posted on December 12, 2011 07:04
By Mike Handley
Very few deer hunters will ever see a piebald. Fewer still will encounter one wearing a rack that's equally impressive as its Technicolor dreamcoat.
While hunting with his muzzleloader in Pickaway County on Dec. 8, Bryan Vickers of Columbus, Ohio, found the proverbial needle in the haystack. The assistant track coach at Ohio Dominion University had been sitting in his blind for nearly four hours when the buck showed just before 5 p.m.
Bryan and his father, Wayne, had been watching the deer for three years, passing it up until this season. Both had it in bow range earlier in the fall, but the windows of opportunity slammed shut before they could arrow it.
Some hunters call these deer "calicos" because of the animals' brown-and-white, pinto-like coloration. But whitetails with an unusual amount of white in their coats are generally known as piebalds.
While still rare, piebaldism is the most common of three pigment-related genetic variations among animals - the others being albinism (all white) and melanism (mostly black).
True albinism involves a total absence of pigment from the hair, eyes and skin. Albino deer are completely white and have pink eyes, noses and colorless hooves. Melanistic deer, the rarest, are the complete opposites.
Piebaldism is partial albinism, meaning they fall somewhere in between. And they often (but not always) have other distinct physical characteristics such as small bodies, short faces with Roman noses, severe underbites and stubby legs.
Biologists disagree over the rate of occurrence of piebalds, largely because it's safe to say they're more common in some regions than in others. It's also hard to predict a fawn's chance of being born with this genetic trait, since it can happen when normal does and bucks breed.
I hear about or see photographs of half a dozen each year from around the country. The largest, mostly brown, came out of Kentucky and tallied 215; the next largest was an Oklahoma buck, mostly white, that fell somewhere between 160 and 180 inches (taken before the state passed a law protecting them).
Which reminds me: If you do see one out there and want to shoot it, you'd better make sure that it is legal to do so where you hunt. Several states prohibit the shooting of white or "significantly white" deer.
These deer are fair game in Ohio, however. Several have been seen there this year, a few even harvested. But none compare to the buck Bryan is paying a taxidermist to mount whole.
Dates to Remember
Jan. 28-29: If you live in northern Indiana, Illinois or Michigan and would like to have your buck measured for the BTR, you can avoid the $25 entry fee by bringing your deer to the 28th annual Hammond, Ind., Outdoor Sports Show inside the Jean Shepherd Community Center.
March 16-18: If you're interested in becoming a Buckmasters scorer, the next measuring class will be held during Circle M Auctions' 11th Annual Whitetail Classic Sport Show and Antler Auction in Dubuque, Iowa's Grand River Center. You'll have to pre-register for the class. This rare opportunity aside, the show attracts serious antlers and collectors. E-mail me for details about becoming a BTR measurer.