Crawlies with Cri: Racksy McCactus Buck

(Courtesy photo for the Illinois Valley News)

Racksy McCactus Buck

Before we delve too deeply into “The Tale of Racksy McCactus” and how his rack has been formed we want to clarify two things:

  1. The pictured buck is not an Oregon resident.
  2. The Illinois Valley News has held the story for a while and will not disclose his location.
    Why the cloak and dagger? Racksy is what’s known as a “cactus buck.” Cactus bucks are a rarity; the majority of those documented are only photographed postmortem and pre-mounted on a lucky hunter’s wall.
    As we’ll soon discuss, Racksy’s life hasn’t been an easy one, but Racksy is a survivor, and we’ll respect his privacy.
    So, what are cactus bucks? They are male deer with funky, chunky, cactus-like antlers that are in a state of eternal velvet.
    Unfortunately for the bucks, the cause of cactus racks is low testosterone. It’s a rough life out there for a buck and any number of things can cause “low T” in deer. One of the most common causes is injury. For example, deer jump a lot of fences; one misstep and it’s “goodbye testicles, hello cactus rack.”
    Sometimes a deer’s testicles simply don’t descend. This is called cryptorchidism and is most often caused by a mother deer’s poor diet while the fawn is still in the womb. Clearly this wasn’t the case for Racksy as his normal length, if velvety, main beams tell us he had a few good years in his youth.
    Another common cause for cactus racks, especially in mule deer, is hemorrhagic disease. Two common ones, epizootic hemorrhagic disease and blutetongue virus made the rounds in Oregon in 2014-15. Both diseases are spread via biting midges and not spread from deer to deer directly.
    Mule deer have a better survival rate from both diseases than other deer species, so there were many cactus bucks to be seen three to five years following the ’14 outbreak.
    Additionally, low-T can be caused by deer diet. Researchers are studying whether certain compounds found in some plants can chemically castrate deer if they eat too much. The same goes for certain types of molds.
    The final possible cause for a cactus rack falls under the “rarest of the rare” category. Occasionally there are hermaphrodite deer (deer born with both male and female sex organs). If these deer grow a rack, it may be perfectly normal, or, their estrogen might take over and put a pause on the velvet shedding producing a cactus rack.
    Why does low-T cause cactus racks? As summer wanes, decreasing photoperiod (the amount of time the deer is exposed to sunlight) causes an increase in testosterone – that is for deer who can produce testosterone. The normal rise in testosterone kicks the velvet shedding into gear. Because cactus bucks have little or no testosterone, there is no signal for the velvet to shed so it doesn’t.
    In spring, testosterone levels drop as the photoperiod increases and a buck’s body knows it’s time to fully shed their antlers. Because a cactus buck never got the “shed the velvet” signal, they likewise don’t get the “drop the antler” signal.
    However, they do get new growth in the form of stunted, velvety spikes around the base of the antlers giving them their “cactus” moniker.
    If you happen to bag a cactus buck, don’t worry, the meat is safe to eat. Even if their low-T was caused by disease, they’ve survived it and the virus is long gone.
    If you see a cactus buck, whether while hunting or hiking, do report the sighting to the local Oregon Department of Wildlife biologist (or if not in Oregon, to the applicable local authority) as it can help wildlife managers track possible areas of disease outbreak (or really sharp fences).