Published December 17, 2009, 08:59 AM

Albino deer sighting takes Crookston-area couple by surprise

“I said, ‘that’s an albino deer,’ ” Keith Bakken recalled the other day. “It was unusual — just like a ghost.”

By: Brad Dokken, Northland Outdoors

Keith Bakken and his wife, Gladys, were just getting ready to sit down for lunch last Saturday when Gladys looked out the window and said she saw a deer.

Nothing unusual about that. The Bakkens live northeast of Crookston and see lots of deer on their property.

But this wasn’t just any deer, Bakken said. This one was white.

“I said, ‘that’s an albino deer,’ ” he recalled the other day. “It was unusual — just like a ghost.”

The Bakkens had a digital camera close by, and Gladys went out on the porch and snapped a few photos. The deer at that point was along the road about 50 yards from the house, but the camera didn’t have the zoom power to deliver a close-up shot.

“I went outside and tried to get closer, but I wasn’t able to,” Bakken said. “I wished we would have had a camera with a telephoto lens.”

A look through the binoculars revealed the deer was a spike buck.

Bakken e-mailed me a couple of photos of the deer. While they don’t offer a close-enough look to reveal such classic albino traits as pink eyes, there’s no question of the deer’s color. The white deer blends almost perfectly with the snow in foreground.

It also doesn’t seem to be one of those photos that get e-mailed around endlessly from someone who knew someone who knew someone else who’d seen the deer.

“I wish someone else would have seen it — then I would have more credibility,” Bakken said. “But if it got down to it, I wouldn’t care if anyone believed me or not because I know what I saw.”

Bakken said he might have been able to get closer to the deer if a vehicle hadn’t passed while he was trying to approach. The deer by that time had moved off the road into a field enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. Bakken said the driver didn’t appear to see the deer, but the commotion was enough to spook the buck, and it took off on what he describes as a “pogo-stick” run.

That would suggest another rarity for northwestern Minnesota.

“I really think it was a mule deer,” he said. “They have that springy jump rather than a run, and it wasn’t waving its tail. He just had that ‘spring-spring-spring.’ ”

Besides the hopping gait, mule deer also have larger ears than whitetails, but it’s not possible to tell by looking at Bakken’s photo. Not even Lou Cornicelli, the big game program coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources in St. Paul, could tell for sure when I e-mailed him the photos.

“Nice pictures, but I have no idea,” Cornicelli said in an e-mail response, adding mule deer are rare in Minnesota,

“We seem to get one harvested every two-three years that I’m aware of,” he said. “So, not uncommon, but not unheard of, either.”

Albino deer, which result from a genetic quirk, are even less common. Cornicelli said there’s a “small pocket” of them around Mille Lacs Kathio State Park in east-central Minnesota, but that’s about it.

Even so, the Bakkens may not have been the only people to see the deer. Stuart Bensen, DNR conservation officer in Erskine, Minn., said he received a call about an albino deer from someone near Crookston, but it wasn’t from the Bakkens.

Bensen said he also heard reports earlier this fall of people seeing “piebald” deer, which have distinct patches of white hair on their coats but still appear mostly brown and are considered to be less rare than albinos. A piebald deer was spotted in the Fosston-McIntosh area, Bensen said, and he received a call about one of the brown-and-white deer from the Plummer area.

The caller assumed piebald deer were protected, but as of this year, Bensen said, both piebald and albino deer are legal to take during hunting season in Minnesota.

Bensen said he once saw a piebald buck walk within 30 feet of his house. He’s also seen an albino raccoon, junco, robin and crow. But in his 30-year career with the state, Bensen said he has yet to see an albino deer.

In that context, Bakken said he and his wife feel even more fortunate to have witnessed the white aberration that livened up a Saturday afternoon in early December. The whole encounter, he said, lasted about 15 minutes.

“It was an unusual and exciting experience,” Bakken said, “once in a lifetime.”

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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