This whitetail deer color phase is rarer than an albino.
Last month, we discussed whether we should be shooting albino or piebald deer. Most deer hunters know albino, piebald and leucistic whitetail deer are pretty rare. Many hunters will go their whole lives without ever seeing one.
But there is another deer color variation that's on the exact opposite end of the spectrum.
For today's #WhitetailWednesday, we're going to tell you everything you could ever need to know about melanistic deer.
What causes melanism?
While albinism and leucism are characterized by a full or partial lack of melanin or pigment, melanism is the exact opposite. This is what happens when an animal has too much melanin. Similar to albinism, it's believed to be the result of a genetic mutation of a single gene.
Interestingly enough, while albinism can actually hinder an animal's chances of survival, melanism seems to have the exact opposite effect. It actually appears to be a survival advantage because a dark-colored prey animal is going to more easily blend into its surroundings than a white one will.
Depending on the animal, melanism can actually be fairly common. Jaguars are often documented with this color variation. No doubt you've seen a black squirrel or two in your outdoor adventures, too. For deer, though, melanism is exceedingly rare. In fact, it seems most research biologists don't fully understand it as of yet.
For instance, a white deer is a white deer, but melanistic deer seem to have much more variance in color. The darkest ones seem to be jet-black in appearance, but you'll also see others that are simply a darker or chocolate shade of brown. Some of these deer take on a "muddy" appearance that might fool many hunters into simply thinking they just saw a swamp deer.
How rare are melanistic whitetails?
I've seen numbers saying a true albino might be a 1-in-10,000 occurrence while piebalds might be 1-in-1,000. As far as we know, melanistic deer have only been documented in 29 states, it has to be the rarest deer color phase of all.
In 2016, 14-year-old Brooke Bateman of Dallas downed a wide 6-point melanistic buck with bleached-white antlers and a jet-black face and body. It was the only black deer reported in Texas that year. Considering the fact that Lone Star State hunters harvest about 600,000 deer a year, that is overcoming some serious odds!
Interestingly enough, it seems Texas is the place to be for the genetic trait for black deer. The Quality Deer Management Association reports a 1999 Texas Tech University study found the color phase to be more common in eight central Texas counties than anywhere else.
These counties include Guadalupe, Comal, Caldwell, Burnet, Blanco, Hays, Travis and Williamson. Why? No one really seems to know. But these days, when you hear about a deer hunter taking a melanistic whitetail, more often than not someone shot it in Texas.
Famous Melanistic deer
Every time a hunter downs a melanistic deer, it seems to take the deer hunting world by storm. Pictured above is Brooke Bateman's 2016 Texas 6-pointer. Prior to the internet, I'd never heard of a black whitetail before. One of the first photos of one I recall seeing was Andrew Hargrove's 2002 Pennsylvania whitetail. The beautiful 8-pointer had a lighter, chocolate-brown muzzle, but its back, face and ears were jet-black. This was one of the first whitetail deer to go wildly viral on the internet, and many people thought it had to be a Photoshopped image. We're not surprised Andrew decided to go with a full body mount.
Another famous picture is this photo of a woman with a super-dark Texas melanistic buck sometime around 2004. This photo has made its rounds so many times, it's hard to track down the details. All I was able to find was that the photo came from somewhere in Texas.
The rarest deer of all
The odds of shooting a melanistic buck are probably akin to winning the Power Ball lottery. You might have a better chance of shooting a world-record deer than you do a black one. So if you ever see one or have the opportunity to shoot one, count yourself lucky. This kind of whitetail deer just doesn't come around every day!