Fangs on a whitetail? Yes, both whitetails and mule deer can sometimes grow small, upper canine teeth. I was aware of this rare phenomenon in deer, but I got some hands-on experience in fall 2022 when I killed a buck with canine fangs.
My Birthday Buck With Fangs
I was blessed to have a birthday in late September, which allows me the opportunity to give myself the present of being in a treestand with my bow to celebrate another trip around the sun. In 2022, I was blessed with an even greater gift when a 3½-year-old buck came into range. He offered a beautiful 15-yard broadside shot.
I decided I wanted to try my hand at a European skull mount on my birthday buck, but little did I know that this buck was going to be the gift that kept on giving! As I skinned the deer to start processing the meat, I found where someone had shot this buck with a .22, and the bullet was lodged in the deer’s shoulder. Then, when I skinned the head out for the European skull mount, I found something even cooler… an upper canine tooth! I had seen pictures and knew it was possible to find them in whitetails, but I had never seen real ones, let alone harvested a deer with them. The other crazy thing was, my birthday buck only had one of these little fangs and not two, as a pair of fangs is more the norm.
Research has shown that these little peg-like teeth, or fangs, usually are less than ½ an inch long no matter the age of the deer. Most of the time these teeth don’t even break through the gumline, as was the case with my birthday buck. With the increased demand for European skull mounts, taxidermists and hunters like myself who prepare their own mounts are starting to find deer with upper canines more often than in the past.
Fangs Instead of Antlers?
It is believed that the ancient ancestors of whitetails and mule deer had long, sharp, curved fangs, or tusks, instead of antlers. They used these teeth for protection, mating purposes, and possibly to even eat meat. Eventually, these fangs regressed for most of the deer species and some developed antlers instead. Some species of deer today can still display both fangs and antlers, like muntjacs, and to a lesser extent, whitetails and mule deer.
As Kip Adams explained in a 2016 article, estimates of the rarity of upper canine teeth in whitetails are all over the place, with some estimating only one in every 10,000 to 20,000 animals. Other estimates claim that less than 1% of the whitetail population has upper canines and the frequency increases from North to South with Central American whitetails having a higher prevalence rate.
There is very little scientific information available on the occurrence of upper canines in whitetails, let alone whether they are more prevalent in bucks or does. They may be similarly rare between the sexes or be more common in does but not frequently noticed since most hunters aren’t getting European skull mounts on does like they do on bucks. Given the ancestral history of upper canines occurring in both males and females, they could likely occur at a similar rate in both sexes.
Many taxidermists have never seen upper canines in whitetails, while others may find one every year. Hunters may never harvest a deer with upper canines or they might get a lucky gift like I did on my birthday buck! Who knows the number of deer that have been harvested that may have had these cool little fangs without anyone ever knowing! We definitely need to start looking a little closer from now on!