Whitetail deer amaze. Just when we think we’ve learned all we can about color phases like albino white deer, non-albino white deer, and piebald deer, along comes one of the rarest of the rare- the melanistic or black deer. A young woman, her husband, and father joined a group of friends for a late season deer hunt in New Jersey and bagged the deer of a lifetime, maybe 1,000 lifetimes. Using a shotgun, she made a perfect shot, dispatching the animal quickly, yet as she approached she was amazed that the animal looked more like an early-season caribou than a whitetail. She contacted the local branch of the Department of Natural Resources who confirmed that it indeed was melanistic and the only one ever recorded in New Jersey. Well done “Hunting Page” fan.
Color Phases in Whitetails
Unique color phases are not that rare in nature. Black bears, for example, are usually black in color in the eastern USA and Canada, yet in Wyoming, Montana, and Western Canada, the color of a bear’s fur varies from blonde, to brown, to chocolate, and about 50 percent of the time, black. As mentioned above, white deer may or may not be albino. A herd of white deer exists in New York where the population multiplies, whereas, albinos occur randomly in nature due to a recessive gene that become dominant. Piebald deer have patches of white, are unusual to see in the deer woods, yet the chances are good that a hunter will see one in his lifetime. Melanistic deer, on the other hand are extremely rare and the only known location is on a few ranches in Texas, yet in numbers so small they aren’t hunted and rarely reproduce.
The Full Story
Gordon Whittington is one of the most knowledgeable editors in the deer hunting industry and has written and edited thousands of articles about whitetail deer. When a man in Pennsylvania killed a buck in Pennsylvania, he researched the circumstance thoroughly and here’s what he found:
In terms of coloration, which whitetails are the rarest of all? Most hunters would claim that distinction belongs to albinos, which lack any pigment in their skin or hair. But as unusual as it is to see a whitetail that’s far too light in color, it’s even less common to see one that’s far too dark.
On the continent as a whole, “melanistic” or “melanic” deer – so named because their bodies produce far too much of the hair, skin and retina pigment known as melanin – are definitely the rarest of the rare. While millions of whitetails have been harvested across the continent in modern times, only a token number of cases of melanism have been documented. In fact, it’s safe to say that most whitetail hunters have never even heard of melanistic deer, much less seen one. For that matter, only a few research biologists ever have observed one in the flesh.
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