Hanging with the herd
Kelly Crawford can hardly wait for Christmas to come back around.
On the part of Grand Lake where he lives, “Christmas” is a nearly pure-white white-tailed deer that, for whatever reason, loves to hang out with one of his cows.
“I get asked about that deer more than anything,” Crawford said. “If people haven’t seen her for a day or two, my phone starts ringing off the hook. ‘How’s Christmas doing?’ ‘I haven’t seen Christmas for a while.’”
The worry is not without cause, and this article won’t spell out the exact location of the deer’s home range out of respect for those concerns. Deer season is open, and if a hunter crossed paths with the doe in a legal hunting area, she would be fair game.
But any hunter who killed Christmas would likely be the subject of a local “head hunt” afterward.
“They probably would not be a very popular person around here,” Crawford said.
In years past, a hunter had to secure permission from the director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to kill a piebald (partially white) or a fully white deer. That regulation was repealed in 2012.
Christmas appears pure white from a distance, but a closer view shows that she has a faint wash of tan throughout her coat, with dark eyes and a tan patch along the underside of her tail near the tip. An albino deer would be pure white with pink eyes and lighter-colored nose and hooves.
“It’s still a pretty rare deer,” said Dallas Barber, big game biologist for the Wildlife Department. “They’re definitely not something you see every day. They’re out there, and piebald deer are also around, but they’re pretty rare. An albino is even more rare.”
The doe is leucistic, a genetic trait seen in many species of animals that leaves them with a loss of pigmentation. Sometimes leucistic animals are nearly pure white, and sometimes they just have white patches, Barber said.
Deer fawns are born with white spots said to help camouflage them against the eyes of predators, but the spots disappear after a few months.
Animals with the leucistic genetic trait are at a disadvantage against predators and sometimes have other weaknesses.
“A lot of them don’t make it,” Barber said.
Christmas apparently found safety among the cattle, and she has a stable environment on the Crawfords’ property, which is a fifth-generation farm going back 130 years.
Kelly Crawford inherited the doe with a herd of cattle he purchased and moved from another farm about a mile and a half from where the deer lives now.
He initially thought she might have been a domesticated deer that was just put out to pasture with the cows. The doe has a notch in one ear that looks suspiciously like it might have had an ear tag that was ripped out.
“I thought it was domestic for a while, but they swore up and down she just showed up one day as a fawn with a doe and another fawn that had white patches,” Crawford said.
He was told the doe’s ear was injured on a fence when it was young.
After Crawford moved the cattle to become a part of his own cow-calf operation, the doe showed up in his pasture.
“It was probably just two, three days, and it found its way over here,” he said. “Whenever I move the cattle, she follows, but she’s not here all the time either; she’ll wander off for a few days and then come back.”
Local hunters have reported seeing pictures of the doe captured by trail cameras posted at hunting stands in the area.
Other deer use the pasture from time to time but apparently are not interested in the white doe, Crawford said.
“They just don’t seem to want to have much to do with her,” he said.
The doe plays, runs and butts heads with the calves and appears to have a particular bond with one of the older cows, Crawford said.
The deer will come with the cow when Crawford puts out grain in the winter, and she has walked into a pen with the cows a time or two. He said he has been within a few feet of the doe but has never touched her.
“If I walk up and she feels cornered, she goes to looking for a way out quick,” he said. “She becomes a wild animal fast.”
— Kelly Bostian