Ancient Buck Had Rare Third Antler

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Two of America’s top biologists agree: A Kansas hunter shot a buck this past season with one of the rarest skulls you’ll ever see

Check out this buck, which has a unique third beam starting on tip of its skull. Image courtesy of Mike Hanback

Jason Morton spotted the buck and knew right away the animal was old. The deer was a bag of bones and walked stiffly with a slow, hip-swaying gait. The 7-point antlers were on the heavy side but stubby and going downhill from what the rack must have been a few years ago.

The “Legend,” as the buck was known around that part of southeastern Kansas, walked closer, and Jason had a decision to make. He raised his CZ rifle in 6.5 PRC and looked again at the ancient deer through the scope. "Doubt he’ll make it through another tough winter," Jason thought as he pressed the trigger.

Minutes later, guide Brian Helman got a text but no picture: "Ever noticed anything strange about the Legend?" Brian had gotten hundreds, maybe thousands, of camera images of the buck through the years, and from those pictures, he knew the animal was at least 8 years old and maybe even 9 or 10. That a whitetail could survive that long in the wild was amazing, but other than that, Brian hadn’t noticed anything weird about the deer.

His interest piqued, the guide gunned his truck down the gravel road to see the deer.

“That’s the Legend all right,” Brian said as he examined the skinny, scuffed-up buck. He picked up the rack and did a double-take. “But I’ve never seen that before!” Smack in the middle of the two antler bases was a third hard antler, bigger than a silver dollar, and flat and concave.

Most experts agree that this is about as rare of a third beam as you'll ever see. Image courtesy of Mike Hanback

What Caused the Rare Antler?

One of America’s top whitetail scientists has seen, studied and handled tens of thousands of skulls and racks through the years and has never seen one like Jason’s buck.

“It's too unique to have been studied,” Dr. Grant Woods said. “I'm not familiar with any other concave base between normal antlers. This is so rare I suspect it was caused by an injury and not genetics.”

Kip Adams, chief conservation officer for the National Deer Association, agreed.

“The cells around an antler pedicle are responsible for antler growth,” he said. “If you move those cells to another part of a deer’s head and body, you can grow another antler, or antler-like projection, from that new spot.”

Adams suspects that within the past year or so, the buck injured one of his pedicles, and some of the material seeped to that spot between the antler bases. 

“I think a year or so ago when antler growth began, the deer grew two normal antlers plus a third antler-like projection from the area between them,” he said.

Both biologists believe the buck’s advanced age had nothing to do with the unique rack growth. It’s possible the deer didn’t have the third antler in previous years, because Brian had so many images of the buck and so much history with him, although admittedly, the flat, concave growth was tough to see from a distance.

“I’m guessing it’s something that happened recently,” Adams said. “For sure, it’s a very rare and cool rack — a real trophy.”

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