A trophy whitetail buck shot and killed in Illinois is fathering fawns in Louisiana. A half-dozen does are pregnant because hunter Mike Toney remembered a study done years ago at Louisiana State University, called the researcher and drove all night to get the animal's testicles to him. Though Jesse Saenz is now studying cats for his doctorate, he spent a Sunday in November extracting and freezing deer semen.
A total of 16 does were inseminated with semen collected after the buck's death; six became pregnant and are expected to give birth as early as next week.
Dearl Sanders is resident coordinator at the LSU AgCenter's research station in Clinton, about 30 miles from Baton Rouge. He says there are more uses for the technique than breeding what he calls "deer with big horns" as hunter targets.
"It gives a whole new method of moving deer genetics from the wild into other herds of deer," he said. "Say you found a herd of deer in a state where you can't move the deer -- there are a number of those -- that had an inherent resistance to a disease. This could be a way to move that genetic material to any area of the country."
The fawns in Clinton could become much bigger than Louisiana's average Bambi. Toney said his buck had antlers rated in the "high 200s" on a scale that starts trophy whitetails at 160 points, and thinks his buck weighed about 275 pounds. "Here, a 170, 180-pound deer is pretty big," he said.
There's a thriving market in semen from pedigreed bucks: up to $10,000 for a plastic straw holding half a cubic centimeter, or about one-tenth of a teaspoon. Sanders said he's not planning on semen sales, but LSU lawyers are looking into whether the technique Saenz developed for his master's thesis can be patented and licensed.
Toney almost hadn't gone to the hunting preserve in Vienna, a southern Illinois town about a 580-mile drive from Baton Rouge. His job had kept him from going there with co-workers at Performance Contractors. "About a week later, my boss called and said, 'I arranged it where if you get a chance, you can get up there and go hunting in the next week or two," Toney said.
He went with the thought that if he got a good buck he would get the testicles to LSU, where Saenz's earned his master's degree in 2007 with a thesis about the best techniques for extracting semen from dead bucks. The proof that his techniques worked were three fawns born in June 2006.
Toney didn't see anything the first day of his hunt, a Thursday. The second day, he saw a "nice buck," but the guide told him to wait. About sunset on the third day, a huge buck stepped out near his stand. He shot it and trailed it about 125 feet to the spot where it died. "When I really saw what it was, I said, 'I think I got a friend of mine who could use the semen.'"
Toney called Saenz to ask whether he could use the buck, the deadline for ensuring viable semen and how to pack the testicles for travel.
Once they were in a plastic bag atop a towel folded over ice in a small ice chest, he packed and watched the start of LSU's regular-season football game against Alabama. "I got two presents that day: LSU won," he said. He didn't see the victory. "I fell asleep. When I woke up, I learned they had won," he said. Then he drove 8 hours or so back to Baton Rouge.
Saenz, who was spending weekdays at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans working with cat testicles collected from veterinarians, said he'd expected an afternoon call from Toney, but the phone rang in the morning. He met Toney, picked up the ice chest and took it to an LSU lab in St. Gabriel.
"I processed it, got the sperm out. They were still kicking pretty good," Saenz said.
Then he went to Baton Rouge and Genex Cooperative Inc., a supplier of dairy and cattle semen. Manager James Chenevert and cryotech Jane Laundry loaded the semen into 100 plastic straws and froze them in liquid nitrogen.
"They were able to freeze them for us in a matter of minutes, where if we were to do it by ourselves it would have taken us a couple of hours to freeze the number of straws we had," Saenz said.
Each straw holds enough to inseminate two does, Sanders said.
by Janet McConnaughey