Cape Girardeau’s Great White Buck is No More

After a nearly 2000-hit viewer spike for this website on October 21 following the news of a Michigan white deer kill (also see “White Buck Deja Vu” below), a similar spike on December 2 didn’t bode well. Sure enough. That’s the day a large white buck was shot by a bow hunter in the southeastern Missouri city of Cape Girardeau.

This unfortunate deer was living in the wrong place by just a matter of miles, since right across the Mississippi River in Illinois, it is illegal to kill white and albino deer. In Missouri, it is not.

The “Great White Buck” was a legend of sorts in Cape Girardeau, where people had enjoyed catching a glimpse of the ghostly deer since it was a fawn.

Cape Girardeau’s local paper, the Southeast Missourian, wrote: “For the past seven years, the albino buck has treated area outdoorsmen to a rare display. Arguably Cape Girardeau’s most notorious deer, it was striking, ethereal and possessed of a bizarre elegance that has turned it into something of a local celebrity.”

Despite the buck’s celebrity status, however, and despite the decision by many local hunters to let the buck pass, one hunter finally succumbed to the lure of the grand and unusual (and a prominent spot in the news and sports magazines) with the excuse: “My buddy was tired of people trespassing on his land to see the deer, so he told me, I want you to shoot this deer.'” So, like a good friend, he did…

As far as the trespassing, which may very well have been a legitimate problem: “No Trespassing” signs are just $1.79 apiece at the local hardware store, and if that doesn’t do the trick, any sheriff is just seven digits away from solving the problem. One or two citations and people would have gotten respectful very quickly.

The hunter argues, though, that the buck was “old” and in poor health. According to the taxidermist who opened the buck, the deer was in “rough” shape. “He’s probably been shot a couple times…, “probably been hit by a car a time or two,” and “(it) had two broken ribs.” The hunter continues: “If we’re going to have the winter we’re supposed to, he wouldn’t have made it… This was the most humane way for him to go.”

Or was this usurping of nature a little premature? From the descriptions of the buck coming in to “grunt” calls ready to fight, he didn’t sound too feeble. And the many physical insults may have been a tribute to his toughness rather than an indication of any weakness.

And as far as age, this guy was relatively “young.” White-tailed deer can live up to 20 years in captivity, but seldom survive more than 3-5, or even 2-3 in heavily hunted areas. A white deer near Leland, Wisconsin (the “Old Doe”) lived to be 13, and a very large white buck in Buffalo County, Wisconsin (a favorite with viewers and photographers), lived to be 12 years old.

Granted, what a tough winter is, is relative, but, with all due respect to Missouri residents, Wisconsinites are snickering right now at the thought of a tough winter in southern Missouri. Deer who were hit hard by very deep snow and cold in Wisconsin over the past several years would have gladly had a little Missouri browse to nibble on.

The hunter adds that he felt he was “helping conservation.” “This deer has genetic problems,” he said. “It’s not good for the herd.”

This deer had a different coat color… period! Anyone who thinks white deer are wimpy needs to watch this knock-down-drag-’em-out battle between a brown buck and a white buck. If it’s survival of the fittest, looks like the white ones are giving the brown ones a run for their money.

The justification of “cleaning up the gene pool” is part of an outdated mythology that has driven game management policy and shaped the attitudes of hunters toward white deer for years. Killing white deer may not be popular, the reasoning goes, but it’s for the good of the herd.

In truth, white and albino deer are so incredibly rare, their effect on populations are insignificant if not infinitesimal. And those recessive (or unexpressed) white genes are already in a good number of brown deer, so you’d have to shoot them all to “purify” the herd.

The hunter says he doesn’t want a lot of attention. “I don’t want to make it a big deal, because to me, it’s just another animal and I was fortunate to take him,” he said.

Just another animal?? White and albino deer occur in an estimated 1 in 20,000 deer–hardly normal in terms of either color or occurrence! This statement is also glaringly inconsistent with the hunter’s comment elsewhere that the buck was a “once in a lifetime deer” (aka trophy deer).

The hunter feels justified: “I gave him a fair shot. He had a good life… He’s famous. He still will be.”

One only needs to look at the “before” pictures (a magnificent, glowing apparition of white) to the lifeless body on the ground (broken, inanimate, and limp) to understand why this statement is little consolation to the many people who enjoyed watching this deer and the many others who will never get the chance.

Earlier news sources mentioned that the hunter might sell the mount (“..said he plans to have it taxidermied and says he will probably sell it and that potential buyers have contacted him”), but later comments are that he will donate it to the local nature center “so everyone can enjoy the deer.”

But will the resulting mount just bring more anger than awe–an icon of hunter insensitivity and unfair laws?

As a final attempt to show “it was all for a good cause,” the hunter “donated the 110 pounds of harvested meat to a family in need.”

Some hunters argue that the meat is all the same no matter the hide color, and dining is reason enough to kill a white deer. Although many hunters do eat venison, there are about 19,999 brown reasons to every white one to fill a freezer with “normal” deer instead.

Most residents of Cape Girardeau probably would have been happy to donate money–or prime rib, or whatever–as a less chewy option to give this family. (Hunters after venison don’t typically target bucks, especially older ones, for the freezer.)

Some hunters who take white deer, even when they are perfectly legal, are caught off balance by the depth and amount (and sometimes vitriol) of the  negative reaction. 

This hunter knew his decision wasn’t going to be popular. “Let the bashing begin!” he stated on his Facebook page (since taken down), but says later, “I expected some [negative feedback],…but not of this magnitude, no. I didn’t realize how important that animal was to some people.” 

Trophy hunters conveniently overlook the fact that it is the very same uniqueness and beauty that attracts wildlife watchers and photographers that also attracts the trophy hunters.

The end result is far different though. Animals like the white deer can bring enjoyment to countless people for maybe years to come, but the “benefits,” if you will, of shooting such a deer are limited to just the hunter and for a very short time–not a good ratio, and a very unfair trade-off by anyone’s measure.

School children are taught nowadays to make “good choices”–to consider their actions, and that they can certainly budge in line or push someone on the playground, but it is not a good idea for anyone…and there are consequences, natural or otherwise. Shooting the white buck may have been legal, but it was not a good choice….

Right now, hunters who want to shoot white and albino deer in states where it is legal have a free pass. It requires no deep thought, no reasoned argument, and no ethical consideration. 999 people out of a 1000 might never, ever consider shooting a white deer, but the law gives the remaining one person the right and advantage. Until people demand a change in laws, this story is only going to happen again.

Following the white buck’s death, a contributor to Cape Girardeau’s Channel 12 Facebook page commented: “This is such sad news. The deer was a bit of magic in the Cape woods.”

Let’s hope some good will come from this needless loss–that Missouri residents (and those in other states as well) will demand a change in hunting laws so no hunter can ever again shoot a favorite neighborhood white deer and use the excuse, “But it was legal…”