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What is a Crypto Buck?

Brow Tines and Backstrap

What is a Crypto Buck?

 by  Mike Hanback

A look inside the strange condition of cryptoridism in white-tailed deer

Image: ImageBy_Casey_Burnett_cactus_buck_3

Casey Burnett tagged this big crypto buck in central Alabama. Image courtesy of Casey Burnett

A few years ago, Casey Burnett and his buddy leased a piece of good-looking dirt in central Alabama. They set out their trail cameras and returned a few weeks later to find out what kind of deer the new property held. The hunters thumbed through the camera images — doe, doe, fork-horn, nice 8-pointer … and then wow, the wildest deer they had ever seen. The buck had misshapen tines and beams as thick as fence posts, all covered with masses of velvet-covered nodules. They named the animal “The Freak” and prayed that one of them of got a crack at the mutant before the neighbors did.

During the next three months, the die-hard hunters got about 200 images of the oddball buck. The Freak was visible on camera but a ghost when the hunters were on post in daylight. Until one day in December. Casey looked up and spotted Freak running across a clearcut. He leveled his rifle, stopped the deer with a bleat and made a perfect shot.

“I never thought in a million years I would ever kill a buck like that,” he said. A fitting statement, because the odds are, oh, about a million to one of anybody ever shooting a crypto buck.

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This crypto deer had incredible mass measurements. Image courtesy of Casey Burnett

What Is a Crypto Buck?

Sometimes called a stag, the odd buck exhibits abnormal antler growth and retains velvet on his rack year-round.

Scientists refer to this condition as cryptoridism, and it’s rare. It usually results from a birth defect that causes a buck’s testicles not to drop normally into the scrotum. The gonads might not be visible on a crypto’s belly, or they might appear small as a squirrel’s testicles.

In rare cases, an unlucky buck might severely injure his privates — for example while jumping a barbed-wire fence (ouch). Whatever the case, birth defect or horrible wound, a crypto buck’s ability to produce a normal stream of testosterone is diminished, so the natural cycle of antler hardening, velvet stripping and antler shedding in late winter is altered.

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Crypto bucks produce gnarly, unique antlers. Image courtesy of Casey Burnett

Does a Stag Rut?

A cryptorchid buck is a different breed. Lacking sufficient testosterone, he doesn’t engage in the rut rituals of normal bucks. A crypto doesn’t rub or scrape in November. He is passive and lacks the chemical stimulation to spar and express dominance in the social hierarchy. A stag’s neck doesn’t swell in the rut. His tarsal glands are rarely stained because he doesn’t rub-urinate. A crypto buck doesn’t chase does; if given the opportunity, he wouldn’t breed a doe anyway.

Because a cryptorchid buck doesn’t shed his antlers, they stay in velvet year-round and continue to grow and fuse on the main beams as the deer matures. By 5 or 6 years of age, a stag might have sprouted blobs and masses on his thick beams, giving them a cactus appearance. Not only does a cactus buck have yet another cool name, he is one of the most prized trophies in the deer hunting world.


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