Somebody needs to write a book. The story of Arkansas’ deer restoration is amazing, a great, great wildlife comeback.
As time goes on, we may tend to forget, ignore or even appreciate what took place from the 1920s to the 1970s.
Yes, it was 50 years more or less in bringing whitetail deer from the brink of their grave to today’s abundance, which is an overabundance in some spots. Somehow, we think of a Facebook posting just a few days ago. A hunter lambasted the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission because he had been out for three straight days and had not seen a single deer.
Just being able to be out for three days should be partially satisfying to most anyone.
The Arkansas deer recovery was not due to one person or one technique or one game plan. This is much of the story — the diverse means [filtered word] and private people used to boost the deer. It could not be done today. So many regulations have been added to our daily lives that a couple of fellows with a stake bed truck likely could not trap three or four deer in south Arkansas and move them to northeast Arkansas.
But this happened many times over in bygone times.
An unrelated bit of research led us to the files of the Game and Fish Commission, the minutes of commission meetings to be precise. Here is a portion from the June 18, 1951 meeting of the agency’s commissioners.
“Federal Aid Coordinator T.H. Holder reported to the Commission fully on the deer trapping and release program, point out that a total of 58 deer had been trapped, six coming from a private yard in Fort Smith and the remaining 52 from Howard County. These deer were released as follows: Clay County 29, Polk County 13, Miller Count 10 and Pulaski County 6.
“In pointing out the plans for the 1951-1952 program, it was shown that our plans are to trap deer in the Black Mountain Refuge in Franklin County, in the Independence and Randolph county refuges and probably in the Horseshoe Lake area of Crittenden County. Our plan is to greatly increase the deer trapping activity as has been approved by the Regional Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was also shown in this report that this plan would have to be submitted for approval showing the exact area in each county where deer are to be released.
“The present plans call for deer plantings in the following counties: Carroll, Clay, Crawford, Greene, Faulkner, Fulton, Independence, Lawrence, Lonoke, Miller, Mississippi, Polk, Prairie, Pulaski, Randolph, Sharp, Searcy, Stone and Washington. This report was approved by unanimous consent.”
The term “deer plantings” was a new one for us. Its meaning is obvious, though. Move a handful of deer to a location without the animals, and this “seeding” should result in a crop of deer to fill the void.
Trapping and transporting deer is labor intensive, we have been told several times. Wildlife managers have gone to other techniques.
One little part of that 1951 report does intrigue us. What was that “private yard” in Fort Smith where the Game and Fish Commission obtained six deer?
In the late 1930s, Arkansas had an estimated 5,000 deer — statewide. That number could be up a little from the mid-1920s when the restoration program began. Or maybe not. The Great Depression had lots of folks desperate for any meat they could obtain, legally or illegally.
A deer would go much farther in the kitchen of a hungry family than a Hoover Ham would. The slang term was used for both rabbits and possums.