JACKSON, Miss. — The hunt for a 6-point management buck that spanned four years ended with a Philadelphia, Miss., man taking a rare 36-point giant.
"I hunt there around my house," Stan Ethredge said. "We've got a couple of hundred acres.
"I've been getting pictures of him for at least four years now. He was a big 6-point four years ago. He dropped his antlers and grew six points again. After the second year he was a 6-point, I figured that was all he was going to be. I figured he was a good cull buck, but I never got a shot at him. I just got pictures."
Ethredge continued to monitor the deer and as expected, he grew into another 6-point the following spring, but during the summer, his antlers began to express abnormalities. The buck started growing drop tines and stickers.
When fall came, Ethredge noticed something else that was odd.
"October came around and he was still in velvet," Ethredege said. "He had a big drop tine on one side. I knew something was going on with him."
Ethredge had one encounter with the buck last season, but wasn't able to get a shot. However, his cameras were keeping track of the unusual antler growth. He never shed his velvet that winter and when all the other bucks had dropped their antlers, the unusual buck kept his — and they they continued to grow.
When this hunting season arrived, the buck had become a freak of nature. His antlers had grown into a mass of twisted and turned tines with massive bases. And he was still in velvet. Ethredge was almost able to harvest him right off the bat.
"I saw him opening day and it was right at dark and I didn't want to mess him up," Ethredge said. "I just watched him."
Ethredge said the deer on his place have him patterned better than he has them patterned. In fact, he said that judging by the photos he sees of bucks near his stands while he is away, he's pretty sure they know his work schedule.
Ethredge would have normally been at work Oct. 20, but he took a vacation day. He figured the schedule change might fool the deer.
"I decided to hunt that evening because the deer thought I was at work," Ethredge said. "It was about dark and a doe stepped out.
"She walked toward me and he stepped out. He got about 30 yards from me. I was telling my self to keep my composure. My heart was beating out of my chest."
And he managed to calm himself enough to make the shot with his crossbow.
"As soon as I got the crosshairs on him, I shot," Ethredge said. "He's eluded me for years, so I didn't want to let him get away. I shot him as soon as I got the chance. I felt pretty good about the shot. He turned and ran away the way he came. I sat there a while and it was the longest hour of my life."
Still shaken by the heart-pounding experience, Ethredge got out of his stand and began tracking the animal. He immediately found blood on the ground..
"I started blood-trailing him and the blood got better," Ethredge said. "I got about 75 yards and there he was.
"The first thing I did was thank God. It was amazing. There was just unbelievable stuff on his head. He had a couple of really big drop tines."
The buck had 36 points and a 16-inch spread. He measured 227⅜ inches according to the Buckmasters scoring system.
As unusual as the antlers were, so were the buck's reproductive organs, or lack thereof.
"Usually when their testicles are damaged, this happens," Ethredge said. "He really didn't have any. He had a slight bulge, but not like they should be."
William McKinley, deer program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks said the deer's antlers were consistent with a lack of testosterone production.
"Something caused the deer to stop producing testosterone," McKinley said. "Sometimes bucks castrate themselves on a fence.
"It's not common, but it's not uncommon. It could have been disease. It could have been a number of things. If a deer doesn't have testosterone the antlers continue to grow. They never harden and they never lose velvet."
Depending on when a buck loses the ability to produce testosterone, one of two things will happen, but the outcome will be the same.
"If it happens in velvet, the antler growth will slow down, but never stop," McKinley said. "If it happens when he has hardened antlers, he'll shed his antlers and grow new ones that will never harden."
McKinley may never be able to pinpoint exactly what caused the buck to stop producing testosterone, but one thing he's sure of is that Ethredge harvested a truly rare deer.
"I told him this wasn't a deer of a lifetime," McKinley said. "It's a deer of several lifetimes."
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