Buckmasters Magazine

Donnie’s Darko

Donnie’s Darko

By Mike Handley

Iowa bowhunter arrows unique first deer.

Donnie Kay had almost grown accustomed to blank stares, scowls and even guffaws.

That’s how the first-year bowhunter’s claims of seeing a black deer in Boone County, Iowa, last fall were received. He might as well have said he’d seen a 6-foot-tall rabbit.

“Nobody believed me,” he said. “They called me an idiot!”

Even when the 31-year-old offered proof, onlookers weren’t entirely convinced he hadn’t spray-painted the dead deer.

Donnie had seen the dark-colored buck – a melanistic whitetail – three times before he shot it on Nov. 10. The first sighting came while he was driving past a cornfield.

It was one of 15 or 16 deer in the stubble – 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’ve questioned it himself if he hadn’t seen it twice more, two evenings in a row, while hunting. The first time, he saw it crossing a creek 50 yards away with two other bucks and a doe. The next day, he saw it chasing a doe in the timber.

On Nov. 10, he climbed into a treestand on the southern end of a friend’s property at 1:30. After hearing numerous gunshots, he became convinced trespassers were shooting at targets.

Angry, Donnie got down and went to the opposite side of the property to see if anyone was there, but he found nobody. Rather than return to his original stand, he opted to stay in the vicinity.

He says the move was “a weird twist of fate.”

About an hour after settling into the afternoon’s second stand, Donnie used his rattle bag. Fifteen minutes later, he heard what sounded like a squirrel. When he looked to confirm his suspicion, he saw the black buck standing only 20 yards from his tree, too close for him to stand or draw his bow.

Donnie knew the buck was looking for the fight, and that it might soon leave because there was nothing to see. He thought about using his grunt call to keep the animal interested, but he remembered the last time he’d grunted while hunting, when the deer had run the other way.

Without further enticement, the black buck came even closer. Donnie still didn’t risk standing, but he was able to draw his bow. And when the deer turned at 15 yards, the bowstring hummed.

“The buck ducked, did a 180, and then ran over a hill,” he said. “I thought I’d hit it too far forward, because when he spun around, he snapped the arrow.”

After the buck fled, Donnie waited a half-hour before getting down and walking to where it had been standing.

“There was blood everywhere,” he said.

His brother advised him to wait another 20 minutes and that he and a friend would come help. After the guys hauled the unusual buck out of the woods, many others came to see it.

“All this time, I was telling people what I’d been seeing, and nobody believed me,” Donnie said. “Even when people came to look at the deer, they thought we were messing with them, that we’d spray-painted it.”

Through Googling various keywords, Donnie has since learned a lot more about “black deer.” The proper adjective, for instance, is melanistic.

Melanism results from too much pigment, or the overproduction of melanin. It’s the rarest of all the color variations among mammals, and some laymen refer to it as the opposite of albinism.

Albinism is the complete absence of pigment caused by the surfacing of recessive genes. Both a deer’s parents must carry the gene in order for it to be an albino. Also, true albinos have pink eyes and colorless noses and hooves.

White deer without pink eyes are not albinos, biologically speaking. They are suffering from leucism, which is far more common.

Piebaldism (white and brown) is the most common of all the conditions, and it’s thought to occur in only 1 percent of whitetails. In many cases, piebalds have other distinguishing traits beyond pelage (fur color). These include shorter legs, Roman noses, scoliosis (curved spines) and overbites.

White deer, whether or not they’re true albinos, are protected by some states. Melanistic deer and piebalds aren’t.

There isn’t a wealth of information about melanistic whitetails on the internet. The gene mutation is seen more often in a few counties in central Texas, but it isn’t limited to those zip codes.

A young hunter shot a melanistic 8-pointer in Pennsylvania in 2002, and a handsome 5x5 was shot in Iowa in 2010.

Melanistic deer aren’t all the same. Their coats might be a dark gray, chocolate brown or even black. While they can be completely dark, some retain lighter undersides, maybe even white under their tails.

Donnie’s buck also has a lighter throat patch, which hair-splitters might say makes it more semi-melanistic.

It matters little to this Iowa hunter, however. He’s having his black buck – his first deer, his first live target – mounted whole.

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This article was published in the August 2015 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

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