I have the opportunity and privilege of hunting a beautiful ranch in the Texas hill country approximately thirty minutes south of Austin. Last season, while sitting in a tree stand overlooking a large grass field, I observed the rut in full swing. Several bucks and does made their way in and out of the oak motts to feast on the abundance of acorns.
The bucks had been chasing does hard all morning, but by 10 am the action was beginning to slow down a bit. Visions of breakfast tacos and hot coffee were starting to dance around in my head. As I was contemplating grabbing a quick meal before heading back to the stand a doe came trotting out across the field. Behind her was a buck unlike any I had ever seen before. As I raised my binoculars I could tell he was something special. I watched as he chased the doe for several hundred yards stopping briefly to catch his breath. I contemplated harvesting him but decided to let him walk as I waited for a more mature buck to materialize.
The buck was in clear sight for over thirty minutes so I was able to study him thoroughly. The characteristic of this deer, that made him stand out, was the color of his hide. He had the most beautiful dark chocolate to black coat that I had ever seen. Stories have floated around deer camps and via emails about these rare and illusive animals, but until this day they just seemed to be larger than life. As I watched him trot away I wondered if I had made the right decision, and a feeling of regret began to creep over me.
When I arrived home that evening I made a few phone calls to friends who work as wild life biologists in south Texas. When I described the buck that I observed earlier that day, they informed me of just how rare an opportunity this was. As it turns out melanistic whitetails are the rarest of all in terms of coat pigmentation. They are far rarer than piebalds or albinos. Melanistic deer are dark chocolate to black in appearance. This abnormality is due to an overproduction of melanin. Most avid whitetail hunters have never heard of a melanistic deer much less seen one. Of all the whitetails killed in the United States nation wide there are few reports of melanistic whitetails in those numbers.
It turns out that eight counties in central Texas have the highest incidence of melanistic whitetails in the world. Those counties are Hays, Travis, Williamson, Blanco, Guadalupe, Burnet, and Caldwell. It is unknown why these deer produce more melanin in this area. Some theorize it has to do with adaptation to their surroundings to provide better camouflage in dark thick brush.
So as I began to think about what I had observed, and listened to my friends and family question my sanity, I decided if I was given a second chance I would take this animal.
The next morning I anxiously got ready for the hunt hoping that my luck would hold out and the buck hadn’t moved too far. As I climbed into the tree stand it was obvious that the cold front which blew in the night before dropped the temperature well below what I considered “comfortable” for hunting in a tree stand. As the sun came up a group of does raced across the open field, with a suitor close in pursuit. As luck would have it the buck turned out to be the melanistic character from the day before. All four animals came within shooting distance, and I decided not to hesitate in taking this fine animal.
After I made the shot and walked up to my rare trophy I began to realize just how fortunate and blessed I had been. I have found more often than not when you pass up a buck that is rare or of trophy class you rarely get a second chance.
Bert Buegeler III