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Why So Many Blacktail “Stags”?

hile looking through our trail cameras in a particular area this year, we’ve observed that roughly a third of the blacktail bucks are actually stags. I’ve been told that a parasite causes this and so I am curious what the cause might be. I am also concerned with the prevalence of this condition in this herd. Is this something that can take over a herd? Also, are there any exceptions for taking a mature buck that will never grow a fork? (Ian S.)

Answer: By definition, stags are male deer that most notably exhibit antler abnormalities. This is often due to hormonal changes resulting from testicular damage or caused by a birth defect known as “cryptorchidism.” When the normal production of testosterone is altered or diminished, the antler characteristics may morph to look significantly different from those of normal bucks and the animals’ behavior may never change to take them into the seasonal rut. Stags may remain in velvet and not shed their antlers, or the antlers may become misshapen and grow many points. Some stags never grow any points at all.

Stag, By Carrie Wilson
«Stags are male deer that most notably exhibit antler abnormalities. Often this due to hormonal changes resulting from testicular damage or caused by a birth defect known as “cryptorchidism.” Photo by Carrie Wilson.

We are aware of this occurrence and have been taking reports of bucks with underdeveloped or atrophied testicles, primarily from the northwest region of the state.

Our wildlife veterinarians are collecting and analyzing samples when they get them, but the cause is still undetermined. We really doubt that it’s due to a parasite but our research continues as a definitive cause has yet to be found.

As far as exceptions for the take of one of these stags without a fork, there are none.

Regulations require bucks to have a forked horn or better, and there are no exceptions when filling a buck tag.

Miss Peep is still in my pool and won’t leave
Question: I live in Riverside and rent a house with a pool that a mommy duck and her three ducklings have also been enjoying. I left them alone to do their own thing so that they would hopefully move on when ready. Unfortunately, one disappeared and one drowned even though I put a ramp at the steps of the pool. One duckling (Miss Peep) has survived and grown a lot. Mother duck flew away about two weeks ago but Miss Peep is still hanging out.

My dilemma is the owner of the house is opposed to her staying here and so has instructed the pool guy to “add something” to the water that the pool guy said will make her sink, or possibly drown. I’m very upset by this but am not certain she can fly away yet. She’s about 10-11 weeks old and I’ve never even seen her try. I really want to see her survive and fly away as she is intended. Food is plentiful, with an abundance of crickets in my yard.

Is it illegal to use something in the pool that can harm the duck? We have told the pool guy that she is a protected animal and to not disturb her. Last week my son saw him spraying pool water at her, perhaps as a joke, but it isn’t funny to me. What can I do to protect this little duck and get her off on the right feathered flight? (Dawn F., Riverside)

Answer: The little duck should be nearly ready to fly. The general rule is around 60 days to flight. If the little duck feels safe in your yard with the pool and it has plenty of food, it may not be motivated to fly off right away. Your best course of action would probably be to contact a nearby wildlife rehabilitator near you to ask for assistance.

For a list of approved and licensed rehab facilities, please click here. Good luck with Miss Peep!

Octopus fishing with PVC tubes?
Question: I’m curious about octopus fishing. I know they are considered mollusks without shells and the only permitted methods of take listed are hook and line and by hand. Are there any other more detailed restrictions I should be aware of regarding octopus? Is the use of scuba permitted? I’ve read about setting out sections of PVC tubes in sandy areas between reefs as a sort of trap. Would it be legal to set these out and then either freedive or scuba down and grab the octopus out of them by hand? (Michael S.)

Answer: You may either freedive or use scuba to take octopus by hand. However, don’t set out any PVC tubes. These would be considered a trap and cannot be used to take octopus.

Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at
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