Wildlife lovers near Prairie City have had watchful eyes on some very unique animals, this fall. But what they've found in a field south of Colfax, is something no one wanted to see.
At more than 450,000 heads state-wide, there might be more deer now than ever.
But white ones are something special.
“Yeah, we’ve been watching the white deer for about five or six years, now," said Vance Van Houweling, a resident of rural Jasper County.
“It’s kind of a majestic thing to see—the white deer," said John Foster of Jasper County, "it’s just neat.”
Full or partial-albino deer are extremely rare, but somehow, this area had several.
There was one in particular the community watched his rack reach ten points this fall.
“The kids would come running in the house and talk about seeing him on the way home,” Foster smiled.
“Everybody enjoyed it—the whole town knew about it,” Van Houweling said.
Watching the albino deer from afar had been a favorite activity, but no one had really every seen one up close—that is, until last weekend.
Hunters working a fence line suddenly stumbled across it. It’s since been partially eaten by coyotes and someone has sawed off the antlers, but there’s no doubt, this is one of those big males, and even for hunters, it was a shocking sight.
“I felt pretty disgusted, " Van Houweling said, "you watch something like that and everybody says it’s going to be neat to see what he turns out to be, next year, and then you come to find out that somebody poached him and they just cut the horns off.”
The kill is poaching. In 1987, Iowa made it illegal to kill white deer.
“In Iowa, the wildlife are owned by the people of the state," said Willie Suchy of the Iowa DNR, "so when somebody poaches an animal, it’s taking out of our collective resources.”
Its investigation just underway, the DNR got a call from Douglas Vanderbeek of Prairie City. He had shot the deer but hadn’t taken the antlers.
“He was hunting deer, it was a deer," explained the DNR's Kevin Baskins, "he just did not realize at the time that because of the coloration of this particular deer that it was illegal to take.”
The DNR applauded him for his honesty, but still fined Vanderbeek for his mistake - $127.50. A cost that seems lighter on the wallet than on the community no longer able to see something like this.
Douglas Vanderbeek could not be reached for an on-camera interview. But he did call the Channel 13 newsroom before the story aired.
He claims he didn't know the deer was white when he shot it and didn't know that white deer were protected in Iowa.
Odds of a true albino deer are about one in 100,000.