By Al Wolter
On opening weekend of the 2009 Minnesota firearms season, Al Ladd of Hinckley, Minn., was sitting in a stand he hadn’t used for 11 years. He was usually the dog on this particular swamp drive.
Five deer broke out of the trees, “really moving,” he said. The last deer was an 8-pointer that he promptly nailed with his trusty Winchester Model 70 .243.
While he and his brother, Merlin, were loading the buck into Al’s pick-up, they decided to age it. Prying open its mouth to check the molars for wear, he noticed two unusual protuberances poking through the upper front gum line.
To the astonishment of his brother, Al announced, “This buck has fangs!”
The vestigial fangs were quite small, but became more prominent and noticeable as Al prepared the skull and antlers for a European mount.
Biologists say the fangs, called maxillary canines, harken back eons to a time when a common ancestor to the modern whitetail sported much larger and longer “stabbing teeth.”
They are caused by a recessive gene that goes back to a common ancestor of the modern whitetail. The oddity, they say, occurs in roughly one in every 1,000,000 deer. Inconclusive research hints at this peculiarity occurring more often in the southern deer herd. Still to be discovered is whether both bucks and does carry this gene. Today, an Asian deer called the Chinese Water Deer still carries those tusk-like teeth.
Ladd believes that overlooking these canines would be easy to do. Unless they break through the gum line or the skull is prepared for a European style mount, a hunter might never notice them.
When it comes to whitetails, there are many oddities, such as does with antlers, piebalds, albinos, melanistic (black phase deer), and deer with grossly non-typical antlers. Al Ladd has them all beat with his buck — not of a lifetime, but of umpteen lifetimes!
--Photo by Holly Ladd