The ethereal white deer was a fixture in the Michigan forest. That is, until an 11-year-old boy, on a hunting trip with his father, pierced its lungs with a crossbow.
"I double-lunged it," he told the Michigan The Livingston Daily Press & Argus after what he and his father deemed a successful hunting trip in October.
American Indians, who prize albino animals as sacred, were horrified, as were environmentalists.
“Albino animals are looked at as a spirit animal, which you are supposed to learn from rather than shoot and kill,” said Jonnie J. Sam of Michigan’s Ottawa Tribe to The Dodo, a website that celebrates animals and their intelligence. “I’d be more inclined to see if the animal has something to teach me, but sadly not everybody looks at it that way.”
The family posted triumphant photos of the 11-year-old boy with his kill on Facebook. In the ensuing weeks, the killing of the deer went viral, and the son of Michigan resident Mick Dingman was by turns hailed as a “rock star” and received death threats, according to the father.
“There was one comment that someone should shoot that kid with an arrow, and others along those lines,” said Jordan Browne, an outdoorsman and journalist who the Dingman family designated as a spokesperson as the photos went viral, to the local news site Royal Oak Patch in Michigan. “There were a lot of ignorant people blaming and scolding the parents for letting their child hunt, or as they put it, ‘murder’ things.”
Albino deer occur in only one out of about 20,000 births. In death this one will still stand, stuffed in its entirety and put on display in the Dingman household as a trophy.
"It's too rare and too pretty not to spend the extra money and have the whole thing done,” Dingman told The Livingston Daily Press & Argus.
Dingman did not back down, saying that even though the animal is considered sacred by Native tribes, his son was happy about the kill.
"He kind of feels like a rock star right now,” Dingman said in late October. “Everyone is calling, all of the hunting shows and hunting magazines. The whole neighborhood is familiar with it. Quite a few of the guys in the neighborhood were trying to get it."
Other people and organizations who have heard about the killing of the deer are far less excited. Amy Sprecher, an advocate against hunting who runs Protect the Rare White Deer, a conservation group composed of both hunters and non-hunters who oppose killing albinos, said stories such as this are maddening.
“It’s just wrong. I don’t understand why you’d want to take that animal away from everybody,” Sprecher told the Dodo. “There are people who want to hunt white deer for bragging rights, but that’s not what hunting is about. Hunters that would never shoot a white deer don’t understand these people either.”
Killing white deer is illegal in Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee and Wisconsin, but not in Michigan. On October 24 the state’s environmental authorities said the Dingmans were perfectly within their rights to take down the rare animal.
"We recognize there is an intense public interest in albino deer, as they do stand out quite a bit," said Michigan Department of Natural Resources deer program specialist Brent Rudolph to the Livingston Daily Press & Argus. "There is no biological reason to protect the genetic trait that causes a deer to be all-white or albino."