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Unusual Sighting: Black Mule Deer

Wildlife officials in northern Nevada are saying a solid black mule deer that has been sighted near Winnemucca is a one-in-a-million anomaly.

The phantom deer that’s been causing quite a buzz among hunters and ranchers is a “melanistic mutation,” according to Nevada Department of Wildlife big game biologist Mike Cox.


“There are genes that map out the characteristics of an animal in its embryonic stage,” Cox said. “Sometimes it’s a funky hoof, or a tweaked antler, or in this case the hairs of this mule deer are a different color than the normal mule. Sometimes there are recessive traits that are hidden in those genes that never see the light of day except for maybe one in a million, or one in two million.”

As a Nevadan, Cox used an appropriate analogy to the state’s infamous one-armed bandits when he described the potential odds for having the exact genetic combination to produce a solid black mulie.

“We may never see it again for a generation, or 50 years, or we may see it next year,” he said. “It’s almost like slot machines. You have to pull that slot machine a long, long time until you get the right combination, and that’s what happened with this melanistic mutation.”

Just how black is it?

“It looks like it fell into an oil spill, but obviously we don’t have those in the middle of Nevada,” Cox said.