A Tale of Two Boys

April 21, 2024

West Virginia legislator Rick Staton (L) reads a letter from Jared Stiltner (R)
asking lawmakers to protect albino deer. Photo by legislative staff.

This is the tale of two boys who each saw a white deer. They lived in different states in different years, but they were both hunters and they were both 11 years old. One boy shot the white deer he encountered; the other boy wrote a letter to lawmakers asking them to protect white deer. Here are their stories…

Michigan: In 2014 Michigan sixth grader Gavin Dingman shot a large albino buck with a crossbow while hunting with his father. Family photos of the boy and his trophy were posted on Facebook and drew both attention and ire.

Those who sympathized with the killing congratulated the boy—it was, after all, a legal kill (Michigan had removed white deer protection only six years previously). However, many other people felt the well-known buck and neighborhood favorite should have been left alone.

Gavin’s story soon spread to a wider audience.  Hunting shows and hunting magazines rushed in to get more details. Gavin “felt like a rock star” one article proclaimed. What the family didn’t expect was the storm that came with the publicity.

A national audience was now outraged about the deer being shot. What was viewed as a major hunting accomplishment by some people was seen as an irresponsible act by others. What kind of father, they asked, would encourage his son to shoot such a rare and beautiful animal?

West Virginia: Compare this story now to one that took place in 2005 in West Virginia. It was also about a boy who encountered a white deer, but who had a very different reaction.

Jared Stiltner liked to hunt and had bagged a doe during the previous fall’s youth deer hunt. The following spring he saw his first white deer. He thought, “It just seems wrong to kill something so rare.”

Jared read up on white deer and found that they were protected in thirteen other states, but not in West Virginia. “I just decided, why not try to make a law?”

Jared then wrote a letter to the West Virginia House of Delegates asking lawmakers to draw a line on killing albino deer. House Majority Leader Rick Staton was impressed with Jared’s sincerity.

The result of Jared’s effort was House Bill 2959, which would make it a crime “to hunt, trap, shoot, possess or attempt to kill an albino deer.” Co-sponsors included Staton, House Speaker Bob Kiss, and House Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores.

I think it’s a really good bill,” said Staton. ”The letter that (Jared) wrote was very heartfelt. He was very affected by seeing this (deer).”

Unfortunately the bill ended up in a committee and was never voted on.

The State Division of Natural Resources had not taken an official stand on the bill, but Curtis Taylor, chief of the agency’s wildlife resources section, was quoted as saying “There’s no biological reason to prohibit the killing of an albino deer, and no reason within deer management”—which indicated the agency was fine with the status quo (namely, continued hunting of white deer).

Jared’s efforts, however, need to be recognized and remembered. Many, many people are upset about white deer being shot, but few take any action outside of heated remarks on Facebook or in reader comments. Jared proved, however, there are things you can do and age is no restriction.

Jared may not have changed white deer law in his state (or become a “rock star”), but he set an example for others—both in his actions and his caring. Sometimes, all it takes is one person.  Like Dr. Seuss says in his children’s book “The Lorax“:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Thanks to reporter Lawrence Messina whose writing is excerpted in this article, and to Drew Ross, Director of the W. VA. Office of Reference and Information, for providing info on Bill 2959.   

Click here to see Messina’s archived article from The Dominion Post (p. 17) Boy wants state to ban hunting of albino deer (March 18, 2005, Morgantown, West Virginia).