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Rarest Whitetails Of All?

by Gordon Whittington   |  September 22nd, 2010 58

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.

 

Among those who have are Dr. John T. Baccus and John C. Posey of Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. Their school’s location between San Antonio and Austin gives them handy access to melanistic whitetails for research, for as it turns out, most of the world’s supply of these animals lives within an hour’s drive of the campus.

 

The eastern edge of Texas’ Edwards Plateau region and adjacent areas of the Blackland Prairie region are the epicenter of the world’s population of melanistic whitetails, for reasons not well understood even by the two researchers. In going over the scientific literature, Baccus and Posey have been unable to find any record of melanistic deer being documented anywhere prior to 1929.

 

The odd “black” deer has shown up here and there, from the East Coast to the Great Lakes to the northern Rockies. In fact, below you’ll find a photo of a striking melanistic 8-pointer shot in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2002. But it’s safe to say that at any given time, there are now more melanistic whitetails alive in Central Texas than in every other part of the planet combined. Melanism is actually fairly common in all or parts of eight counties: Hays, Travis, Comal, Williamson, Blanco, Guadalupe, Burnet and Caldwell.

 

 

Andrew Hargrove shot this rare melanistic buck in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 2002. The only white on the deer is the underside of the tail. Taxidermist Don Bennett currently is working on a full-body mount of the unique trophy. Look for the full story in a future issue of our magazine. Photo by Roger Hayslip.

Why would this be the case? The researchers admit that they aren’t sure, but they say the mutation likely has been perpetuated because it offers a survival advantage. Melanistic deer are concentrated along the region’s drainages, where cover is thick and a dark-colored prey animal would have an edge in avoiding detection. This trait also would serve them well in the upland juniper thickets found in the same part of Texas.

 

The biologists say that they don’t know if the circumstances that produced this genetic trait are even still in existence. Nor, for that matter, does anyone know if a single gene is responsible. Regardless, the trait seems to be in no eminent danger of disappearing.

 

By no means are all deer with melanistic traits totally black. Indeed, there’s a wide range of shades, with some being quite black and others being more of a dirty brown or dark gray. This has led some biologists to wonder if a single gene controls hair color or if instead multiple genes combine in a variety of ways to display a wide range of forms.

 

There’s no middle ground with albinism; a deer either does turn out to be an albino or doesn’t. But the same can’t be said of melanism. According to the SWTSU researchers, some deer are semi-melanistic, meaning they display coloration and markings somewhere between those of normal and melanistic specimens. Semi-melanistic deer have the dark overall coloration of melanistic deer but retain the white areas of normally colored deer.

 

Melanism is easily seen even in fawns, as those with too much pigment are sepia, seal brown or dark gray. Only rarely do they have spots of the sort seen on normally colored fawns; most have only traces of spots or none at all.

 

Albinism is a recessive trait, and current thinking is that melanism is recessive as well. What leads researchers to draw this conclusion is that dark fawns often are born to does of normal coloration, and vice versa. Indeed, as with albino and piebald fawns, does sometimes bear one fawn normal in coloration and one abnormal in coloration.

 

 

Bobbie Fain took this “black” buck in Dimmit County, Texas. Most melanistic deer live in Texas, with the highest number being around 150 miles northeast of this ranch. Photo by Gordon Whittington.

None of the research done to date suggests that melanistic bucks have inferior antlers. The velvet on their racks tends to be brownish, but the SWTSU researchers note that they have seen one melanistic buck with gray velvet.

 

Given the rarity of melanism in whitetails on a continental basis, you might be wondering if it’s possible to gain hunting access to these strange deer on any of the Texas lands where they thrive. Unfortunately, there are at present no public hunting opportunities for melanistic deer, as most of the animals live on large, leased ranches with tightly controlled access.

 

Nor are any outfitters currently advertising hunts for these unique animals. (Bobbie Fain did shoot a big semi-melanistic whitetail on a guided hunt at Rancho Encantado in Dimmit County in 1997. However, this ranch lies far outside the normal area for melanism, and Bobbie’s trophy appears to have been an isolated case. Ranch owner Jack Brittingham says he’s seen no other “dark” deer on the property since he began managing the land in the early 1990s, though he recalls having observed some deer of “toffee” color.)

