But I Digress

Blog calendar: Feb. 27 | Feb. 25 | Feb. 11 | Feb. 7 | Feb. 2

posted Feb. 27

The odds on a herd of albino deer

Guess I should have been taking better notes when my college professor went over genetics, especially after reader Tim Roeschlein sent in this photo:

    Dear ESPN,

    According to www.backwoodswisconsin.com, the odds of seeing three albino
    deer at the same time is 1 in 79 billion.

    I took this photo of four albino deer at the Father Hennipen State Park in
    Isle Minnesota. Any idea what the odds of my photo are?

    Tim Roeschlein

Seems for several years, Tim and wife Karrie have had twin albino deer, a doe and buck, coming to feed at their back porch in Wahkon, Minn. — pop. 314, sal-ute!

The local ABC news crew came to their home and shot >this video.

Tim says he's now seen at least seven albino deer in the area. Others, like Linda Arent, have also seen and photographed the "white ghosts" in the area. Linda was so kind to send along numerous images of the albino deer at Father Hennepin State Park. >(See them, Tim's and some other albino deer here).

Google albino plus the park and you get 509 results. Apparently the park has a herd of breeding albinos.

Now back to Tim's question. What are the odds?

Frankly Tim, I have no idea. If the odds on three are 79 billion, divide that by three and carry the aught, 105 billion to 1? Ok, maybe I should have listened to my statistics instructor as well.

So, I contacted George Mayfield, long-time deer lodge operator who has a graduate degree in wildlife biology from Louisiana State University.

Told him about the albino herd and asked him, "What up with that?"

"It's a freak of nature." Mayfield said. "It's a matter of probability and genetics. It's really part of the evolutionary process. And double recessive genes express themselves in different ways."

Albinism, a congenital disorder brought on by recessive genes, affects pigment, or lack thereof, in eyes, skin and hair. It is a rare, said to be found in 1 in 100,000 deer berths. Both parents must have the recessive gene, and even then there is only a 1 in 4 chance offspring will be albino. Two albino deer, however, will produce albino fawns. Read more about albino deer >from Buck Manager.

Mayfield, 56, said it's not that simple to put a number on something like Tim's photo, because there are just too many variables. Take the Seneca Army Depot's white deer in upstate New York. While not true albinos, a herd of 300 white deer live in a fenced-in area of a former >Cold War compound.

The Father Hennepin albinos could be similarly confined to an area where they can thrive and procreate. They are surrounded by a lake to the north and human development to the south, and there's no hunting in Minnesota state parks.

From the photos, it appears there's thick growth where they can take cover in the summer and snow to hide in during the winter, so the odds must be higher for the albinos to survive coyotes and other predators.

Down on Mayfield's deer property, a 12,000-acre spread on the Mississippi-Alabama border, there has most likely been an albino born at some time. Each of the 77 hunting days over the past 30 years, Mayfield sent out 28 hunters for eight hours — four in the morning and four in the afternoon.

"And they never saw one or reported one," he said of albino deer. "I never missed a day and I never saw one.

"I've never had an albino on my place. The problem with them in the area where I was hunting, when they crossed the property, they were killed as a novelty. They're usually taken out of the population pretty quick."

Sure, and their lack of camouflage and poor vision that accompanies albinism probably made any that were born there easy prey. With deer density of 25 to 35 deer per square mile, Mayfield has obviously come across a load or 12 of deer, and he's seen some oddities, especially piebalds, which are spotted with white.

"We have a fairly regular occurrence of piebald," he said. "Over 30 something years, we've had about 10 encounters with piebalds."

The rarest pigmentation in deer, Mayfield said, is melanistic, the opposite of albinism. Their excessive coloration makes these deer appear all black. There is a an area in central Texas that has more than its share of black deer, and Mayfield, and Gordon Whittington in >this article for North American Whitetail, surmised it has to do with habitat conducive to a black deer surviving.

"An increase in melanin in the pigment, I've never seen that here," said Mayfield, adding there's that bell-shape distribution curve to deer anomalies. "To do anything statistically on that, you have to have a lot of data."

Ok, that takes us back to Tim's original question: the odds on having four albino deer in one photo.

"I'm out my league. If you want to kill something, that's what I do," he said. "I could make up one, but I don't think that's what you are looking for."

Mayfield suggested calling a university and talking to professor of genetics, but I'm not known for listening to them.

Sorry, Tim.

posted Feb. 25

Hunter, vets go all out to save lab

Been gone awhile while covering the Bassmaster Classic, but we came back to a heart-wrenching story of a hunting dog that survived odds after being accidentally shot in the head.

Steve Horn of Madison, Miss., acted quickly when his black lab Tess took 26 pellets to the skull, one of which penetrated and came to rest in the middle of her brain.

Think of the look on the dog's face as it swam right for Horn after being hit. She quickly went into shock. Horn performed CPR and wrapped his coat around her, scared of her looming fate but wanting to do everything he could to save the 18-month old.

He raced back to his truck then to Greenwood Animal Hospital, where Dr. Royann Leflore and staff administered steroids and antibiotics before an emergency run Mississippi State University.

