Weird Whitetail Buck Had a Mane!

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When I opened an e-mail from QDMA member Tony Smith of Wisconsin, I learned something new about whitetails: very rarely they grow manes of short, bristly hair on the backs of their necks.

The photos above and below show a buck that Tony and his son Elliott named “Righty.” They photographed him in 2012 and 2013 on their Buffalo County hunting land, and then Elliott was fortunate to kill Righty during the rut in 2013.

Here are a couple of close-ups from two different angles showing the strange ridge of hair standing along the buck’s neck.

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Here is another interesting view of the buck’s mane. In these two photos, taken as a series only 3 seconds apart, the mane appears to be standing up straighter in the second shot. Whether this is because the wind is blowing or the buck could “bristle” to make the hairs stand on end, I don’t know.

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These photos prompted me to dig for information on other whitetails with manes. On rare occasions, ancient genetic traits sometimes resurface in modern whitetails, revealing ancestral ties to other species of deer. For example, today’s Chinese water deer have prominent canine fangs, strangely enough, and the rare whitetail will be born with tiny canines, revealing the shared ancestry between the two species. Red deer stags of Europe and Asia grow shaggy manes on their necks during the rut, so I assumed the strange tuft of hair on Righty’s neck might be a genetic throwback to some common ancestor of whitetails and red deer.

In my digging, I found a mention of whitetail manes in a book by Michigan deer researcher John Ozoga, titled Whitetail Intrigue: Scientific Insights for White-Tailed Deer Hunters, published in 2000 by Krause. In the book, John cited documented examples of deer with short, stiff manes found in New York, Wisconsin, Tennessee, “and a surprisingly frequent number from Indiana.” He quoted another biologist, William Ishmael of Wisconsin, who suggested what I guessed, that manes are ancestral leftovers hidden away in whitetail DNA as recessive genes. John wrote: “A mane only surfaces, Ishmael believes, when the same recessive gene(s) is paired with a similar gene from another deer, making manes incredibly rare.”

Here’s one more interesting piece of evidence I came across: a trail-camera video on YouTube showing a doe with mane just like Righty’s.

As I mentioned, Elliott Smith killed Righty last year, and he’s still waiting to get him back from the taxidermist. We’ll have photos of the mounted buck in Quality Whitetails magazine once they become available. To start receiving our magazine, join QDMA today.

And if you’ve encountered a whitetail with a mane, let us know in the Comment section below, and include your location.


About Lindsay Thomas Jr.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is the editor of Quality Whitetails magazine, the journal of QDMA, and he is QDMA's Director of Communications. He has been a member of the QDMA staff since 2003. Prior to joining the staff of QDMA, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.