IN THE BEGINNING man killed animals as a necessity for food, clothing and turning bones into tools. Sporting aspects crept in with Teddy Roosevelt.
He stimulated masses of Eastern hunters that could afford it to satisfy their urge for the outdoors and hunting, turning hunting into a sport; nearly eliminating the American Bison, a natural resource in the process.
About 80 years ago deer hunting was still done for meat using a 30-30 Winchester and a pocketknife. Eight hour work days and super markets increased the ability for the average man to hunt. The desire to eat the game he brought home is still with us.
In 1965, Leonel Garza of Freer Texas, recognizing the monetary value deer hunting brought to the communities, inaugurated the first big deer contest, called “Muy Grande.” Hunters throughout the State flocked to Freer to participate. It began with only one category, “Widest Spread,” many others have been added since, Ladies, Youth, bow, and about 70 others. Nearly every town in an area that supports a deer processing facility and motels has a contest now. Muy Grande remains the most prestigious.
The Boone and Crockett Club, gold standard for scoring whitetail deer, began keeping records in 1932. For whitetail they have two categories, typical, focusing on symmetry with deductions for inches that were not symmetrical and non-typical, which focuses on total inches with no deductions. Points must exceed, one-eighth inch or more, strict rules are applied concerning fair chase, causing only those deer within low fences to be considered. Every hunter’s goal became getting his name in the book. Pope and Young include a category for scoring deer enclosed in high fences. The contests began using B & C scoring as a guide, but were required to change that when Texas landowners began receiving aid from Texas Parks & Wildlife to raise highly managed deer, those genetically improved. An explanation of this is later in the piece.
Previously to get in the “book” meant getting leases where the big racks are grown. The majority in Texas are from the Golden Triangle; Webb, LaSalle, Duval, McMullen and Maverick Counties or those controlled by large ranches, consisting of huge tracts of pasture land laden with excellent natural nutrition from forbs, mesquite beans, etc., rain is the catalyst that prompts large antlered native bucks to demand the highest prices in Texas for leases or hunts. Gold is needed.
The drive from Houston is 200 miles but hunters come that far and farther to hunt South Texas and parts of Mexico with its added attractions. The coming of eight hour work days and super markets made it possible for the average person to fulfill his dream of hunting deer in South Texas, even missing football games.
When deer began to produce more revenue than cattle and goats the rancher was justified in building high fences and making the improvements necessary to acquire quality genetics.
TPWD continued aiding ranchers by creating several programs i.e. Deer Breeder Program—the deer breeder permit authorizes individuals to hold white-tailed and mule deer in captivity for the purpose of propagation. A Deer Breeder permit has an annual fee of $200. A person who possesses a valid deer breeder permit may buy, sell, trade, transfer, and release captive deer. Deer breeders are required to keep detailed inventories of deer in the pens and all activities associated with those deer, meeting certain Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) testing standards. All deer in the captive facility must be identified with proper markings (ear tags / tattoos). Deer breeder permits and all applicable reporting requirements, including release site registration, are managed through the TWIMS Deer Breeder online system. More information on deer breeding can be found at: https://tpwd.texas.gov/business/permits/land/wildlifemanagment/deerbreeder/.
People utilizing the deer breeder permit do so for many different reasons. Some raise captive deer to sell to other breeders, some raise deer to release on their own property, and others raise deer to sell to others who want to release deer on their property. Some of the release sites are “put and take” operations where bucks are released and harvested in the same year while other properties release deer (bucks and does) with the intent to improve the “genetics” of the deer population on the ranch, ultimately with hopes of producing bucks with exceptional antler quality. It’s not uncommon for breeders to raise 200+ B&C bucks in the captive pens. For some hunters this is distasteful and they prefer to not hunt deer grown in pens and then released, while other hunters don’t mind the origin of the deer, but just enjoy the hunt.
With all the programs, parties had their criticisms but they have been overcome with the current positive effects for ranchers, TPWD, and the public. Quarantines have been imposed for several diseases, most recently CWD, an extremely contagious disease found only in the deer family, and anthrax, which has been with us for decades, (found in all mammals). Rules to transport deer have been changed to maximize protection needed in times of quarantines.
Programs also have given them latitude to manage their deer and harvest an overpopulated herd earlier. Extending the days to hunt has been accepted by everyone. Enrollment deadlines and other information can be found on the Internet.
The big deer Beverly Hensley harvested this year was taken in Wharton County. This scenario allows every county to surpass scores that had been available only to a chosen few.
Some purists say the sport is gone. Management only gives a choice, there are several to choose from, try it before you make an opinion.
Hensley hunted two full days, she didn’t get a glimpse of this buck until late on the second day, and then it was trotting away at 75 yards. She’s an excellent shot, but still whispered “stop stop stop”, in very short breaths of excitement, just before the buck started out of the trail. Her 25-06 left no doubt of the merits of change. The deer showed a rough score of 474 inches and 69 total points. She still has to wait until certified official scorers have determined it.
Most deer hunters would rather know their lease has deer on it than pay big lease money and find out there are few deer to be found.
—story by GRADY ALLEN