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Albino buck killed in Cape Girardeau County
They'd all seen it plenty of times before -- but never like this.
Jerry Kinnaman and a handful of fellow hunters stood staring in the cold, captivated by the strange beauty.
"Son of a buck," Don Palmer said. "He is incredible."
"Look at those notches in his ear there," James Faught pointed out, squatting to snap photos of the deer's scarred ear and its 10-point rack.
"I'm sure this is gonna stir some people up," Kinnaman said.
"You shouldn't worry about that," Faught replied. "I'd have done the same."
He stooped again to document the hoofs, the snout, the open, glassy eye; all things that would be unremarkable on an ordinary deer.
But Kinnaman's deer was not ordinary. It was white -- "the" deer.
The Great White Buck.
For the past seven years, the albino buck has treated area outdoorsmen to a rare display. Arguably Cape Girardeau's most notorious deer, it was striking, ethereal and possessed of a bizarre elegance that has turned it into something of a local celebrity.
Which is precisely why Kinnaman says he knows he'll take a good amount of grief for killing it. Though he killed it legally on his land just north of Cape Girardeau's city limits, he knows other hunters have chosen not to shoot at it in the past.
Even Kinnaman himself has passed it over on past hunts.
"I had a friend who let me hunt on his land a few years ago and I asked him, 'Would you be offended if I shot this deer?' and he said yes because it was so beautiful, you know?"
So Kinnaman agreed not to hunt it. Eventually, however, his friend changed his tune.
"He had people trespassing on his land [to see the deer] and it was getting to be too much of a hassle," Kinnaman explained. "It got so bad that he came back to me and said, 'I want you to shoot this deer.'"
Don Palmer pulls up a folder on his phone dedicated solely to photos of the buck he's collected over the past several years.
"Look at this one here," he said, scrolling through scores of pictures. "There you can see the velvet [on his antlers]."
Aaron Palmer pulls up pictures he took only days ago on his laptop. He spotted the buck right after the recent snowfall, amplifying the deer's otherworldly aura.
"These are probably some of the last pictures we're going to have of him," he said, not without a hint of sadness.
"I have mixed feelings about it myself."
But, he said, Kinnaman seems like an OK guy. Although Palmer enjoyed watching the albino buck, he says it's a consolation to know that at least he was hunted legally.
"I'm glad nobody poached him," he said.
Kinnaman said he's not the only one ever to have shot the animal, either.
"I've got pictures where you can see he's been shot in the shoulder," he said, adding that anecdotally, he's heard that other hunters have used more unscrupulous tactics like spotlighting to try to nab the buck.
"I gave him a fair shot. He had a good life," Kinnaman explained. "He's famous. He still will be."
He said that when he took his bow to the woods before sunrise Tuesday morning, the white buck was on his mind.
"I've already shot a mature buck this year, so I decided that the only deer I wanted was this deer."
When he spotted the animal up on a ridge with two does, he drew him in by grunting like a rival male.
"He came up looking like a monster when I made that grunt," he said. "He came in ready to fight."
When the deer was about 14 yards away, Kinnaman loosed his first arrow, which he says glanced off a branch. It grazed the animal, which ran a short distance away, but Kinnaman lured it back using a doe call. When it was approximately 25 yards off, he put an arrow right into its side. He says it ran about 30 yards off, collapsed and expired.
"It wasn't that easy," he explained. "At 7 years old, it's wiser than less mature deer."
But he says he enjoys the hunt.
"I don't like killing," he said. "I get the feeling I'm helping conservation. This deer has genetic problems. It's not good for the herd. I enjoy the hunt; the game."
Missouri Conservation Department state deer biologist Jason Sumner said it was impressive that an albino would live to such an age, but said it's not unheard of.
"It's cool and unique. Something he should be proud of, but that's about it," Sumner explained. "Albinos are obviously more susceptible to predation [being preyed on], having none of the usual pigment, but there's really no implications positive or negative. They make up such a small percentage of the population that it's really insignificant."
But for Kinnaman, it's a trophy he'll never forget -- although it might not end up on his living room wall. He declined to reveal yet where the deer is going, but said he plans to have it taxidermied and says he will probably sell it and that potential buyers have contacted him.
"This is the oldest and most unique deer I'll probably ever take," he explained. "This is the buck of a lifetime."