 

Melanistic whitetails make beautiful mounts, and they definitely rank among the rarest of all deer trophies. But unless the animals become far more widespread than is currently the case, anyone wanting to admire a black whitetail probably will have no choice but to do so through photos.

  • Jan Friedlander

    Do they stay black?

  • Gordon Whittington

    It's a genetic trait, so it's permanent for the life of the animal…same as albinism and piebaldism are permanent.

  • william steen

    just happened to shoot a six point last sunday morning—thought it was an exotic until we started researching it a little more.

    • mommalina

      And you’re proud of that?!

  • Sassy

    I was driving home last week Traveling South on Route 219.. From Williamsville to Springville NY when I seen a Very Large Black Buck Crossing 4 Lanes I slammed on My brakes.. and couldnt believe what I had just seen… I told my husband and a few other hunters and I was laughed at… It really hurt my feelings… So I started to research on the internet and learned it is "Very Rare" So I will forgive him and his Hunting friends for laughing at me… But I had the last laugh when I found this site and others and called him to the computer to show him that I wasnt losing my mind… I Know what I saw!!! He brushed it off and said… "I never doubted you, I have just never heard of them or seen one" Whatever,, I just hate the fact that I had to try and defend myself… as I was being laughed at… I bet he wont admit it to his friends that they do exists…

  • Greg Willis

    I harvested a Melanistic Whitetail buck the scored 133 1/8 on Nov 27,2011. I have seen 2 Melanistic bucks and 1 Doe this season and I live just 20 minutes southeast of the collage in San Marcos Texas. It's not the biggest deer that I have taken but it's one that I will never forget.

    • mommalina

      I hope you won’t forget because if guys like you keep “harvesting” them, the memory will be the only thing left of them.

      • Roy Montgomery

        Melanistic deer will be around as long as there are deer. They can carry the gene and not show the signs. Thus killing any deer could be preventing a Melanistic deer from being born. It is a gene. Just like the X and Y in humans. If two deer that have he gene breed they can (but but may not always) produce a Melanistic deer. If one parent has the gene and not the other then they will NOT produce a Melanistic offspring. That is why they are so rare. Killing one only reduces the population by that one. To stop the completely and make them extinct you would have to kill ALL deer. Look at it like this. The deer WILL die. If it is allowed to live and die naturally it may be seen by someone and enjoyed by that person. If not it will die and serve no purpose. If a hunter kills it and makes a trophy from it, the trophy will be around forever and enjoyed by all who see it and the meat eaten and utilized for the purpose (as stated in the bible) they were put on this earth to begin with. I have never seen one and I have only seen an albino in a museum. I see no problem with killing the animal, eating the meat and preserving the animal for decades into the future vs letting it die and rot in the woods. Remember ALL animals were put on this earth to serve man and be a benefit to man. This is the natural order of things since Adam. If they live in the wild and die in the wild they serve no one.

        • mommalina

          Thanks, Roy, for a different perspective.

          • Roy Montgomery

            No problem. I am an avid hunter and I love the outdoors. I only shoot what I eat and I respect the wildlife for what they are. I do not break the law or participate in any illegal activity. I love nature and the time I spend in the woods is when I feel the closest to God and the most happy and content. I shoot two or three deer and hogs a year and I take thousands of photos. I have 4 deer head mounts and love showing them to my friends and remembering the time I spend in the woods hunting for them and telling the stories. I hope this does not offend you but I wanted to show you a beautiful tribute to one of God’s creatures that will bring enjoyment to many people for several years to come. To me it would be a shame for such a beautiful creature to die and rot in the woods unappreciated.

    • George

      You look odd…like to see you on the wall..

  • pageman

    im in page county va i have never heard of Melanistic whitails before my friend went to texas and took pics. amazing aaimals

  • onehpa

    I had a fawn with faint spots pass me this morning during muzzleloading season in Ohio.

  • s Hardwick

    At least one in our neighborhood in New Braunfels, just south of San Marcos. Stands out in the group of 15-20 or so traipsing through our yards.

