Sunday, December 8, 2013
STARKS -- A 14-year-old boy from Anson has shot a black deer -- an animal so scarce there are no statistics on its population in Maine.
Levi Murray of Anson with the black deer he shot recently.
Gerry Lavigne, a deer biologist who worked for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for 27 years, said he's never heard of a black deer sighting in Maine.
Calling the find "impressive" and "very rare," deer and moose biologist Lee Kantar, who took over for Lavigne, said he also has never heard of black deer -- also called melanistic deer -- in Maine, in his six years at the department.
"Even if we harvested 20,000 deer, and one is melanistic, that's a pretty incredibly rare probability," Kantar said. That's a 0.005 percent chance.
Levi Murray, 14, and his father, Thomas, had been hunting in the woods for several hours after school last Tuesday and hadn't seen a deer. So they went to a relative's property in Starks and sat in a hunting blind at the edge of a field off West Mills Road.
In the dusk, Levi spotted a deer about 100 yards away, with its head moving up and down, he said. It was a dark doe that blended in with the trees behind it, and beside it was a similar deer about half its size.
He aimed for the doe and shot it at 5:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2. It took off, scrambling for the woods. By the time they reached the spot where they last saw it, night had settled, and they couldn't find it. They would have to come back the next day.
What they found the next morning, about 100 feet into the woods, shocked them and would later surprise state biologists: a black deer.
Neither Levi nor his father had even heard of black deer before, Levi said, at least not until his parents decided to contact a state biologist.
Bob Cordes, assistant regional wildlife biologist, confirmed it was a black, or melanistic, white-tailed deer and not a Sika or Fallow deer, both of which can have dark fur and are raised on farms. Weighing about 100 pounds, the doe was between 4-and-a-half and 5-and-a-half years old, Cordes told them.
Levi's mother, Tammy, said the deer's fur is similar to a puppy's fur and dark like that of a bear or moose.
"It definitely is an odd little deer," she said. It was shot on property owned by Levi's aunt, Gloria.
Each year Mainers shoot several piebald deer, which can be all white or have splotches of white fur and are often mistakenly termed albino deer, Kantar said. They represent less than 1 percent of the total deer harvest.
A black deer is rarer still, he said.
Despite the rarity, nothing in the law prohibits people from shooting them. "It's legal. There are no stipulations on coloration. It's a white-tailed deer that has a different hair coloration," he said.
While piebald deer have their white coats because of a genetically recessive gene, black deer get their fur from the overproduction of pigment.
Starks Selectman Paul Frederic said the unusual sighting could be "another distinction for the town." Real estate agents often promote the area's good hunting.
For the Murray family, though, the deer will make a good story for years to come -- and a nice full body mount. It's the second deer Levi has shot; He started hunting when he was 10.
They'll also eat the meat. So far, the inner loin meat by the backbone was "all right but paunchy," Levi said, since the deer sat overnight in the woods.
Still, he's looking forward to a bright hunting future. "Albino deer are bad luck," he said. "I think this should mean good luck."
Erin Rhoda -- 474-9534