Back in the 1950s, state wildlife agencies trapped and released wild whitetail deer to kick-start recoveries in areas where populations had been decimated. That, history proves, was not such a bad idea. But the stocking of pen-raised bucks by private citizens into free-ranging populations in the hope of improving the genetics of the latter is a whole other thing.
The Alabama Big Buck Project, spearheaded by the Tutt Land Company, which sells recreational properties, is releasing captive “breeder bucks” into the wild this fall in order “to restore record-book genetics” to Marengo County.
The released bucks will not be mature deer, but will sport the genetics of bucks that have
grown 200-inch racks. These seed bucks will be turned loose on private land, with landowners’ permission, and wear yellow ear tags to identify them. According to the project’s literature, the multi-year experiment–apparently funded by Tutt, as well as some local businesses–will eventually create a whitetail herd that’s “second to none.”
If I were an Alabaman, I’d be highly skeptical, not to mention a little scared. For starters, the genetic impact of a few stud bucks on wild deer is going to be minimal at best. Brian Murphy, QDMA executive director and a lifelong whitetail researcher, compares this attempt at genetic modification to “trying to change the salinity of the ocean by adding a gallon of fresh water.”
The move could also carry health implications for Marengo County deer. Though scientists have yet to nail down an airtight link between captive deer and CWD, the circumstantial evidence is alarming. Captive whitetail deer are considered livestock in most states and releasing them is illegal. Alabama is one of the few exceptions, requiring only that the landowner grant permission first.
It’s easy, of course, to see where ideas like this get hatched. Some disgruntled whitetail nuts, wondering why the bucks in their area don’t grow TV-show/magazine-cover antlers. And instead of doing the hard work of managing habitat, boosting nutrition and–the toughest step of all–keeping their fingers off the trigger when a young buck walks by, they think they can dump a few freaks into the gene pool and solve the puzzle. Hopefully they’re only wasting time and money and not endangering the precious resource they have right in front of them.