  • david welch

    I have several photos of a melanistic whitetail buck i killed in cadwell co. He is really dark and not a bad rack for cadwell co. killed in nov. 2007. If you would like to see photos or would like to put on web. page e-mail me @ m.welch10@yahoo.com

    • mommalina

      A live specimen would be much more valuable!

  • david

    Ment to write editor of web page. If you like some photos of a melanistic buck killed in Cawell Co. Tx nov. 2007. Let me know, he is very dark and photos would be a great additiion to the site.

    thanks

  • Lorna

    Umm, if they're that rare, why the heck are you shooting them??? Just a though – but probably one you've never had.

    • mommalina

      Yes, Lorna. I can’t figure that out either.

  • Ricky Fryer

    I am a Texas deer breeder and currently have a 10 month old melonistic buck fawn. He was born (coal black with only white under his tail and nickle size spots between his toes) at my facility in June of 2011.My wife and I named him "BB" short for Black Beauty. He sustained a back injury at birth and we had surgery performed at large animal hospital Texas A&M . The surgery was somewhat successful and he went thru several weeks of theropy but unfortunately has never been able to walk. BB was bottle fed and has been raised pretty much indoors.I designed and built a walker/stand for him so that he doesnt lay on ground or floor all the time. He is very healthy and will give lots of kisses if you choose to let him. BB is for sale and would make someone a one of a kind live Trophy. We have also considered selling semen straws when he is old enough to collect. For those who are interested you can contact me at 361-384-1900 or e-mail rdfryer1958@aol.com Please only serious inquiries.

    • BuB Lewis

      Rick,
      Before selling this rare buck in breeding condition or it's semen consider the the old addage, "ITS NOT GOOD TO MESS WITH MOTHER NATURE". You have allready saved it's life after a birth, for what ever reason, it should not have survived. Look back in history of other good intentions and the havoc they have caused.

  • BuB Lewis

    7-21-12. This morning, in Burnet County, TX.,while taking my lady friend to work, she claimed to have seen a black deer. I turned around and went back expecting to see an exotic or a goat. To our surprise the black animal was still grazing where she saw it. It had it's head down in the tall brush, its body, rump, and tail was jet black and very shinny. It lifted it's head, which was also jet black, and it was very plain that it was a black whitetail doe. It was in a game fenced pasture of a ranch that is for sale and very little activity from the looks of the pasture lands. The brush and trees are thick and plentiful making for an ideal habitat for game, I worked for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1960s, in New Mexico and Arizona, and have seen and studied many of the rare and endangered species in there native habitate. After reading the above article I feel very fortunate to have seen one more wonder of nature. I only wish I could have gotten a picture to display as a trophy of the "Rarest of the Rare" in Whitetails.

    • mommalina

      God bless you for not wanting a “real” trophy.

  • Shawn

    9-12-12 Dad & I saw a black deer while sitting on the deck tonight..in Ohio! After researching, I believe we may have seen a melanistic deer!!

  • Brian

    Was playing golf yesterday (10/6/12) at Onion Creek Country Club in south Austin when I saw a young buck (2 1/2 to 3 1/2) that was solid black. Like on many golf courses the deer are pretty comfortable around people and he walked within 30 yards of me and I didn't know what the hell was going on. At first I thought he was some kind of exotic that had escaped from a game ranch. Just wish I would've tried to get to cart to get my phone so I could get picture. This one was bigger and blacker than all of the google images I've seen.

  • Len Rui

    If you ever see an all-white deer in the woods, you will be very lucky. These deer, called albino whitetails, are quite rare. They come in all shades of brown and beige, but tend to be reddish in the summer and gray in the winter. – Texas Lending

  • Jim

    I started hunting in Indiana in 1964 .I no longer hurt but my wife & I enjoy walks in the woods & etc.We live in the city but we have some fields and patchy woods behind us.I 've had the privilege of seeing alot of wildlife in the wild while hunting and even a white possium under our bird feeder,which I have pictures of.Recently we were planting some trees in the field behind us one evening when my wife told me there was a deer behind me(Buck 8 or 10).She made a comment about how dark it was but it was close to dark, but now I'am wondering.Then today(10/28/12)we took a walk back in the fields & we saw a young deer, more than a fawn ,very lite tan in color with lots of white baseball size spots,unusual for this time of year ? We watch the young deer run off and we could still see the spots very clearly for 80 + yards.(Comments please)

  • eddie lopez

    i just saw a black whitetail deer in back of my house 11-10-12 and have pictures to prove it nice 6 or 8 point buck. could not believe my eyes how beautiful this deer is. deer was 20 yard away.

