When a Massachusetts hunter shot what he thought was a good-sized buck last weekend, he ended up with the surprise of a lifetime: The 8-pointer that John Burdick shot turned out to be a female deer.

The deer weighed 244 pounds (live weight) and had a field-dressed weight of 185 pounds, according to Monday’s BDN story. Burdick was hunting out of The Rockin P Sporting Lodge.

The state’s deer biologist, Kyle Ravana, said the sheer size of the deer — and the development of its antlers — were more surprising than the fact that a hunter tagged a doe that sported headgear more typical among males.

“It’s really interesting that this deer had hardened antlers, and that it was as big as it was,” Ravana said. “An average-sized adult doe in this state, you’re generally looking at around 115, 120 pounds. This deer, dressed, was 185 pounds. You’re getting up there to [the size of] nice bucks.”

Ravana explained that does with antlers are not all that rare. Does with antlers that have fully developed are much less common.

“Every year we get reports of does with antlers, but generally speaking, they still have velvet on them,” Ravana said. “On average, you’re looking at 1 in 1,000 does [having antlers of some kind].”

With a state deer herd of 200,000 animals, and a ratio of 1.7 does per buck, Ravana said he’d estimate there are about 117 antlered does in Maine.

“There are different theories that scientists think cause antlers to grow in does,” Ravana explained. “Most scientists believe that does have the latent capacity to grow antlers. It’s just that they don’t have the testosterone to initiate antler growth.”

And those that do develop antlers will often have small nubs, or antlers covered in velvet, which consists of living tissue that nourishes the antlers during their growth phase.

“Late in the summer, [deer] start casting off their velvet as the growth stops,” Ravana explained. “All the blood vessels die.”

What is left: Antlers made of hardened bone, just like the Sebec doe had.

Ravana said there are reasons this deer may have grown full, hardened antlers.

“One of the things that crossed my mind [when I heard about the deer], being hardened antlers and being so large in size, is that this might actually be a pseudo-hermaphrodite,” Ravana said. “I didn’t get a look at the deer, but there might have been vestigial testes in the animal. It could have been an actual hermaphroditic deer — an animal having both male and female parts — which would increase the level of testosterone in the animal and initiate the antler growth and the subsequent shedding of the velvet.”

Keef wins ASF award

In my dozen or so years writing about outdoors matters for the BDN, I’ve come across lots of people.

Many of them have been memorable not for the stories they’ve told, but for the way they’ve treated me … and others.

Ralph Keef of Hermon is one of those men — a quiet, classy guy who has been generous with his time and patient with people (like writers) who have a lot left to learn.

On Thursday I was pleased to learn that the Atlantic Salmon Federation had honored Keef with the 2014 Lee Wulff Atlantic Salmon Conservation Award.

Keef, who has been battling some health issues, was not in New York City to receive the award; he’ll be honored locally at a spring salmon dinner.

Keef is a former president of the Maine Council of the ASF, and was always available to pitch in on field activities or offer public testimony on salmon-related matters.

“For more than two decades, Ralph has been an educator, mentor and generous supporter of numerous salmon conservation efforts both in the U.S. and Canada,” Christopher H. Buckley Jr., chairman of the ASF board of directors, said in a news release. “His generous volunteerism is an inspiration to others, particularly fisheries scientists, teachers, children, and his fellow anglers, who appreciate wild Atlantic salmon and the sport of fly fishing.”

It’s an honor long in the making, and Keef is certainly well deserving of the accolade. Congratulations to a great mentor and friend to many.

John Holyoke can be reached at 990-8214 or jholyoke@bangordailynews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...