that female had an overabundance of testosterone," he said. "That would be the only thing I could think of, and, obviously, that's not normal."
And about the animal's weight, Mr. Heerkens said, "It seems massively huge, even if the scale was off a bit."
There have been other documented cases of does with impressive racks. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources notes that in 2002, someone in that state killed a white-tailed doe with a 13-point rack. The department said that with the exception of caribou, females of the deer family do not normally grow antlers.
Deer antlers are an outgrowth of the bones of the skull. As they grow in the spring, they are covered by a skin called velvet. The velvet is rubbed off as they harden and grow through the summer and into mating season. The antlers, composed of large amounts of calcium and phosphorus, are shed in the winter.
The antlers apparently are attractive to females, which makes one wonder about the personal life of the doe Mr. Grimshaw shot.
"The fact that it went hard-antlered like that is very unusual," Mr. Heerkens said. "Had it been velvet that late in the season, then I could believe that."
Mr. Heerkens said antlerless harvest is an important part of DEC's statewide deer management program. Does can be taken in the north country through archery and muzzleloader privileges or on deer management permits. Such "doe tags" can be used during the regular firearms season, which ended Dec. 5.