Last month, 11-year-old Gavin Dingman harvested a 12-point albino whitetail buck during a hunt with his dad in Southeastern Michigan. Pictures of the young hunter and his deer were then uploaded online, but the family hardly expected the backlash that came after. Just days after the hunt, Gavin and his family were bombarded with criticism, insults, and even death threats. Most of vitriol was online on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but the family also received numerous calls as well.
“We’ve had death threats and everything else that you can imagine,” Mick Dingman, Gavin’s father, previously told OutdoorHub.
Albino deer are a rarity and only about one in 100,000 whitetails will be born an albino. The condition comes with more than just a snowy white coat—albinism is associated with a host of health conditions. Very few albinos ever make it to adulthood, and this has caused some to consider the animals unique. This opinion is prevalent enough for some states to offer special protections for white or albino deer, and Michigan only recently lifted its ban on hunting albino animals in 2008. That said, many biologists argue that protecting albino deer could be detrimental to deer herds. Albino animals generally have poor eyesight, numerous health defects, and their coloration makes them a big target for predators. These are all traits that wildlife managers would rather not have in wild herds.
“We recognize there is an intense public interest in albino deer, as they do stand out quite a bit,” Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) deer program specialist Brent Rudolph told 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.”
The wide media coverage of Gavin’s albino deer has caused DNR officials to speak out regarding the legality of the harvest, as well as some other misconceptions that people may have.
“The protection of albino/all-white deer was lifted for several reasons—the rule put hunters in a difficult situation because it was legal to take a piebald deer, but it can be difficult to determine if a deer is all-white, albino or piebald from a distance; there is no biological reason to protect the genetic trait that causes a deer to be all-white or albino (in fact, the trait is certainly a disadvantage for avoiding predators); and the all-white (not truly albino) deer were escaped exotic animals with the potential to spread disease into the wild deer herd, something we would not want to promote by protecting these deer,” stated the DNR on its Facebook page.
Additionally, DNR officials have condemned the death threats aimed at the 11-year-old.
“Any act of cyber bullying or cyber harassment is reprehensible, especially when it is directed toward a young person, as was the case here,” DNR public information officer Ed Golder told MLive.com. “We urge hunters and anglers to be civil and exercise sound judgment on social media. We would expect the same of their critics.”
The Dingman family has since declined to speak to the press due to concerns over their safety, but others refuse to remain quiet. Since the story broke, both local hunters and those around the country have voiced their support for the Dingman family. One such group on Facebook called the “Albino Whitetail Army” was formed by friends and relatives of the Dingmans in response to the threats.
“Our mission is to bring awareness to the legal right’s of hunters in Michigan with regards to piebald and albino deer. Secondly, [it] is to let the haters know that the threats and negative response to this legal harvest has backfired and formed a community of hunters, trappers, fisherman and outdoorsman who stand united!” the group stated on its Facebook page.
According to the group, the Dingmans are still receiving sporadic threats but appreciate the support. Gavin is considering having his buck mounted soon as well.
Image from Facebook