An Alabama hunter shot the buck-of-a-lifetime recently, but it wasn’t a giant by any means. In fact, the piebald deer that Josh Crocker tagged back in late November, while hunting deep inside the Talladega National Forest, barely weighed 100 pounds. Though fully grown at 4 1/2 years old with an 8-point rack, Crocker’s buck suffered from a rare form of dwarfism.
“I saw him for the first time while bow hunting about three years ago,” Crocker tells Field & Stream. “I just got a glimpse of him that first year and then never saw him in person again until I shot him.” Crocker says his spot in the Talladega is miles from any road and surrounded by steep, mountainous terrain. “There’s only one way in and out of the property, and it’s highly pressured,” he says. “I’m surprised this deer survived as long as he did.”
Crocker knew the buck was special after his first run-in with it—being a piebald with white coloration running through its otherwise brown coat—but he didn’t immediately realize how much smaller it was than a typical north Alabama buck. “I hunted him hard last year but only managed to get trail camera photos of him,” he recalls. “He had a nice 9-point rack in those photos, and that’s when I noticed how short and stubby-legged he was. And he also had a real bad overbite.”
Crocker never saw or got photos of the small buck again until November 22, 2023. That’s when he decided to hike as far back into the Talladega as could and hunt all day. “The rut really gets going in that area around Thanksgiving, and I had a feeling it was going to be good,” he says. “At about 11 a.m., a buck came walking down a bluff, right toward my stand. I saw the white chest from about 70 yards off, and I knew it was him.”
The buck kept coming on a string, Crocker says, then stopped broadside about 25 yards from his tree. His shot was good, and the buck only ran 40 yards before piling up in the brush. “I don’t think he weighed more than 100 pounds before I gutted him,” Crocker says. “By the time I field dressed him and got him out of there, he was only 88 pounds on the scale.”
Chris Cook is the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Deer Program Coordinator. He tells Field & Stream that he’s only seen a handful of dwarf deer like Crocker’s in more than three decades working for the department. According to Cook, the buck’s diminutive size is probably a symptom of its piebaldism.
“Other than discoloration of their coats, piebalds have all kinds of genetic abnormalities that may appear and dwarfism is one of those,” Cook says. “It’s a recessive trait, and usually with those recessive genes there are some other things going on. They can have short, stubby legs, humpbacks, and underbites.”
Aside of its pronounced underbite and an oddly-shaped back left hoof (possibly due to injury), the dwarf deer was perfectly proportioned, according to Crocker. He’s having his local taxidermist do a fully body mount on the buck that he expects to have back in a few months. “I’m sure I’ll never see another deer like it,” he says. “And the fact that I had a history with him, and I had go so deep into the mountains to get him, that made the whole thing that much better.”