The white-tailed deer population has been on quite a ride over the past century. Historical reports indicate that whitetail populations were nearly extirpated within the United States by the early 1900’s. Fast forward a hundred years, add in regulated hunting, deer management efforts and the fact that only about 8 percent of the people in the U.S. hunt, and it is not uncommon to surf the web, pick up a newspaper or drive down the road to see another instance of deer overpopulation in both rural and suburban areas.
As the number of suburban areas have increased in Texas—and elsewhere—the whitetail populations found within them have grown proportionally, sometimes exponentially. Suburban deer overpopulation is literally a growing problem, but listen closely to any debate related to controlling a suburban whitetail population and you will soon find that for every person that wants to control deer through shooting, trapping, etc., there are others that want to protect them.
One interesting aspect of having a high number of suburbs and associated deer populations in Central Texas is that people see a lot of interesting things. This is especially true when it comes to melanistic deer. Melanistic deer are white-tailed deer that have black hair. They are the same as “normal’ whitetail, except that they are black. Each year, I receive several emails from folks—all residing in Central Texas—that have spotted these abnormally-colored, black deer. It seems this recessive genotype is more prevalent in this part of the state than anywhere else.
“I took these deer pictures this morning of a fawn in my front yard. I have seen a melanistic doe in our neighborhood and someone else has seen a buck. This black fawn has a twin that is normal, and the doe is in the right in the attached picture. Our neighborhood does not have a deer management program, but there is still a good percentage of wooded lots that have not been developed.
Most everyone has two to five acres lots, so there is still some room and habitat for whitetail. I have also included some pictures of the bucks that come to our house in this email. Their antlers are smaller than the South Texas deer my family hunts, but they sure are beautiful. Samantha, Bulverde, Texas.”
The gene that creates a completely dark-haired whitetail is recessive, so it is typically masked by the dominate, more common gene for a normal-colored deer. One can only suspect that the apparent “proliferation” of melanistic deer in Central Texas has something to do with the fact that they are found in protected areas and that many of the deer found in these populations are in fact carriers of the recessive color gene.
It’s probably safe to say that most odd-colored, free-ranging deer get harvested fairly quickly in areas that are open to deer hunting. After all, anything out of the ordinary in the wildlife world is considered a unique and memorable harvest. The U.S. whitetail population has bounced back strongly from its near extirpation and it seems more aggressive deer management actions are required in suburban areas, but you have to admit that these black deer are always cool to see!