Color me impressed about this rare melanistic deer

Albinos are easier to notice and develop cult followings, while melanistic deer are virtually unheard-of

SHARE Color me impressed about this rare melanistic deer
Chris Shomo’s melanistic deer

Chris Shomo’s melanistic deer at American Natural Resources in Griffith, Indiana.

Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Black and white in the natural world have a curious relationship to human nature.

The starkest example comes with the vilification of ugly black cormorants, while weirdly shaped American white pelicans are adored (despite a pelican eating three times as many fish as a cormorant).

Then there are albino and melanistic white-tailed deer. Albinos are easier to notice and develop cult followings, while melanistic deer are virtually unheard of.

Well, Chris Shomo arrowed a melanistic doe Dec. 24, 2021, on private land in Kankakee County. The mount was finished last month.

It’s not surprising that Shomo, who works at the Cook County Jail, did the unheard-of in Illinois hunting. He hunts about 120 days a year.

‘‘I was sitting in the stand and I looked and saw it — `What is that?’ — at 75 to 80 yards,’’ he said. ‘‘It didn’t look like a deer. I almost thought that was a German shepherd.

‘‘Out there, there are goats, cats, dogs, you name it. But I haven’t seen a melanistic deer before or since.’’

Shomo, who went to high school at T.F. North and arrowed his first deer in 1995 as a teenager, arrowed the melanistic with his Mathews Triax bow.

‘‘Nobody believes it,’’ he said.

On Saturday, I popped in at American Natural Resources in Griffith, Indiana, to see the finished mount. It was near the front window.

Brian Broertjes, the taxidermist who did the mount, took a break from spray-painting a mount. After lowering his protective painting mask, he said, ‘‘I know we’ve had some darker bucks before, but I don’t recall anything exactly like that.’’

As I turned to leave, he said, ‘‘It’s a lot cooler than doing a regular deer.’’

Bob Massey, the wildlife biologist for Kankakee County, messaged that nobody tracks melanistic deer in Illinois. He then added: ‘‘It’s darker than your run-of-the-mill white-tailed deer. Melanism is on a scale from a little bit to all the way black. So this is on the little bit end of the scale.’’

Melanism in deer and other animals is a recessive trait. Albinos seem more common than melanistic deer, but that might be related to their being easier to spot and being favored by viewers.

The Nature Conservancy’s Matthew Miller does a knowledgeable and readable breakdown of the extreme rarity of melanistic deer and what it means (blog.nature.org).

Illinois hunting

Note to morel hunters: Turkey season runs through Thursday in the south zone and through May 11 in the north.

Wild things

Pete Lamar watched American white pelicans on Shabbona Lake one evening last week. In recent years, they may be seen there and in more and more places around northeastern Illinois.

Stray cast

A helpful hint for the Cubs: It’s prime Morel season in northeastern Illinois.

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