Iowa bowhunter single arrows first deer.
Donnie Kay was almost used to blank stares, grimaces, and even peals of laughter.
That’s how the freshman bow hunter’s claims of seeing a black deer in Boone County, Iowa, last fall were received. He might as well have said he saw a 6ft tall rabbit.
“Nobody believed me,” he said. “They called me an idiot!”
Even when the 31-year-old offered the proof, onlookers weren’t entirely convinced he hadn’t spray painted the dead deer.
Donnie had seen the dark-colored male – a melanistic white-tailed deer – three times before shooting him on November 10. The first sighting was as it passed a cornfield.
It was one of 15 or 16 deer in the thatch – not the biggest, but definitely the most unique. Donnie told his brothers, Shane and Ryan; he told friends. None of them believed him.
He might have asked himself the question if he hadn’t seen him twice more, two evenings in a row, while hunting. The first time he saw him crossing a stream 50 meters away with two other males and a doe. The next day he saw her hunting a deer in the woods.
On November 10, he climbed into a treestand at the south end of a friend’s property at 1:30 a.m. After hearing numerous gunshots, he became convinced that intruders were firing at targets.
Angry, Donnie came downstairs and went to the other side of the property to see if anyone was there, but found no one. Rather than return to his original stand, he opted to stay nearby.
He says the move was “a strange twist of fate”.
About an hour after settling into the second pit of the afternoon, Donnie used his rattle bag. Fifteen minutes later he heard what sounded like a squirrel. When he sought to confirm his suspicions, he saw the black deer standing just 20 yards from his tree, too close for him to stand or draw his bow.
Donnie knew that the male was looking for the fight and that he could leave soon because there was nothing to see. He thought about using his growl to keep the animal interested, but he remembered the last time he had growled while hunting, when the deer had run away the other way.
Without further prompting, the black buck moved even closer. Donnie was still in no danger of standing, but he was able to draw his bow. And when the deer turned 15 meters away, the bowstring buzzed.
“The buck bent down, did a 180, then ran up a hill,” he said. “I thought I had hit him too far forward because when he rolled over he broke the arrow.”
After the deer fled, Donnie waited half an hour before getting down and walking to where he was standing.
“There was blood everywhere,” he said.
His brother advised him to wait another 20 minutes and that he and a friend would come and help him. After the guys pulled the unusual buck out of the woods, many more came to see him.
“All this time I was telling people what I was seeing, and no one believed me,” Donnie said. “Even when people came to see the deer, they thought they were being laughed at, that they had been spray painted.”
By searching various keywords on Google, Donnie has since learned much more about the “black deer”. The adjective proper, for example, is melanistic.
Melanism results from excess pigment or overproduction of melanin. It is the rarest of all color variations in mammals, and some laymen call it the opposite of albinism.
Albinism is the total absence of pigment caused by the appearance of recessive genes. Both parents of a deer must carry the gene for it to be albino. Additionally, true albinos have pink eyes and colorless noses and hooves.
White deer without pink eyes are not albinos, biologically speaking. They suffer from leucism, which is much more common.
Piebaldism (white and brown) is the most common of all the conditions, and is thought to occur in only 1% of white-tailed deer. In many cases, piebalds have other distinguishing traits beyond coat (fur color). These include shorter legs, Roman noses, scoliosis (curved spines) and overbites.
White deer, whether or not they are true albinos, are protected by some states. Melanistic deer and piebalds are not.
There isn’t a wealth of information about melanistic white-tailed deer on the internet. The genetic mutation is seen more often in a few central Texas counties, but it is not limited to these ZIP codes.
A young hunter shot a melancholy 8 in Pennsylvania in 2002, and a beautiful 5×5 was shot in Iowa in 2010.
Melanistic deer are not all the same. Their coats can be dark gray, chocolate brown, or even black. Although they can be completely dark, some retain lighter underparts, perhaps even white under the tail.
Donnie’s male also has a lighter patch on his throat, which hair splitters say makes him more semi-melanistic.
However, it doesn’t matter to this hunter from Iowa. He rides his black deer – his first deer, his first live target – mounted whole.
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This article originally appeared in the August 2015 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.