Would you shoot a rare piebald buck in Pennsylvania?
When I was a young guy, it was considered to be a bad omen to shoot a piebald deer. I can remember an old-timer regaling friends and me with a story back then about how he passed on a shot at one of the rare brown and white bucks because he was convinced killing it would bring him bad luck.
Beliefs have changed. A poll of National Deer Alliance members taken last year indicated a little more than half of hunters surveyed would shoot an albino or mostly white piebald if it were legal. About 90% said superstitions would not keep them from pulling the trigger.
And while it has always been legal for a hunter in Pennsylvania to take an albino or piebald, in some states, such as Wisconsin, hunters are prohibited from killing white bodied deer.
But the odds are you will never see one. Caused by recessive genes, piebalds in Pennsylvania, and across the range of white-tailed deer, make up far less than 1% of the population.
I hadn’t thought about any of this for years before reader Ron Simmons, of New Albany, Pa., provided the photo above of a piebald buck taken by his wife Oct. 21 along Route 220, south of Dushore, Pa.
“We first drove past it when my wife saw it and we weren’t sure it was real,” he said. “The buck just stood there, about 20 yards off the road while we turned around and pulled onto the shoulder for my wife to take photos. It soon ran off.”
Piebald is partial “leucism” – a condition causing a partial loss of pigmentation, yielding deer with irregular patches of white.
The result is a wide range of patterns, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Some deer have speckles or white-washed flanks, like the one shown above; others have the markings of a pinto pony. A few are almost completely white. But if they have the brown eyes and black hooves of the classic white-tailed deer, they are still piebald, not albino.
Interestingly, the genetic abnormality that causes piebald can also cause weird physical characteristics. Some piebalds are described as looking like goats.
In addition to their white coloration, they also typically have some other abnormality that may include bowing of the nose, short legs, curvature of the spine, deviated limb joints (turned feet) and even internal organ malformations.
Wildlife biologists tell us that those with severe defects die at birth or shortly after. And they say that piebald deer can breed with normal deer and produce both normal and piebald fawns. But they apparently can’t breed with each other – in studies, all pairs of piebald deer that mated have failed to produce offspring.