We all know mythical beasts. This long list includes unicorns, mermaids and the Loch Ness Monster. There are also animals like the legendary Phantom of Piedmont.
Supposedly for decades this magnificent white-tailed buck has found a way to avoid hunters while roaming the forests of central Georgia. Do white-tailed deer with black coats deserve a place on the list of these magical beasts? As incredible as it sounds, the answer is no. Black whitetails exist; However, they are extremely rare.
Most melanistic white-tailed deer are dark black, with the exception of a white area on the ventral region of the bodies. These melanistic animals are sometimes smoky gray rather than actually black. Geneticists believe that a recessive gene causes this abnormality.
Apparently the first black deer were reported in 1929. Since then, they have been documented in 29 states, including South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, Michigan, Texas and Pennsylvania.
The late South Carolina outdoor author Archibald Rutledge reported that a black whitetail was shot near Georgetown, South Carolina. He also wrote that he personally discovered a large melanistic buck in the Santee area of South Carolina.
There are also reports of black whitetails living in a small area of Pennsylvania in the 1950s.
While the animals are extremely rare wherever they are found, they are currently most commonly seen in the Edwards Plateau area of Texas. Texas A&M biologists have found that 8.5% of the deer in this area are melanistic.
A handful of hunters say they’ve seen some of these rare animals in Georgia. You can find some references to wild boar in various online chat rooms. Also, in 1988, an alleged black white-tailed doe was shot in Webster County. I saw a picture of this animal. This animal was not dark black like a Labrador Retriever. It was really very dark. To me, however, his coat seems to vary from dark brown to smoky gray.
True black and white fronds are so rare that most wildlife biologists never see one in their entire career. I personally have never seen one. I recently asked some of my retired biologist friends if they had ever seen or heard of such a deer in their long careers. Despite the fact that these men have handled and seen literally thousands of deer across the state, none of them had ever encountered a black whitetail.
One told me that while he had never seen a black deer, he had spotted some very dusky white-tailed deer in the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area along the Ocmulgee River south of Macon. He has a theory to explain why these deer were so dark. He believes the darker deer carried remnants of genes from native Georgia swamp deer, which were still present when deer were raised in that part of the state years ago. The imported deer were from Wisconsin and were considerably lighter in color.
That being said, how rare are these animals?
Some experts have put the odds of seeing one of these elusive animals at 1 in 500,000. Others say it could be as low as 1 in 6 million. However you slice it, these critters are the rarest of the rare.
To put this in perspective, your chance of spotting a piebald white-tailed deer (animals with weird white spots on their bodies) is 1 in 1,000.
Albino deer are even rarer. The probability of spotting a true albino whitetail is between 1 in 20,000 and 1 in 100,000.
If that’s the case, you have a much better chance of taking home a Boone and Crockett trophy buck (1 chance in 20,000) than seeing a black whitetail.
Because these animals are so rare, little is known about them. However, some deer experts say that a melanistic stag has a greater chance of surviving than an albino or piebald deer. Who knows?
Will you ever see a white-tailed black deer in Monroe County? Maybe you already have. I am sure that many times over the years you have spotted what you thought was the silhouette of a stag deep in the bush or disappearing over a hill. Who knows, one of them might have been a black and white stag.
Terry Johnson is a retired program manager for the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column “Monroe Outdoors” for The Reporter for many years. His book, A Journey to Discovery, is available from The Reporter. Email him at [email protected]