Debbie Pellegrino and her husband, Nick, were about ready to call it an evening while hunting on their property last week when, with shooting light fading fast, Debbie noticed a deer come into view.
“Shoot it,” her husband said as they waited in the blind.
“I was assuming it was just a normal doe; nothing big, nothing too little,” she said. “My husband thought it was small.”
The situation changed dramatically as they walked up on the animal, and it became clear that this was no ordinary deer.
Something was wrong. It was large, with a long body, yet had only some stumpy bone where the antlers should have been.
“It looked like some kind of deformity,” Debbie Pellegrino said. “These were not broken off. They were like little bones, a would-be antler, but it had nubs sticking out of it. Just weird.”
The buck’s left antler almost appeared “melted” into the skull, with only a handful of small protrusions, and was growing in the direction of its ear. The antler on the right side was a short stump, also pointing toward the ear, with fingerlike bumps on it.
Not fully believing what he was seeing, Nick Pellegrino confirmed — by inspecting between the deer’s hind legs — that it was, in fact, a buck.
And what a buck it was.
The Pellegrinos used an old car hood and a four-wheeler to drag the deer out to their vehicle. The antlerless buck caused quite a stir at KC’s Country Store in Parkman, where it tipped the scale at 230 pounds.
“It was crazy when we had it weighed,” Debbie Pellegrino said. “People were coming out of the store to look at it. The neck on the thing was ginormous.”
The mystery of the missing antlers made the scene all the more compelling.
There are a few different possibilities that might explain the deer’s appearance, which was described as “rare” by Nathan Bieber, deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“When you think of antler growth, you’re thinking nutrition, age and genetics mostly,” Bieber said. “At 230 pounds, nutrition and age seem to be unlikely explanations. That would make me lean toward a genetic cause.”
Genetics can affect deer in a variety of ways, including the lack of pigment in the hair that is seen in piebald specimens.
During the winter months, it’s routine to see a male deer without antlers as bucks shed them every year, then grow them back. But during the mating season, when some bucks are sparring by crashing their antlers together in an attempt to establish dominance, it’s almost unheard of.
Debbie Pellegrino wondered whether the deer would have been able to take part in such instinctive activities, since it would not have been able to protect its head without antlers.
“Injuries can mess with antler development as well, but you typically think of malformed antlers in that case rather than severely stunted ones,” Bieber said, “and most often you’ll see impacts to one antler rather than both, in the case of an injury.”
Because the deer did not have at least one antler measuring 3 inches, it is considered an antlerless deer and thus was tagged as such — in spite of the other physical attributes identifying it as a male.
Debbie Pellegrino didn’t start hunting deer until 2006, but she now has family bragging rights. The antlerless buck is the largest deer shot by anyone in their family.
As it turns out, other hunters in the area have had the chance to shoot the same deer, but passed on it, likely believing it was a doe, she said.
“If they shot it and didn’t have a doe tag, I think they’d have some explaining to do,” she said.
Debbie Pellegrino now has a unique hunting story to tell for years to come. To preserve the memory, she is having the deer mounted by Enchanted With Nature Taxidermy Studio so people who visit their home in the future can check out the unusual buck.
Studio owner Jayne Leslie Dyke also performed the taxidermy work on Pellegrino’s first buck, a seven-pointer.
In the meantime, Debbie Pellegrino is back out hunting this fall. Only this time, she’ll have to see antlers before she squeezes the trigger.
“I still can go hunting, but I have to get a buck because I used my antlerless tag,” she said.