Ah, Halloween. The time for all things spooky to roam our neighborhoods. It’s the one night of the year where it’s pretty much acceptable to dress up in the most taboo thing you can find and hit the town. That is, unless you are on Bourbon Street, then it’s just another regular night. Costumes this year seem to have been scarier, or weirder than usual. Maybe it’s just that I saw a couple of people dressed up like the president that freaked me out. Either way, Halloween isn’t the only time you’ll see some weird stuff if you look.
If you hunt long enough, you’ll come across some strange things in the woods. I once saw a three legged coyote chasing a rabbit. I spent the rest of the evening wondering if he ever caught his prey. I’ve seen animals with gruesome wounds, from gunshots and other animals, foraging through the woods. I’ve seen alligators that were missing eyes, and a fox with mange so bad that I almost didn’t recognize that it was a fox. All that said, one of the weirdest things that I’ve ever seen in the woods is probably more common than I realized.
A few years ago, I got an early season picture of a buck in velvet. This isn’t uncommon, but the deer in the picture just looked different. His antlers didn’t resemble a normal rack, but seemed to grow almost straight up. He had all kinds of gnarly stuff growing from the antlers, almost like how barnacles will grow on a bridge pylon. I knew he was different, but it was still early season and a lot of deer were still in velvet. I just figured he was deformed and most likely a buck that we should probably cull. I left my cameras out through the season and didn’t check them again until early December. I couldn’t believe what I saw when I pulled my cards.
The “barnacle buck” was still in full velvet in December. How could this be? I called a few friends to tell them about it, and they all had the same answer. This buck was a cryptorchid. At the time, I’d never heard of such. After a little bit of research, it turned out that it wasn’t nearly as uncommon as I thought. Cryptorchid is a condition that occurs when the buck’s testicles remain in the abdominal cavity and fail to drop into the scrotum. I immediately thought that the deer had some sort of disease for this to happen. Not at all. It can happen to a perfectly healthy buck. All it takes is some sort of trauma to its nether-regions. Once this happens, the buck has a dramatic drop in testosterone levels.
The “barnacle buck” immediately became a hit-list deer for me. Unfortunately, I never saw him that season. Fast forward to the next season, and I’m checking cameras again. Guess who shows up? The “barnacle buck” was back, and his still velvet antlers were much larger than the season before. I began to hunt the area where I’d gotten the most pictures of him. Finally, just before dark one evening during archery season, I put my eyes on him for the first time. He appeared perfectly healthy and had well over 115” of antler on his head. I waited impatiently while he fed on clover just out of bow range. Just as I thought he was going to work his way into range, an old doe sniffed me out and began blowing. It startled the “barnacle buck” enough to push him well outside of my comfortable range. I shrugged and thought, “Well, there will be other days.” I didn’t realize this would be the only time that I’d ever see him on the hoof.
The following season came with no pictures of our cryptorchid buck. My best guess was he either died of natural causes, or someone else killed him. I got my answer during a late December hunt with friend, Ben Tharp and his son, Reid. We’d been hunting for a couple of days without any real good luck. We’d all seen plenty of deer, but nothing worthy of slinging lead at. After an evening hunt, without burning any powder, we met back at the camp for dinner. Ben was almost giddy when I walked in the house. He said, “Man, you won’t believe what we saw this evening. We saw a giant buck that was still in full velvet and had crap hanging off of his antlers everywhere!” The “barnacle buck” was still alive and well. He proceeded to tell me that the buck amassed well over 130” of antlers and that Reid couldn’t get his gun up quick enough to take a shot. I was both relieved and a little depressed at the same time. I was glad that the buck was still alive, but really wished that Reid could have killed him. That was the last time that anyone saw the “barnacle buck” on our place.
My cousin, Hunter, recently sent me a picture of another cryptorchid buck. When he told his dad about the deer, his dad mentioned that he’d killed one like that years ago. What I once thought was incredibly rare, and strange, turns out to not be that rare at all. Then again, there isn’t much that Barry McCool hasn’t seen in the woods. It’s been almost two years without a sign of the “barnacle buck” on our place. If he’s still alive, that would put him in the 6-7 year old range, which might be rarer in Mississippi than being a cryptorchid. If by some chance I get a picture of him this year, he will definitely be #1 on my hit list. Until then, I’d gladly shoot any normal deer that gives me an opportunity to fill the freezer!