Gray area found with white buck

2 01 2008

From The Columbus Dispatch 

Maurice A. King III of Mansfield poses with the albino buck he killed in Richland County.A man in Boulder Junction, Wis., once took a photograph of three albino deer standing together. The odds of doing so, according to one unidentified math whiz, are an astronomical 1 in 79 billion.

How such numerical guesswork — or claptrap — is contrived must remain a mystery. Assuming the three whitetails actually were pigment-challenged albinos and not unusually white specimens, the mathematical probabilities lean on the prevalence, or the nonprevalence, of albinism in the deer population.

On that matter exists no easily verifiable scientific agreement, although the figure 1 in 30,000 is bandied about at various Google-aided landings in cyberspace as if it were the true and final word.

Better and more reliably sampled, however, are the brown-and-white piebalds that Ohio hunters take in tiny numbers almost every deer season.

“Bottom line, probably less than 1 percent of wild deer are piebalds,” wrote Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist Mike Tonkovich in response to an e-mail inquiry. “What does this have to do with incidence of true albinos in the population? Everything. We know that true albinistic deer are even more rare than piebalds in wild populations!”

Precisely how rare, though, Tonkovich was unable to say.

Casey Watterson, who operates Lone Leaf Custom Taxidermy near Mount Gilead in Morrow County, had not beheld an albino whitetail until recently.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “A hunter sees one, and it’s like hitting the lottery.”

On Oct. 14, Maurice A. King III of Mansfield held what must have felt like the lone winning ticket. That Sunday morning, King, a Bellville police officer, not only saw an albino buck, he killed it.

The ghost-white deer isn’t what King, 31, was after as he sat in his tree stand in a Richland County woods between Mansfield and Bellville. The buck that King had been chasing for two seasons carried 14 antler points but was otherwise normal.

“When the albino buck appeared, I immediately drew my bow to the ready position,” King said, “not to take aim at him, but hoping the big one also was around.”

If the big one was around, King couldn’t see it.

What kept drawing his utmost attention, however, was the wondrously pallid buck.

“The very first thing I noticed was his stunning pink eyes,” King said. “They looked like the eyes of someone who had real bad allergies. Then I looked at his pure-white body. His coat was perfect, and not a mark on it.”

King resisted putting his mark on that perfect, pure-white coat.

The deer appeared, ran off, then tantalizingly reappeared. The antlers at 5 or 6 points weren’t built to impress, and the body weight of perhaps 150 or 160 pounds wouldn’t feed a pack of coyotes for long. Still, the whiteness of the deer registered the way a floating apparition might. And at 20 yards distant, the pink-eyed specter was close. It kept getting closer.

“He slowly walked within 10 feet of my tree. He stopped and turned, positioning his body for yet another opportunity for a perfect shot,” King said. “After all this, I finally realized this must be ‘a sign’ for me to take him, so I did.”

The arrowed deer ran down a hill and crashed at the bottom, the hunter said, and didn’t get up.

King wondered again and for a while after whether he should have taken the white deer. He acknowledges that some people might wish he hadn’t. Other hunters, though, have shown great interest in King’s albino buck.

The pats on the back from hunters who’ve heard the whitetail story have assuaged some of the guilt, but public kicks in the derriere from animal lovers have had a different effect. Ambivalence about killing the once-in-a-lifetime deer perhaps is being demonstrated by King’s plans to “share” the deer with others.

Watterson last week began crafting a full-body mount of the albino deer, an expensive project for which compensation is yet to be determined. The mount likely will be finished by the end of January, the taxidermist said. The plan is to display the animal during the Deer & Turkey Expo in March.

“It should be a real draw,” Watterson said. “Hunters will want to see an albino deer.”

After that, it would be nice if the mount could be displayed in a local store for kids and others to see, King said.

The hope for next deer season, he said, is to kill the 14-pointer he passed up this time around. Odds are, though, the plan will be subject to change.

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