A rare trophy
Levi White's experience as a bow hunter can be summed up in his name.
No, the buck he shot wasn't wearing Levis. It was white.
The 11-year-old fifth-grader made his first-ever archery kill a memorable one by bagging a rare albino buck.
When Levi and his dad, Sonny, went hunting on Dec. 2, a white deer was about the last thing they had in mind.
"We had hunted in that area before, but we had never seen any white deer," Levi said.
Earlier in the fall, the Whites' trail camera had captured some images of a particularly light-colored deer, but neither Levi nor Sonny recognized it for what it was.
"We just thought it was the camera's flash turning the deer's body white," Sonny said.
So the morning of their hunt began much like any other morning during the deer season. They hiked to one of their favorite spots in the Campbells Creek watershed, picked out a comfortable log and sat down to wait and watch.
"We heard some turkeys down over the hill," Levi recalled. "But then we heard something coming up the hill toward us. When it came up over the rise, about 15 to 20 yards away, we could both see that it was a white deer."
Piebald deer - those with sizable patches of white hair - aren't terribly unusual in West Virginia. Dozens of them are killed every hunting season. Albino deer, on the other hand, are pretty darned rare.
To be classified as an albino, an animal must completely lack pigmentation. A deer, for example, must have a completely white coat, a pink nose, pink hooves and pink eyes.
The deer coming into view over the brow of that eastern Kanawha County hill had every one of those attributes.
"We were both shocked," Sonny said. "I told Levi to stay calm, but neither one of us was."
Levi heard his father's advice, but he was having trouble putting it into practice.
"I got kind of shaky at first," he said. "I get shaky on almost any animal I aim at. But once I drew my bow and looked down toward the deer, I stopped shaking."
The youngster's arrow flew true. The buck jumped, ran a short distance and collapsed.
"We waited a few minutes to make sure it was dead, and then we went over to get it," Levi said. "Dad said he was proud of me."
The deer turned out to be a button buck, Levi's second of the 2011 season.
"Earlier in the year, I'd gotten a button buck during the [firearm] youth season. I started bowhunting last year, but I had never gotten a deer with a bow before the white one," he said.
Both Levi and Sonny were eager to learn more about the unusual whitetail.
"As soon as we got home, Levi said we needed to get online to try to find out about white deer," Sonny said. "We looked at pictures of piebald and albino deer, and we looked up information about them. It was an educational experience for both of us."
Fortunately for the Whites, the Internet is filled with information about albino and piebald whitetails. They discovered, for instance, that albinism occurs when an animal lacks an enzyme that helps produce melanin, a pigment that affects skin, hair and eye color. Statistically, in a deer population of 30,000, only one would be a true albino.
And in West Virginia, albinos are perfectly legal game.
"We would not discourage anyone from removing an albino from the population," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. "Survival traits are poor among albinos. They stick out like sore thumbs and are more susceptible to predation. Because they're not well-adapted for survival, we urge hunters to go ahead and take them."
DNR officials might not hold albinos in high esteem, but the Whites do. Levi said his buck is at the taxidermist's.
"We're going to get a full body mount made of it," he said.
The white buck also created a bit of a stir among Levi's classmates at Mary Ingles Elementary School.
"A pretty good number of the boys at the school are hunters," he said. "Most of them had never seen a pure white deer. They said it was cool."
Reach John McCoy