Sunday, May 20, 2018

Man encounters enchanting hours-old rare white fawn on mushroom hunt in the woods

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A man searching for morel mushrooms in southern Wisconsin came across a white deer fawn. The animal appeared to be just hours old.
Video courtesy Trent Zimmerman

Trent Zimmerman and his dog went searching for morel mushrooms and shed antlers Sunday in south central Wisconsin.

The sheds totally eluded them, and they came home with exactly one delectable fungus. But they did encounter something even rarer and more memorable than old antlers or sprouting ‘shrooms.

Just moments after finding the only morel of the day near a cluster of elm trees, Zimmerman and Maggie, his yellow Labrador retriever, walked a few more steps. Twenty yards ahead stood a tiny four-legged form shining like a full moon in the shaded woods: a white deer fawn.

The deer locked eyes with what likely were the first human and dog it had seen in its young life.

It was definitely a first for Zimmerman and Maggie.

“We just sort of pulled up in shock,” said Zimmerman, 38, of Baraboo, Wis. “What a sight.”

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The fawn was standing but didn’t try to run, he said.

The animal was entirely white except for its dark eyes and pink nose. Zimmerman estimated its height at 17 inches and weight at 8 pounds.

“Its hair was still damp and looked like it had been born just hours before.”

Trent Zimmerman, Baraboo, Wis.

Zimmerman pulled out his cellphone and began taking video of the encounter.

The fawn tottered on its spindly legs as Maggie, a 1-year-old Lab, walked over to investigate. Zimmerman can be heard on the video telling his dog to back off, and Maggie promptly complied.

Zimmerman, an avid hunter and angler, spent about the next minute looking in amazement and capturing video. 

“Its hair was still damp and looked like it had been born just hours before,” Zimmerman said. 

With a white-tailed deer herd of more than 1 million animals in Wisconsin, it’s not uncommon for people to see deer fawns in spring. But it’s extremely rare to view one with all-white hair.

Most animals feature a range of color variations, including albinism, an absence of pigment, and leucism, a partial loss of pigmentation. The fawn Zimmerman saw was leucistic since it had colored eyes.

► Nov. 28: 10 Wisconsin deer-hunting licenses sold to infants
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A third color classification — piebald — is used to describe deer with patches of brown and white hair.

How rare are white deer? It’s difficult to determine the frequency, according to scientists, but some estimates put it at 1 in 20,000 or 30,000. The Nature Conservancy blog calls it a recessive genetic trait found in about 1% of all whitetails.

What’s known is that some places in Wisconsin harbor higher proportions of white deer. 

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A herd that includes several white deer near Boulder Junction, Wis., draws visitors each year and was the subject of White Deer, Ghosts of the Forest, a book featuring the photographs of Jeff Richter and text by John Bates.

In southern Wisconsin, white deer are sometimes observed near Dousman in Waukesha County, said Rick Reed, warden supervisor for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Zimmerman said they are also known to live on and around the property in Sauk County where he saw the white fawn.

► June 2015: Sanctuary saves rare fawn that its mom tried to kill
► December 2014: Fate of famous white deer in question after base closure

White animals tend to have a more difficult time surviving in the wild since predators can spot them more easily. In Wisconsin, white deer are protected by Department of Natural Resources rules and hunters are not allowed to shoot them.

Some other states, including Illinois and Iowa, also prohibit hunting white deer. Tennessee protects albino deer but allows white deer to be taken during hunting season. 

Most white-tailed deer in Wisconsin give birth in late May or early June. The white fawn encountered Sunday in Sauk County. about 40 miles northwest of Madison, is part of the advance guard of the 2018 class.

► October 2014: Boy who shot rare albino buck did nothing wrong, Michigan says
► October 2014: 11-year-old hunter bags rare albino deer

As with all young wildlife, it’s important to leave fawns where they are found. An adult is likely near and will return soon.

Female deer will leave their offspring in grassy or brushy areas and return several times a day to feed them. The process continues until the fawns are strong enough to run and follow the doe.

White animals are also revered in American Indian lore.

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In many tribal legends, the sighting or birth of a white animal portends good things to come.

Zimmerman, who has hunted and fished for more than 30 years and founded Huntn & Fishn Kids to help introduce youth to outdoors activities, knew it was important to limit contact with the fawn.

After capturing three short video clips of the animal, Zimmerman summoned Maggie and they backed out of the area. The entire encounter lasted less than 2 minutes.

► February 2013: Prosecutors say they’ll drop charges in Dani deer case
► September 2012: Expand elk herd and hunters will come, Wisconsin officials say

At first the fawn attempted to follow Zimmerman. 

“I told the little guy he was right where he needed to be,” Zimmerman said. “He gave us a huge highlight by just crossing paths with us.”

Follow Paul A. Smith on Twitter: @mjsps

 

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