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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Unicorn Deer

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Roaming somewhere in the woods around Elma is the unicorn deer.

Captured on a motion-sensitive game camera, the adult deer appears to have a long antler sticking out of its head between it’s eyes.

“It looks like a unicorn deer,” said Dave Ebeling, the hunter-photographer who caught the deer on camera Oct. 16.

“I thought it was some kind of joke, but how can that be?” said the 46-year-old Ebeling, who added the photo was not retouched. “I got it [on camera].”

Ebeling, who has been hunting since he was 16, has never seen anything like it.

He showed the picture to a select few hunter friends. They suggested that the antler might be a piece of another buck’s antler that became lodged in the deer’s head during a fight.

But Ebeling said he didn’t think so, because three weeks after the camera took the first picture, it recorded another image. It appears to be the same deer because the antler is in the same spot as the first photo.

“If it was something like [a piece of another deer’s antler], it would have been off or turned sideways, because they fight,” he said.

Tim Spierto, senior wildlife biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said he has never seen a deer quite like the one pictured, but he did have a possible explanation for the antler.

“He must have bumped that antler fairly early on in development,” Spierto said, adding that such an injury may have led to the extra antler. “Bumping it or scraping it could cause it to form another antler right at the injury point,” he said.

Spierto said he has seen similar situations. But in those cases, the extra antler formed more in the center of the deer’s head, between its existing antlers.

“We’ve seen antler deformations before,” he said, adding that they’re usually accompanied by another characteristic.

“When I see things like this, I ask if there’s an injury to the opposite hind leg,” Spierto said. “More often than not, I’ll see an archery wound or a broken bone that’s mended. Why it affects antler development, I have no idea why, but it’s one of those weird breaks of nature.”

Unless it’s a genetic flaw, the deer will not have the extra antler when it regrows its rack next year, Spierto said.

That’s assuming the deer makes it through the muzzleloading hunting season, which ends Tuesday, and then through the winter.

“I just wish somebody would shoot it so we’d know what that was,” Ebeling said.


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