  • W.J. Logan

    Bethesda, MD..
    I was amazed when I saw a black deer in my yard…we're open to Rock Creek Park and often have wildlife browsing the area, but this is certainly a first! It disappeared into a space that seems to be a pathway and I went about my own business.
    Shortly…I checked again and there it was…full grown and quite beautiful! Dark black atop the back, softer gray over most of the body…..awesome!!

  • cory

    I saw a black doe about a year ago on my way home from work and people thought I was crazy when I told them. I did some some research(google) on black whitetails and that is the first I'd heard of melanistic deer.

  • Tony G

    i live in central Pa and i been watching a Black Doe and a Small 8pt that are solid black with a white underneath the tail.
    our 2nd season archery season comes back in 12-26-12 and you better beleive i will be hot on there trail…..

    • mommalina

      Why must you kill such rare creatures? Don’t you know they belong to a herd of rare animals?

      • Hunter (that’s my real name)

        Give it up lady. I killed an albino this year ;)

        • mommalina

          Why?

          • lele

            Because he can,

  • Bob

    I have one that comes in my back yard every night he's just a little spike and live in Kyle tx right out side of san Marcos and Austin

    • mommalina

      Better put up NO HUNTING signs. Dakota might come to get one for his?her? wall!

  • Cassandra

    I have three that i see pretty reguarly at my home here in Georgia. They are beautiful.

  • jack bosse

    i like to by a black whitetails deer for breading my phone number 1-506-353-0091

    • mommalina

      Rare animals should not be BRED unless it is to preserve the species. Let nature take its course!

  • dakota duncan

    i was hunting hear in ga and i just happend to look up arcoss a oak flatand 2 big doe came out thin i saw what at first i thought was a small cow come out but it was a small black deer it has ben 2 years since i seen it but i still have hope that it is still alive and well mabby one day it will hang on the wall .

    • mommalina

      Why would you want to kill such a rare animal?

  • mommalina

    If these deer are as rare as you say, why are they allowed to be killed in order to hang on some hunter’s wall? Shooting one of these deer should be against the law!

    • Dasherd1

      you cannot prohibit the hunting of an animal based simply on its physical characteristics. It is still a whitetail deer. To make a law saying “hunters may take one whitetail deer per year, unless it is black, white, or has an abnormal colour” would be ridiculous. That is like saying you can shoot five Canada geese per year, except for ones that look different than the others.

    • Roy Montgomery

      Rare does not always mean it should not be hunted or that is is headed toward extinction. As in albino deer these deer require both mother and father to have the gene in order to produce a Melanistic whitetail. It is not a special deer only an unusual deer. Only the color makes it different from other deer. http://pubstorage.sdstate.edu/wfs/545-W.pdf

  • Dasherd1

    mommalina makes no sense… “Protect the melanistic gene”…. but “DO NOT breed it”…. is it the hunting of melanistic animals that bothers her, or hunting/ animal farming in general? They are not a subspecies, therefore protecting them will not really help keep them around… it is a gene mutation that creates them. It is not like killing an endangered species. Once a species is gone, they can never reproduce, because there are no parents left to do so. For example, if there are 2 mule deer left in the world, and they die, there will never again be another mule deer. However, with a gene mutation, you are probably just as likely to get a melanistic fawn from normal whitetail parents as regular genes for pigment mutate, and get information causing them to create too much pigment. Therefore, in theory, all melanistic deer in the world could be killed, and there would still be the gene mutations, creating more melanistic deer. So, to each their own… if you are hunting and see one, and don’t shoot it, good for you! If you are hunting and see one, and shoot it… good for you! A deer does not have a very long life expectancy in the wild , especially mutated ones (black does not make very good camoflauge in the brown or green fields, making them easier targets for coyotes and wolves) so in five or six years, it could quite likely be dead. So, a hunter can take it, get it mounted, and have tangible memories of the beautiful creature for a lifetime, or it can be eaten by wild predators, and forgotten…

    • mommalina

      Why can’t there be a law that prohibits killing a black(melanistic) deer?

