Why Does This Grown Buck Still Have Spots?


Fawns usually lose their spots after 120 days, but this Maryland whitetail still hasn’t

This yearling buck on Nicholas Crue's trail camera still has its spots. Image Courtesy of Nicholas Crue

Whitetail fawns usually lose their spots at 3 to 4 months old, but not always. Maryland hunter Nicholas Crue recently got trail camera photos of an adult antlered buck that was still wearing most of its spots. The deer, which looks to be 1 1/2 years old, sports three rows of spots down both sides of its back. 

Fawns are born with spots as a form of camouflage that helps them survive the first few weeks and months of life. They express the typical fur pattern coloring of adult deer after losing those spots and generally, this process is complete by the time most deer seasons open. The change takes place with the molting of their summer coat.

But some deer break the mold, including the buck from Crue’s trail camera. So, what’s going on with it?

“Occasionally a deer will exhibit spots on its winter coat even after 1 year of age,” said Kip Adams, chief conservation officer for the National Deer Association (NDA). “I’m not aware of a specific term for this, but it appears genetically related.”

An adult whitetail with spots is exceedingly rare, but not unheard of. Image Courtesy of Nicholas Crue

Of course, piebald (brown and white) deer are rare. Albino (white) deer are even more so. And melanistic deer are the rarest of the three. But how rare is an adult whitetail with spots?

“I’ve never seen a statistic on its prevalence, but it is extremely rare,” Adams said. “I’ve seen far more pics of albinos and piebalds than adult deer with spots.”

Despite the rarity, Crue isn’t the only person to encounter a deer like this recently. In 2022, the NDA reported on a woman in South Carolina who shot an adult buck with spots. And Adams himself has seen it, too. “I saw one in Pennsylvania,” he said. “I have the tanned hide on the couch in my office.”

Crue is just glad he got to see this deer, and hopes it will stick around. “It’s been a very interesting thing to see such a unique deer in the woods,” he said. “I hunt a lot and spend countless hours scouting, hunting, and admiring deer. I’ve never seen a whitetail look like this. It’s unique. I was amazed it was in Maryland.”

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