JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Hunters in Tennessee are barred from harvesting one specific type of deer: a true albino.
Under state law, it is illegal to trap, hunt or possess an albino deer. In order to count as such, the deer must have a deficiency of pigmentation in the skin and hair and have pink eyes.
“Albino deer in Tennessee are protected,” said Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesperson Matthew Cameron. “So hunters aren’t allowed to harvest a true albino deer.”
Cameron said that true albinos are incredibly rare.
“I think experts say that about one in 20,000 to one in 30,000 deer become true albinos, so it’s a very rare occurrence in nature and then furthermore, albinism in any species greatly increases the risk of predation upon it because they stand out so much.”
According to Cameron, killing an albino is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a $500 fine.
The law barring the hunting of albino deer was actually the result of citizens working to protect them, according to TWRA officials. Several years ago, a group of concerned Tennesseans contacted their local state representatives and were able to put forth legislation protecting the albinos.
“They are neat to see,” Cameron said. “I imagine it was just because they’re so unique and beautiful that people wanted to protect them and keep them around on the landscape. That’s why we have the law, and it applies across the entire state.”
While the state prohibits the hunting of albinos, another type of whitetail deer with a genetic mutation is completely fair game. Cameron said piebald deer, which are known for their distinct white and brown fur pattern, are actually encouraged to be hunted.
“A piebald deer on the other hand has large patches of white all over its body, so they look similar to a goat I guess,” Cameron said. “They have some other deformities as well. They’re gonna have skeletal issues, shorter legs, shorter and lower jawbone, the antlers don’t get quite as big and the bowing of the nose.”
Due to the issues piebalds typically face, the TWRA highly encourages hunting them so their genetic deficiencies are not passed on.
In contrast, true albino deer experience no other mutations or disadvantages aside from their lack of pigmentation. Cameron said they reach the same size in maturity, and bucks grow just as impressive of antlers.
In 2022, an albino buck known as Ole Caney to the people of Chapel Hill, Tennessee, was given to the town after he was fatally hit by a car the previous year. Ole Caney was believed to be over 8 years old and sported a full rack of antlers. A full body mount was made, and the deer was presented to the town on permanent loan from the TWRA.