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First Deer is a Deer of a Lifetime

By Molly Kirk/DWR

Photos by John Bralley

John Bralley of Draper, Virginia, has hunted off and on his whole life, but hadn’t hunted seriously for more than 20 years until this fall a friend convinced him to go out again. “We went on a couple of hunts together and really didn’t see anything,” Bralley said. “I kind of was having my doubts about seeing anything and was getting discouraged.” The friend convinced Bralley to go out one more time on a private property in southwest Virginia.

“Man, did it ever pay off,” Bralley said. “I was able to take a mature buck of a lifetime as my first ever deer and I’m 40 years old. It’s nothing like he or I, or anyone else—including the taxidermist who has 45 years of experience—had seen before.”

Justin Folks, deer project leader of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), confirmed the uniqueness of Bralley’s harvest. “This deer appears to be leucistic. Leucism is a genetic condition that causes animals to lose some or all of the pigmentation in their hair, and there can be a wide range of coat variations, from partly white or gray to almost entirely white. Leucism differs from albinism in that albino deer have zero pigment, leading to all-white coats, pink noses, pink hooves, and red eyes. Piebald deer are more common than leucistic and albino deer, but tend to have patches of white hair among patches of brown.

“Deer with abnormal hair coats usually have higher mortality rates, as they are typically more visible to predators (including hunters), and they may also have other genetic abnormalities of the skeleton or internal organs that can lead to an early death,” Folks continued. “The coat of this animal is quite unique. Several piebald deer are harvested each year in Virginia by hunters, and a few albino, but this deer is one-of-a-kind. It’s a real feat to be able to harvest a mature buck. To take a mature buck with this pelage is truly special. Every successful hunt is special, but for this deer to be your first—it’s an incredible story worth sharing.”

“After this experience, I definitely will be back in the woods and enjoying the outdoors more, whether it’s hunting, fishing or whatever the outdoors takes me,” Bralley said.

Did you have an unusual harvest this deer season? Email social@dwr.virginia.gov with your story and photo!

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  • December 7, 2023