Like most married couples, Jerika and Russell Francis tease each other occasionally.
Saturday evening Jerika thought that’s what her husband was doing when he went silent for a bit, then told her the 10-point buck she’d just shot really wasn’t a buck.
“When he got ready to clean it, he noticed some parts were missing right away,” said the deer hunter from Kingman. “I went over and took a look, and sure enough, it was obviously a doe (with antlers).”
The buck she shot about 5 p.m. Saturday, on land owned by her husband’s family in Kingman County, is the second antlered doe to be shot in south-central Kansas in about a year. Last December, North Carolina hunter Chuck Rorie shot an eight-point doe that weighed about 225 pounds in Sedgwick County. Francis said her antlered doe weighed about 180 pounds.
The most conservative estimate by biologists is that 1 in about 10,000 female deer have antlers. Some think it’s closer to 1 in 100,000.
Keith Sexson, assistant secretary and past state deer biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, last year estimated he’d heard of fewer than 15 antlered does in the 50 years the state has had deer seasons. The harvest within that time has been more than 1 million deer. Does have made up about half of the Kansas deer harvest the past 15 to 20 years.
An article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year found only about four antlered whitetail does shot in America in 2014, despite an annual harvest in the millions.
In a previous interview, Grant Woods, a Missouri-based biologist noted as one of the top whitetail deer researchers in the world, said antlered does are females with unusually high levels of testosterone. All does have the hormone, he said, but some have enough that they grow male-like antlers. Some antlered does have been known to successfully breed and raise fawns.
Jerika Francis and her husband were hunting near a wheat field when they saw several bucks and does grazing on the green vegetation. They decided she should shoot one that was a “management” buck, meaning its antlers weren’t exceptionally large or symmetrical. Their goal was to take such a buck out of the herd before it could pass along such genetics. Her husband also recognized the deer.
“I know I’d seen that deer last year and (the antlers) hadn’t really grown at all,” said Russell Francis. “Now I know why. Everything I’ve read and heard says (antlered does) don’t shed their horns every year like a regular buck.” Most bucks lose their antlers in the late winter, then grow a set that are usually larger the following spring and summer.
Woods said the amount of testosterone in an antlered doe probably determines whether her antlers remain covered in velvet, the fuzzy material that makes up antlers, as they grow in the spring and summer on a buck. If there is enough testosterone, an antlered doe, like a buck, will rub all the velvet off the antlers when they harden in the late summer.
Russell Francis said the antlers on his wife’s doe “felt different, kind of a lot harder than a buck’s antlers.”
The antlers on the two does shot in Kansas in recent seasons could have passed for antlers of average bucks. Such isn’t always the case.
In 2008 a doe was shot with a 27-point rack near Clay Center. On the Boone and Crockett trophy measuring system, that doe totaled about 178 inches of antler. A buck of 140 inches of antler is considered a great trophy in most states, including Kansas. The antlered does shot by Rorie and Francis each had about 120 inches of antler.
Last month an antlered doe with 22 points was shot by a hunter in Missouri, according to a USA Today report.
Had the modest antlers been on a buck, Jerika Russell said she just would have had the rack mounted. Since it’s an antlered doe, the Russells have decided to invest in a shoulder mount of the animal.
They also may want to get ready for quite a bit of media attention. Rorie can attest to the fact that antlered does are a popular news story across most of America. He fielded interview requests from his local newspaper and several major newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal.
Jerika Russell is already a bit surprised about the response to the few photos of her antlered doe she posted on Facebook.
“I’d heard of them before, so I didn’t think they were that unusual,” she said. “The more people I started talking to, the more I learned it’s pretty rare. It’s pretty neat.”