Biologists, hunters share interest in 6-legged deer


December 07, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Leon Jude of Laurel has been heading out for opening days of deer hunting seasons for some 20 years, but a week ago Saturday, he admits, he was "kind of hunting blind" when he shot an unusual button buck.

"This is the only one in the country like it," said Jude, a 48-year-old computer analyst with Unisys Corp. "There are deer with one hind leg or an extra appendage, but not another one with six legs."

Jude shot the deer while participating in a special hunt at the Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, and since then, the six-legged whitetail has created quite a stir among hunters and biologists alike, Jude said last week.

"I took it to a taxidermist," said Jude. "But so many people were stopping by to see it, they were driving him crazy. So I had to move it for now."

Biologists at the Patuxent Research Center, which abuts the agricultural center, planned to make a series of X-rays to help determine why the young deer had developed a third pair of legs immediately behind its front shoulders.

"Initially, they said it probably was a twin that never got fully developed," said Jude, who hunts bow, muzzleloader and firearm seasons across the state. "It grew an extra rump and hip bones and legs that were about 1 foot long."

On opening day, Jude said, he was able to hunt the Beltsville tract as a substitute for a friend who could not make it that day.

"I know all about where to place a stand for good deer hunting," said Jude, who has bagged "seven or eight" deer with bow, muzzleloader and firearms this year. "But I had never hunted in this area before, and this time I set the stand at 5 o'clock a.m. in the dark. So I was kind of hunting blind and there was some luck involved in it."

At about 8: 30 a.m. Jude made his shotgun shot at about 50 yards, as the button buck was running with a number of does. He said he set his stand between 15 and 20 feet off the ground.

Jude said he applies for a number of special hunts each year and donates the majority of meat he kills to food banks. Special hunts are often held in areas that are overpopulated with deer but can be hunted only with small groups.

"When you go into some of these suburban areas, where there are only managed [special] hunts allowed," said Jude, "there are so many deer squeezed into a small area that they need to be thinned out. Lack of suitable habitat most likely contributed to this deer's deformity."

Jim Bennett, wildlife manager at the agricultural center, said Friday that while there are large numbers of deer on the property, they are neither starving nor regularly producing deformed offspring.

"There is a definite browse line [upper feeding limit] here. You can see it in the woods," said Bennett. "But this is the incidence of a deformed deer here."

Kim Kaplan of the Agricultural Research Center information office, which has received numerous calls about the deer over the past week, said the deer is "an incomplete twin, like incomplete Siamese twins in a way."

Any species that commonly twins, she said, can produce incomplete twins, and deer often produce twins and triplets.

"It is not that uncommon in animals or humans," said Bennett. "What is most unusual is that it survived past birth and the condition apparently didn't hinder the animal in any way."

Jude said he plans to have a full mount of the deer completed after biologists at the Patuxent and Beltsville centers have completed their tests.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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