QUESTION: A couple years ago I captured a trail cam photo of a 1 1/2-year-old buck that still had its spots. I never saw it again until the first day of the 2012 Pennsylvania rifle season. When I had the opportunity to take it, I couldn't pass it up. Have you ever seen anything like this? - Michael B.
ANSWER: As a matter of fact, I have ... sort of.
I photographed a similar buck several years ago in Texas. Like your buck, it was an adult and still spotted, though it didn't have the same degree or symmetry of spotting.
Unlike your buck, I believe the Texas buck was a very subtle example of a piebald.
If you search our Ask the Biologist archive you'll find several questions and answers regarding piebald coloration. However, your buck seems to be quite a different matter.
The size, shape and pattern of spots are very much what you'd expect to see on a fawn.
Whitetail fawns are born with a spotted pelage (fur color). This cryptic coloration is an adaptation that helps break up the fawn's outline. Some speculate this pattern mimics patches of sunlight filtering through vegetation.
Ordinarily, the spots begin to fade within a few months and are lost when the fawn's summer coat is replaced by its first winter coat.
It is possible that, for whatever reason, your buck simply never lost his spots. As to the reason, I'm afraid it's beyond my knowledge and experience.
One thing I can say for certain: regardless of the rack size, your buck is truly a rare and unique trophy.
Editor's Note: Every now and then you'll hear of a whitetail having small tusks, which is a genetic remnant of deer living around the Ice Age. I'd like to think perhaps this buck's coat is a hint of how whitetails, or pre-whitetails, looked a long, long time ago. - Tim H. Martin/Online Editor