Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment?

Posted by: Patrick Durkin on May 12, 2014

If anyone wanted to see a dead idea in search of a grave, all they had to do was read Question 35 at Wisconsin’s statewide fish and wildlife hearings in April. It asked if white or albino deer should be legal quarry for Wisconsin hunters. Currently, albinos (pink eyes and pure white from hoofs to ears), and “white” deer are protected statewide. What constitutes a “white” deer? By Wisconsin rule, a white-phase deer is protected even if it has one or more dark spots on its head, hoofs, nose, eyes or tarsal glands. But if it’s completely white except for even one dark hair patch on its neck or body, it’s fair game.

An Albino Deer

This large albino white-tailed buck was photographed in Wisconsin’s Buffalo County about 10 years ago. Photo courtesy of Tom Indrebo.

Personally, I can’t grasp why we make albinos sacred and untouchable. Further, it seems silly to protect white deer based on the location of dark fur, eye color and hoof markings. Besides, by granting protection based on beauty, we imply we should only hunt and eat ordinary or ugly animals. That not only sounds elitist, it’s beyond subjective. No matter. Even if objective, practical arguments had prevailed during the April hearings and the vote had been 99-1 to lift such protections, no lawmaker would have been foolish enough to write a bill to make it so.

This issue echoes the absurdity of Wisconsin’s 2005 spring hearings when the Wisconsin Conservation Congress – the state’s 360-citizen group that advises the Department of Natural Resources’ governing board – asked if we should let hunters shoot feral cats. Yes, stray cats probably kill too many songbirds, but no lawmaker wanted to be called a cat-murderer and get chased through the Capitol by litters of hissing, clawing cat-lovers. That’s why we never heard another word about feral cats after the 2005 hearings, despite a 57-43 vote favoring frontier justice for rogue felines.

One irony about such issues is that people agree these aren’t biological matters, but then they tout biological arguments to justify their views. For instance, those who favor ending albino protections often claim albinos can’t blend into the woods like normal deer, which leaves them susceptible to predators. Further, their pink eyes are sensitive to light, which can hinder vision. Meanwhile, opponents claim white deer in Northern winters are less susceptible to predation because they blend into snowy backgrounds, and note white deer usually have normal eyes. Hmm. Although neither party cites supporting research for those claims, both assumptions make sense. But so what? Albinism and leucism occur in less than 1 percent of deer, and recessive genes causing the conditions can be carried by normal deer. Therefore, shooting or sparing individual rarities has little or no impact on the herd, its genetics or the number of albino and white deer to come. If nature hasn’t increased or eliminated such genes in whitetails the past 3 to 4 million years, why would one state’s trivial laws from 1940 change things? Likewise, with traits so rare, why argue that protecting albinos and white deer could hasten the spread of chronic wasting disease – one of the main arguments to end the prohibition? Even if every pale-haired deer in diseased areas had CWD, they’d be the least of our problems, given increasingly scary disease rates in normal deer.

An Albino Deer

A mounted “white buck” on display at the 2014 Deer & Turkey Expo in Madison, Wis.

Albino/white-deer worshipers, meanwhile, think rarity and good looks are trumping arguments. Fine, but don’t pretend that’s science. Just admit it’s a personal opinion, and that beauty breeds affection and connection. If communities could put ribbons, scarves, ID tags and rhinestone collars on wild deer, and name them “Bucky,” “Plucky” and “Petunia,” they’d protect them just as personally and passionately.

Even so, it’s fair to note that albinism and white rarities inspire spiritual connections in some cultures. A white buffalo, for instance, holds deep meaning for the Lakota Sioux, and Fox tribes in Wisconsin had a White Buffalo Dance. More recently, thousands have visited a farm near Janesville, Wisconsin, where three white buffalo were born from 1994 to 2006. For other people white deer mean good luck, and for still others, a source of humor. Comedian Bob Newhart explored the subject on his “Newhart” show in the late 1980s. Newhart’s character, Dick Loudon, hit and killed “The Great White Buck” while driving home. The townies were furious, fretting that the buck’s death cursed their town. The rubes demanded Dick perform “The Rite of the Dancing Wood Nymph.” He thought it silly and shouted, “I’m not going to go prancing through the woods like a pixie.” But as bad luck beset the town, Dick relented. He donned a burlap costume and deer antlers, held a staff topped by a pine cone, and tip-toed in a circle while kicking up his hoofs.

An Albino Deer

An albino deer feeds near a barn in central Wisconsin.

Of course, when the town reviewed the ritual’s videotape, they spotted “Son of White Buck” in the background. Good fortune returned, but Dick’s humiliation remained. Question 35, of course, didn’t go anywhere during the hearings. Attendees rejected the idea, 3,939 to 1,915 (a 67-33 percentage), clearly showing hunters and nonhunters alike opposed the idea, even if some of us think otherwise. Still, it might have been fun had the idea passed. The antics that followed might have inspired some wood-nymph rites worth filming.

