Rare white deer wanders past hunter, Illinois video shows

A hunter recently spotted a white deer wandering in the Illinois woods and captured the “once in a lifetime sighting” of the rare beast on video as it wandered past.

It was the first day of shotgun season, Nov. 12, Jamie Lambert told McClatchy News in a phone interview.

His hunting grounds were only about 5 acres of timber that day, he said, but it was busy.

Just as the sun came up, a large 8-point buck walked within range of him in his tree stand. Lambert was tempted to shoot but decided to wait instead, test his luck and see if something more impressive might come through.

And that’s just what happened.

“Half an hour later, that’s when the white one appeared,” Lambert said.

The 42-year-old has been hunting since he was 14, he said, no stranger to the outdoors. But when he caught sight of that hard-to-miss buck, Lambert put his gun aside and pulled out his phone instead.

He had actually seen the ghostly buck before during bow season, an encounter he remembers well.

“I heard something walking in the woods and it was about 150, 200 yards behind me crunching the leaves, and I slowly turned around and looked and thought ‘What the hell is that? Is that a horse or a goat? What is that?’” Lambert said. “Then I noticed it had antlers and I thought ‘holy cow.’”

Now here it was again, near and wandering closer.

He could’ve lined up a shot and pulled the trigger. Somehow that didn’t strike him as the right thing to do.

That may be partly because it is illegal to hunt white deer in Illinois. But more than anything, he would just prefer it if the buck kept on living.

“I want to see him grow old,” Lambert said.

Lambert shared the video in a private Facebook group, where his sighting caught a lot of attention, and his decision to not bag the white buck has become a point of contention in the comments, somewhat to his surprise.

Plenty piled on to critique his choice.

“Good on you for letting it walk. I’m not sure I could have!” one of the more polite examples read.

Still, many expressed respect for Lambert, even thanking him for his restraint.

“Great job letting him walk. Killing a deer is easy but to let that trophy walk was awesome. Let him spread that gene pool,” another commenter said. “In my book, YOU GOT HIM.”

White deer are rare, and that scarcity contributes to quite a bit of confusion about what a white deer is and isn’t, according to Cool Green Science, a blog run by The Nature Conservancy.

Oftentimes albino, piebald and leucistic deer are all lumped together, because they appear totally or mostly white to the people who spot them, the blog post said. But what sets leucistic and piebald animals apart from albinos — which are the rarest of the three — is they lack the telltale pink eyes and resulting poor eyesight, which frequently gets albinos killed in nature quite quickly.

Meanwhile, “leucistic animals lack pigment over all or part of their bodies. Leucistic deer can be varying levels of white – some contain white splotches, some are half brown and half white, some appear nearly all white. Mixed brown and white animals are often known as piebald deer,” the blog post said. Leucism occurs in about 1% of whitetail deer.

From what Lambert can tell, his deer doesn’t have pink eyes, which means it’s either leucistic or piebald.

A brown splotch can be seen on the deer’s head, Lambert’s video shows, and if that is the natural color, it would indicate piebaldism. Or the brown coloring could be from the deer rubbing its head against trees, a state game warden told Lambert, in which case it’s a deer with leucism.

Whatever the case, Lambert hopes to run into the deer again, he said.

Mitchell Willetts is a real-time news reporter covering the central U.S. for McClatchy. He is a University of Oklahoma graduate and outdoors enthusiast living in Texas.

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