Are Melanistic Deer in Schmeeckle?

It’s no surprise to any student roaming through the thickets of Schmeeckle Reserve that the deer are plentiful and even overwhelming.

We can scarcely turn a corner and not come face-to-face with a buck and his harem. Commenters point out that deer know they are safe from hunters in the reserve and come from all over Wisconsin to live in peace.

One particular evening I was on my way to Lake Joanis, and I could see the glimmer of the water straight ahead. I listened rather carefully while in the woods so I might catch sight of some wildlife. I heard a rather loud rustle not 2 feet behind me and turned quickly, thinking I’d see the cottontail of a rabbit receding into the tall grass.

To my excited surprise, I found a large eight point buck staring me down in the middle of the wood-chipped walkway. I froze, not entirely sure if I should be afraid of this daunting animal that was twice my size. I had seen does in Schmeeckle before but never a grown buck. It didn’t seem abnormal to me. I thought I was likely to see one, given the number of ladies abounding.

What struck me most was the extremely dark color of this deer’s pelt. It was nearly black but with normal signs of a whitetail deer on its belly. It was as if the deer had fur the color of wood varnished from staining.

A walker approached and the big boy went springing away into the brush. I asked my dad what was so different about that specific deer, and he said it was a “swamp buck.”

I brought it up to a friend who said deer can be melanistic, which is a rare genetic mutation much like albinism. Further reading pointed me to partial melanism, which keeps the whitetail characteristics with profoundly darker browns in more than one shade. These deer are most commonly concentrated where water collects and where swamp-type land offers darker cover in areas like Texas. Though Texas boasts more melanistic deer, they are all across the continent in various forms.

I may not be able to prove my encounter was with a melanistic buck, but it is possible. I’d like to believe it to be true. Nowadays real, large, and enchanting confrontations with the world of nature and science are few and far between. Either way, swamp or melanistic, it was a true, majestic Wisconsin buck.


Jazmine Bevers



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