Death of Another Leland White Deer: Why the Current Wisconsin White Deer Law Is Not Working (unused draft)


Photo by Jeff Richter, from White Deer: Ghosts of the Forest.
Used with permission. 

Once upon a time I was an opportunist hunter.  If I came across fowl or beast during an open season, I did my best to kill it. Then somewhere along the way it came to me I do not have to kill everything. Perhaps it was during my first white deer encounter, but I can’t be sure. While watching the particular small white doe, her pink eyes shining back at me, a feeling of peace and contentment descended around me. With the thought; if I kill this deer, I deny another the same experience.  (comment by Charlie Elk, from an Outdoor Life online hunter forum)

Unfortunately, not every hunter shares this kind of wisdom and maturity.  And unfortunately Wisconsin’s white deer law is allowing white deer to still be killed.  It happened again this fall in Leland and it brought back memories of a similar event…

Nine years ago the Leland community was shaken after a popular white buck was shot during the 2012 gun deer season. It was technically a legal kill (white deer protection had recently been removed in the area because of Chronic Wasting Disease), but as local resident Brandon Yanke told a Ch 3 reporter, it was not an ethical kill.

There was a community understanding that the 2012 buck was off-limits to hunters—too fine, too rare, and too unique to be shot. What was especially disturbing was that the hunter who shot the buck was from “out of town.” Coming into a community and knowingly shooting their favorite deer is not exactly an act of respect.

The story that was passed around was that the buck trotted past the hunter’s camp while chasing a doe and was shot by one or more of the hunters. One can only imagine the hunters falling over themselves at a chance to shoot the deer and wondering at their great “luck” to get such a trophy.

The locals that had watched this buck grow up and reveled in its beauty for its five and a half years didn’t exactly share that elation. The fallout after the “Leland buck” was killed was seismic. Local news media picked up on the story and it went viral both nationally and abroad, appearing even in UK’s Daily Mail.

The hunters quickly folded camp and slinked out of the county, leaving only a few very upset locals to be interviewed by reporters. They all told stories of how much they had enjoyed watching the deer, how special it was, and how devastated they were that someone would shoot it.

Fast forward to November 2021. The whole scene happens again, but this time it was a local resident who shot the deer and he used a bow to buy himself a trophy and bragging rights. If white deer are protected in Wisconsin (which now includes CWD counties, too), how could this happen?

This latest killing brings up the issue, once again, of what exactly constitutes a “white” deer.

These two deer (and several others that have been shot in the area and statewide) were entirely white except for a very small spot or two of brown. As far as Wisconsin law goes, that qualifies the deer as a “piebald,” or partially white deer, and makes them legal game. The DNR still has yet to address this very glaring loophole in white deer law.

After the death of the first white buck, a group of locals organized to protect the plight of the remaining white deer. Although “Protect the White Deer” was successful in getting white deer protection reinstated in CWD-affected counties, they have not yet been successful at broadening the legal definition of a white deer.

How many other white deer will meet a similar fate unless the law is changed? Granted, Wisconsin is lucky to have any white deer law at all, but the state could do so much better (Iowa already has a law which protects deer that are more than 50% white). These deer are a public resource and they belong to everyone—not just to the first person who shoots them.

The story of this latest white deer kill is gradually moving through the grapevine. The shooters of these supposed “piebalds” are laying low nowadays—not sharing much info, for the very reason they know how unpopular it would be. There hasn’t been the media coverage either or the public uproar, but very few people are happy about it.

Meanwhile a taxidermist is preparing a mount of the new white buck kill. The hunter is undoubtedly feeling pretty special at “being the one” to shoot such a wondrous and rare deer. It will probably end up being a dust-collector in his living room or den. Down the road, the moths and dermestids (carpet beetles) will attack it and it will be relegated to the garage, if not the dump—a pretty inglorious ending for an animal that was once such an awesome living creature.

Hunter Charlie Elk, in an online forum for Outdoor Life, once offered this wise reflection on killing a white deer:

Once upon a time I was an opportunist hunter.  If I came across fowl or beast during an open season, I did my best to kill it. Then somewhere along the way it came to me I do not have to kill everything. Perhaps it was during my first white deer encounter, but I can’t be sure. While watching the particular small white doe, her pink eyes shining back at me, a feeling of peace and contentment descended around me. With the thought; if I kill this deer, I deny another the same experience.