A bit of history on Florida’s deer repopulation program
The belief that bucks in some areas of Florida have increased more than elsewhere due to repopulation with deer from Wisconsin and Texas leans towards fantasy
Chuck was the cowboy on the Manatee County property I hunted in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and he pocketed big bucks season after season. By spending his time there, Chuck developed the institutional knowledge necessary to regularly harvest these deer and attracted the admiration and curiosity of a young man himself hungry for trophy antlers.
Chuck believed that dollars in this area of Florida had risen more than elsewhere due to restocking programs with deer from Wisconsin and Texas a generation before. And if you’ve hunted deer in this state long enough, chances are you’ve heard similar stories. The replenishment aspect of this belief is true; how much these efforts have resulted in bigger deer leans more towards the realm of fantasy.
Let me explain.
As with white-tailed deer populations across the United States, Florida deer numbers were cratering in the early 1900s. Railroads and highways opened up the countryside to unregulated hunting for commercial purposes and for the subsistence of large work teams. Game laws and responsible wildlife husbandry were still in the nascent stages. Habitat loss and competition with domestic animals have further reduced their numbers. And, state ranchers, eager to prevent the spread of tick-borne Texas Cattle Fever, destroyed thousands of deer that were thought to harbor the arachnids.
According to FWC, the tide changed in 1941 when the Florida Legislature voted to participate in the Pittman-Robertson (PR) Act of 1937. This monumental legislation provided federal funding for state wildlife management. With this new source of income, one of Florida’s first projects was to restock its ravaged white-tailed deer population with animals from elsewhere in the country.
Curious about these claims of deer genetic enhancement through imported animals and where they actually came from, I asked Lindsay Thomas Jr., the director of communications for the National Deer Association, for his thoughts. . He responded with pages from a book, now out of print, titled “A History of White-tailed Deer Repopulation in the United States: 1878-2004” written by J. Scott McDonald and Karl V. Miller.
According to this book, over nearly four decades, 1,513 deer were imported into the state while 1,409 were moved from one part of Florida to another. As for non-resident transplants, in 1941 the first deer on Bull’s Island, South Carolina were released to fend for themselves in the Florida wilderness; from 1949 to 1950, deer from Wisconsin were introduced; Texas provided the cause from 1949 to 1969; and in the 1960s, Louisiana deer were released. Contributions were also made periodically from Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina.
Going back to my old friend Chuck, between 1949 and 1950, 313 dollars and 398 does from Texas and Wisconsin were released in 28 counties, including Manatee and neighboring counties Polk, Hardee and Sarasota, according to the book. Yes, there were indeed Badger State and Lone Star State white deer that once roamed the Sunshine State brush and swamps.
But, has this simple fact alone contributed to making more money today?
Well not really. Neither math nor genetics really works, but it’s a complicated subject that we’ll save until next week. However, while it is unlikely that these restocking efforts contributed to larger antlers for our deer, it is entirely possible that they had an effect on another critical aspect of Florida deer hunting that continues to amaze and baffle hunters and game handlers: rutting time.