The Return Of The White-tailed Deer

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Then in 1937 Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. The law earmarked the existing 11 per cent excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition for use by the states in financing approved wildlife restoration projects. It also stipulated that to be eligible for federal funds, a state had to apply all hunting-license revenues to running its wildlife agency. Every state quickly complied.

In the East the white-tailed deer was one of the first principal beneficiaries. Within a remarkably short time restoration efforts in one state after another bore fruit. Small resident herds that had survived the dark days of the iSoo’s multiplied and spread. Transplants of a few animals mushroomed to thousands within a few years. And as its woodlands refilled with deer, one state after another reopened its long-closed hunting season. In 1965, when Kansas felt that it had enough whitetails to warrant an open season, every state east of the Rockies had again become a “big-game” state.

Although hunting is distasteful to many, it is, in the absence of the original natural checks on the growth of the deer population, essential to the well-being of the deer and of the forests on which they depend. In the autumn and early winter of 1968 hunters in the United States brought home nearly a million and a half white-tailed deer half again as many as existed in all of North America only fifty years ago! But that was less than a fifth of the summer’s whitetail population.

With nearly all of the suitable range in America fully stocked, this is probably all the white-tailed deer that the woodlands of America can support. But it is enough. The hit-or-miss conservation efforts of the past have been replaced by scientific research, law enforcement, and habitat management. In most states flexible hunting regulations keep the deer populations in balance with their food supplies and still assure the survival each year of a more-than-adequate breeding stock. As for the future, the constant demand of the American economy for wood products and for protected watersheds should assure the maintenance of the large blocks of young woodlands that deer must have to thrive. The white-tailed deer should be around in numbers for many years.