As the sun dips toward the horizon, siphoning the day's last light from the sky, a small doe pokes her nose through a thicket just beyond a part of Duke Forest near Durham and Chapel Hill.
On most evenings, a procession of deer follows – bold scouts with ears splayed, curious yearlings, a few protective bucks and the albino doe that has become the star of dusk.
Ed Cole, a local resident and fan of the snow-white deer, worries that, as selected hunters begin to cull the white-tailed deer population on some Duke Forest properties today, the albino doe could be a target.
“I can see some hunter getting her as a trophy deer,” Cole said.
But Judson Edeburn, resource manager for Duke Forest, said the hunters that will fan out with bows across four of the six forest divisions today are under instructions not to take any white deer. Duke University maintains the forest for research.
White animals – like Duke Forest's albino deer – long have been a part of spiritual and historic legends. In many cultures, they are portrayed as possessing ancient wisdom and magical powers – the unicorn and Moby Dick are examples.
Despite the mysticism surrounding these snowy-colored creatures, some hunters scoff at the no-hunt rules imposed. Protecting the albinos, they say, allows the continued breeding of a recessive trait.
Multiple white deer have been sighted around Duke Forest. Edeburn, manager of the 7,000-acre research property spanning Durham, Orange and Alamance counties, knows the awe they inspire.
“The bottom line is the hunters are under instruction not to take the white deer,” he said.
Those words provide some relief to Cole, a New Jersey transplant who did a double-take the first time he saw the albino doe inside a fenced pasture.
“I thought it was a goat,” Cole said with a chuckle.
A second look proved otherwise.
“She's beautiful, she really is,” Cole said.