Patrick Durkin

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15 Comments on "Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment?"

Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
If you're willing to deal with the karmic consequences (read curse) of killing an albino, more power to you. I would never let it fly however.
Posted by yinzerr on 5/14/2014 12:22:40 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
I have recently got an albino on my trail camera - The landowners do not want me to shoot it, so I abide by their rules. However, if it were my land I would likely take the shot given the chance. I see nothing sacred about them, just another deer.
Posted by Jake on 5/14/2014 2:24:33 PM
Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
Albino deer are JUST normal deer without pigment color and Piebald deer are just missing some pigment, so YES shoot them. They do not deserve special treatment and here in Ohio I would defiantly shoot one!
Posted by Evil in Madison Ohio on 5/15/2014 3:14:24 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
here in Ontario I personally have never seen an albino or red eyed deer but, the fact of the matter is I hunt for food and im pretty sure it would taste the same as a normal looking white tail.
Posted by chris on 5/15/2014 4:32:57 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
so what happens in WI when if I shoot a deer that unbeknownst to me has a white spot on the opposite (unseen) side of his head? Am I a poacher? I'm supposed to wait for "the buck of a lifetime" to turn his head for me so I can double check his other cheek before I let one fly? That's insane.
Posted by E on 5/15/2014 7:34:51 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
No not really , but as a hunter my self I would probably pass on one , but that's just me
Posted by Don on 5/15/2014 11:13:50 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
I think that they should just have a limited tags for wight deer they are just like any pther deer bit at the same time I would love to c one in my life time and for my baby to c one if eveveryone shoots them and the gean is killed they will all be gone
Posted by bo on 5/16/2014 1:35:10 AM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
Leave me alone
Posted by White Deer on 5/16/2014 4:06:13 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
Some people will shoot anything just to shoot it. I have hunted for 40 years and have never seen one. I consider them special. The only thing you should shoot them with is a camera.
Posted by Joanie Gerow on 5/21/2014 2:26:07 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
All I can do is laugh. Has racism spilled over into the deer hunting world? Really people, white vs. brown? Were are all God's creatures. LOL.
Posted by typically8 on 5/22/2014 11:13:37 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
The hunter side of me says "hell ya" shoot'em. However, the story or myth of taking a sacred animal out weighs my primal side. They are "odd" and oddly beautiful animals, that i would really want on my wall, but could not bare the idea of killing a myth (spirit). call it dumb, stupid, etc. there are plenty other deer to harvest. Leave the Special ones alone for all of our kids to hear and see the myth or spirit. God, gave us them all to harvest, but the idea of the white deer being spirits of great hunters of the past means more to me than putting one on my wall. Tell you kids the story, and if you don't know it look it up or tell your own story to your child, that will mean more to them "forever" that hanging it on the wall. At some point there will be a women in there lives telling them to hang it in the garage or basement and soon it will be in the garbage. So, do our young hunters a favor and tell the mythical story, and hunt the other normal deer. you will feel better that you
Posted by Duffy Altermatt on 5/28/2014 11:29:52 AM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
Piebalds are legal to shoot in Wisconsin. Even though the word piebald conjures up images of “pinto” horses or animals with large splotches of color, current Wisconsin law takes the definition of piebald to an extreme. If there is even a tiny spot of brown on the animal’s body (with a few exceptions–see below), the deer is considered a piebald and is totally legal to hunt anywhere in the state. According to the Warden Wire (Wisconsin DNR/Bureau of Law Enforcement): “Outside of the CWD MZ (management zone), a deer that has some brown hair, even if only a small patch, on any part of the body that is not part of the head, hooves, or tarsal glands, is not protected and may be harvested, tagged and registered by a hunter if they have a valid tag for that type of deer (buck or antlerless deer).”
Posted by JH45gun on 5/28/2014 2:30:43 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
Its a deer. Probably taste just as good as a brown deer. I'd shoot it in a heart beat
Posted by Keith on 5/30/2014 4:13:03 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
I think they are majestic, all the more reason for me to crave putting it down before a bigger deer to call a trophy. But they are really rare as I've seen hundreds of deer and never seen an albino deer in kentucky. I'd want to put an arrow into it and keep its hide as a trophy, but I might pass on it depending on the moment because it's pretty much the unicorn of deer, which is probably how the bad luck thing came about anyways, people are always misconstruing things and making one thing about another thing.
Posted by Tony on 6/18/2014 10:47:07 PM
Re: Do White Deer Deserve Special Treatment? #
I have no issue with taking a white deer. But I live in a unique area. I see white deer all of the time as we have the largest herd of white deer in the world and they are all wild non- captive deer. The majority of the deer live within a former military base but many of them are located outside the former base and are still very hard to harvest even though you would think they are easy targets. Usually only one or two people harvest one even though there are many of them around. I know that most people do not see these type of deer ever but I live where they are abundant. For those that are wondering if they taste any different I will a test to the fact that they don't.
Posted by Sffd5 on 7/2/2014 12:04:18 PM

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