You’ve been sitting in your treestand for three hours, patiently waiting for this year’s trophy to come strutting through the woods.
Somewhere in the brush ahead, there’s a slight rummaging, a strong indication that deer might be edging closer.
With calm nerves and a steady hand, you prepare for the ever-important fraction of a moment that determines a hunt’s success. The rummaging comes closer, but instead of a brown animal coming to clear, you see a ghost.
Look closer...it’s a white deer!
Dumbstruck, you’re not sure what to do. Is it legal to harvest a white deer? Are there different ethics for these ghost-like animals? Luckily, you’ve done your research and know all about the majestic, fascinating, rare white deer.
White Deer and the Hunt
The Status of White Animals: To Shoot, or Not to Shoot?
White deer and other white animals have a long-held reverence among many different cultures. There is an ancient superstition found in various areas that any hunter who kills a white deer, gisele, stag, or any other white animal, will experience bad luck. It was believed that the animals, because of their ghost-like, spiritual nature, were sacred and off limits to the tribe’s hunters.
There is evidence of this belief ranging from Africa to Europe to North America. For example, when hunters in Nova Scotia harvested a white moose, people from the local Mi’kmaq community were upset, saying the animal had special significance to their culture and should never have been harmed.
Stories of white deer and other white animals can be found in Celtic, Norse, Hungarian, and Native American mythology. White stags even make cameo appearances in literature ranging from Arthurian legends to The Chronicles of Narnia.
Albino vs Leucistic vs Piebald
Albinism: When an animal has a complete lack of pigmentation throughout their entire body, they are known as “albino.” Albinism occurs when there is an absence of melanin, a complex polymer that is responsible for determining hair and skin color. While many people assume (quite reasonably) that all white deer are “albino,” true albino deer are only those that are completely white with light pink noses and eyes.
Leucism: While albinism is defined by the lack of melanin, leucism can result from the absence of many different pigments. A leucistic deer will usually have white hair from muzzle to tail, but will have dark eyes and a dark nose.
Piebald: If you see a deer that has the color patterns of a painted horse, you’re looking at a piebald. Due to genetic mutation, these deer have a mixture of white and brown fur that can vary significantly, with patterns that are never the same.
Can You Harvest White Deer?
Like many question related to hunting, the answer comes down to where you live. Legal harvesting of white deer is done on a state-by-state basis, so consult your local laws before taking a shot.
In Michigan, for example, it is legal to harvest white deer. When a young boy harvested a true albino deer in 2014, it caused a backlash, but the state’s DNR weighed in, saying the harvest of the deer was perfectly legal.
In Wisconsin, on the other hand, the state’s 2016 deer hunting regulations say that “albino and white deer may not be harvested” expect in areas with chronic wasting disease. Other states with entire or regional restrictions on white deer include Iowa, Illinois, Montana, and Tennessee.
A white deer’s status as a sacred, revered animal, as well as their rarity, are the main arguments behind protecting the creatures. Opponents of hunting restrictions argue that the white coloring is a genetic disadvantage and the deer’s original predators, such as bear and wolves, would not hesitate to take these animals. They say there is no biological reasoning for protecting white deer.
Now, back in your stand, it’s important to remember the laws and know your personal ethics about harvesting white and albino deer.