Just one year ago, 11-year-old Gavin Dingman took down a 12-point albino buck with a crossbow, sparking a nationwide controversy.
Dingman was hunting with his dad, Mick Dingman, in their home state of Michigan, where the deer population was estimated at two million, when they saw the all-white deer.
The reaction ran the gamut from praise and admiration to death threats against the 11-year-old child. Comments on Huffington Post reflected diverse reaction to a story they posted. One reader wrote, “ISIS is cutting people’s heads off and people are losing their minds over this? What a screwed up country!”
Another wrote, “If you were stranded somewhere and had not eaten in days and saw a deer, would you not want to know how to kill it humanely so you could eat?” That comment continued, “I bet most of you who are against hunting eat hamburgers? Steak? Well, where do you think it comes from?” Another wrote, “It wasn’t a unicorn!”
Others blamed the parents. One comment read that the parents “have to be prepared to face the harsh reality that goes along with it… Watching the news right now and yet another school killing…”
It seems pointless to print the vicious remarks expressing belief that violence should be aimed at the child, but numerous other posts defended young Gavin and his actions.
Many who live in our increasingly-urban nation do not understand the predominantly-rural hunting culture. The ever-increasing ranks of vegetarians and people favoring anti-gun legislation are appalled at the idea of a child hunting and killing animals.
City-dwellers dealing with gun violence believe young hunters are headed for a life of crime, not realizing that gun safety is a huge part of teaching a child to hunt.
This attitude reflects how far we have come from the hunter-gatherer roots that were essential to the way of life in Midwest America in the early 19th century. Pioneer settlers could not have survived without hunting, especially during the winter months when there were no crops.
Some expressed the belief that albino deer are an endangered species but the facts do not bear that out. Wisconsin naturalist and author John Bates believes one out of every 20,000 births produces an albino fawn. Some biologists claim albino births are only one in 100,000.
Whatever the number, albino deer are rare. Most of us have never seen a live albino deer.
Over the years, Missouri has produced its share of albino deer. There have been numerous accounts of sighting and bagging them in the state. In fact, Jerry Kinnaman of Cape Girardeau, Mo., also shot a 10-point albino in 2014. This Missouri incident produced some controversy, but nothing in comparison with what the Dingman family had to deal with.
Franklin County, Mo., seems to have had more than its share of albino deer sightings and baggings. In fact, two albino deer were living in the sanctuary at Meramec State Park in 1937. Franklin County apparently had a small herd of albino deer for several years. Two were killed near Sullivan in 1954 and checked in at the weight station.
A young albino doe was captured alive near St. Clair in Franklin County in 1956. Some boys found it caught in a fence on the Elmer Dilthey farm in the Indian Creek neighborhood, near the old McDermott store. It was taken to Union by Sheriff Bill Miller where it attracted a great deal of attention.
One hind leg was badly broken, barely hanging on and it was suspected that the other hind leg was fractured. A veterinarian was summoned, but the poor suffering animal appeared to be dying so Sheriff Miller ordered it to be butchered before the veterinarian could respond.
Early one morning in November 1957, three albino deer came out of the woods on Route K near Chapel Hill Road south of St. Clair. This trio included a doe, a fawn and a buck. John W. Young of St. Louis shot the buck.
Other counties have reported albino deer as well. In fact, 10 were taken in Missouri in 1957. In 1956, it was reported that an albino doe had been living in the Drury refuge in Taney County for a number of years. In 1959, Conservation Agent Chester Barnes reported three albino deer had been killed in Butler County over a three-year period. Albino deer were also bagged in Pulaski and Wayne counties that year, 1956.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, it is completely legal to kill albino deer in Missouri. They fall under the same regulations as deer with normal coloration. Killing albino deer is also legal in Arkansas. Five or six states do have laws against taking albino deer. In Illinois, it is a Class B misdemeanor to kill an albino deer only if it is completely white.
These beautiful animals are missing the gene for normal coloration. They don’t have the enzyme melanin, which is responsible for the color of skin, hair and tissue. Albinism is often associated with poor eyesight, which would affect their ability to survive in the wild.
The trait also puts the deer at a disadvantage in avoiding predators due to their high visibility.
By Sue Blesi
(Sue Blesi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)