    • mommalina

      It’s my understanding that melanistic deer are a subspecies whose dark color is a recessive trait. i.e. Both parents must have the recessive gene. Where did you hear that melanistic deer were not a subspecies? I’d like to read it.

      • dasherd1

        there is plenty of science stating melamism as a mutation. It is not simply a mutation, as yes, it can be transferred genetically as is seen in the Texas population. However, to say melanism in deer is due to it being a subspecies is not true. Otherwise, it would make no sense that deer can randomly show up as melanistic in areas with no prior history, the same as albinos can show up randomly. No one looks at an albino in the wild, and says that there must be an albino subspecies. It is simply a mutated (or in some cases, yes, genetic) gene. Other animals can also be melanism, and they are not generally considered to be a subspecies, ie squirrels. Trophy hunting is about the taking of a trophy. This does not always mean a big buck… In a draw only area with relatively few deer, the trophy is simply taking a deer. In an area with only 4×4 bucks, the trophy is taking a 5×5. In an area with only clean typicals, a trophy is taking a non-typical. (of course, a trophy is also simply something you are proud to have hunted, and could be a spike buck, simply because you harvested the animal.) Therefore, a melanistic may be legitimately considered a true trophy. To instate a law stating the prohibition of shooting a melanistic deer would be robbing the hunter of the chance to get what they consider a trophy. I recognize this is a flawed logic in the case of subspecies or species, because once all the, say moose, are shot out of the world, they will never come back, and so must be protected. However, there is not actually science stating the melanistic deer as a subspecies. It is due to a gene mutation, which can then be passed through on through genetics. Texas has an abnormally high population of melanistic deer, yes, but they are not considered a subspecies. sorry I had to reply as a guest, I forgot my password lol

        • dasherd1

          never mind, it didn’t post as a guest…

        • mommalina

          @Dasherd1: Thanks for all the info about melanistic deer. I guess what really concerns me is that I don’t want to see the melanistic deer disappear, especially so its head can hang on somebody’s wall. Although I haven’t hunted in years, I used whatever I killed for food and not for a trophy. I don’t hunt any more. I just don’t have the stomach for it.

  • Herb

    Spending most of my life in the woods,part of that time as a Game Warden,until today I had never heard of a black whitetail until I see one today.Thus the reason of me being on this site. The only word that comes to mind at the moment is REMARKABLE !!

  • Theresa

    I found this site researching what I saw – Tuesday, September 24th, little after 7am -daylight – jet black (black as coal) doe. Standing right at the edge of the field – State Route 62 in Johnstown, Ohio, just east of New Albany. Living in the country, I see deer almost daily. I have never seen a jet black deer. I reported it to the Ohio Department of Wildlife. Amazing to see.

  • john m

    i saw a black one yesterday at a golf course in austin…

  • Resin

    I find this all pretty interesting. Today, while outside drinking my coffee, I saw a massive dark colored buck in the field across the street. I ran back in to grab the binoculars and when I looked at him again, I noticed how completely dark he was. The only white was the underside of his tail. Other than being almost black, he’s the biggest buck I’ve seen since I moved here fifteen years ago.

  • Buck commander

    Why on every site where there is info on a unique coloration of a white tailed deer is there a bunch of bleeding hearts wanting to protect them. Get over it people there simply just another white tail.

  • angie

    I seen a black deer in Missouri! Everyone here thinks I’m crazy so apparently my husband is too cause we both saw it.

  • Wisconsin71

    Just saw my 1st one today. Northeast Wisconsin. About 10-12 whitetail all in a corn field and this black one stood out like you couldn’t believe. Very cool if you never seen one before.

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