A doctor there at the College of Veterinay Medicine, Christine Bryan, told Horn if the dog lived, Tess might have a semi-normal life as a pet, but hunting would be out.

A week of treatment, including medicines to reduce brain swelling and prevent seizures, and her prognosis improved. Horn took her home and while she remained unstable on her feet the first two weeks, she heeled. And is back hunting now.

"She is hunting as good as ever and doesn't appear to know what happened to her," Horn told The Clarion-Ledger for >this story. (See the X-ray).

Horn heaped praise on the veterinarians, and advised dog owners to be prepared for any such incident.

"Everyone should have an emergency plan when they go out hunting. I had no idea what to do when the accident happened," Horn told the paper. "Everybody should know where the nearest veterinarian is located and have an emergency phone number for the clinic.

"They also should have an emergency plan and know how to contact the vet school."

posted Feb. 11

Crockett traced to barking up wrong tree

Ever wonder where clichés originated? James Rogers published more than 2,000 in The Dictionary of Clichés, complete with etymology. A number are related to the outdoors.

"Barking up the wrong tree" dates back to Davy Crockett and raccoon hunting. According to Rogers, Crockett used the statment, meaning one's efforts are misdirected, in 1833. It boils down to a hunter not getting his prey if his dog leads him astray.

"I told him," the account in Sketches and Eccentricities goes, "that he reminded me of the meanest thing on God's earth, an old coon dog, barking up the wrong tree."

The phrase "beat around the bush" goes back to the 1500s. Approaching an objective indirectly came from hunters who employed bush beaters to flush out birds, and the notion is that someone spending too much time with on tactic might lose out to others.

English author George Gascoigne wrote in 1572, "He bet around the bush, whyles other caught the birds."

So next time someone accuses you of doing either one, pull the wool over their eyes by telling them where the phrase originated.

posted Feb. 7

Researcher's life's work flushed

Radio call-in show fodder. What collection of stuff from your youth do you still regret your parents throwing out?

The baseball cards? Comic books? Mine was beer cans. Had about 300 different from years of running the woods and creek. Still wonder what the 1936 gold Budweiser can that had church key instructions on the side would go for today.

C'est la vie. Stuff happens.

Graduate biologist Daniel Bennett had his collection flushed. And boy was he steamed. A whole steaming pile of steamed.

Bennett's collection for his doctorate at Leeds University was uniquely unique. He spent seven years scouring and collecting in the jungles on the Philippine island of Polillo — pop. 63,448, sal-ute!

He was researching the Butaan lizard, related to the Monitor. He had written several books on Monitor lizards and is a leading authority on the little-known Butaan.

He certainly must know what they eat. His quarry was dung.

The researcher had a 77-pound bag of Butaan bowel movements, which he studied so as not to disturb the large reptiles.

Returning from more field work — you gotta wonder how he advertised for assistants — his reaction to finding his satchel of stool gone had to have been, "Holy c***!"

"To some people it might have been just a bag of lizard s***, but to me it represented seven years of painstaking work searching the rainforest with a team of reformed poachers to find the faeces of one of the world's largest, rarest and most mysterious lizards," he told UK's Daily Mail for this story.

Apologies were doled out as well as an offer for compensation, but Bennett said he wasn't going to take that ... er, stuff. He's taking them to court. This was no beer can collection.

"Its loss left me reeling and altered the course of my life forever," he said.

Leeds University regrets the error — the unmarked bag didn't clue anyone in that it might be important — and the lessons learned have brought on changes to protocol.

The bottom line, which any kid collecting any kind of crud should know, is you simply don't throw away another man's s***, even when it really is.

posted Feb. 2

"Huh-huh, huh-huh, he said doody"

Early nominations for the top Beavis and Butthead comment of the month goes to Bruce Hall, chief of police in Kalama, Wash. — pop. 1,783, sal-ute!

After one of Kalama's finest rescued a dog who jumped into a tank of sewage at the town treatment plant, Hall commented thusly:

"The officer did his duty in someone else's doody," Hall was quoted in this >article in The Daily News.

Officer Jeff Skeie soiled his sleeve reaching into the "doody" to save the chocolate lab stray, who jumped in presumably because it loved to swim.

Aren't dogs supposed to have a keen sense of smell? Could it not tell the foul nature of what it was jumping in?

Oh, my bad, it was a dog, probably thinking, "Oooh, exercise and excrement!" (Smarter dogs do know such big words, but maybe not this one.)

Anyway, Skeie must have thought he did well only soiling his uniform sleeves with "bio-solids" as he pulled the sinking dog up by its ear and then out of the muck by the scruff.

Until the dog shook, the first of several showers Skeie would take on the day.

"It doesn't taste that good, either," said Skeie, putting a fairly good-natured spin on his misfortune.

The dog's adoptive owner, Gretchen Procop, who came an hour later to pick up the lab, was also magnanimous. She promptly, and aptly, named the dog "Hershey."

No lie.


About the author: Mike Suchan has been editor at ESPNOutdoors.com the past three years. He's worked in journalism for 25 years, winning state and regional awards. Email him here.