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 Glen Mills | TPWD

The Epicenter of Deer Research

Kerr WMA work leads to a bountiful herd across the state.

Texas deer are thriving, but that wasn’t always the case. The white-tailed deer population has rebounded from an estimated 232,000 in 1938 to today’s 5.5 million. The Kerr Wildlife Management Area (and a deer named Big Charlie) gave us the road map to get us where we are today with a productive, healthy deer herd across the state.

The Kerr WMA has been the epicenter of deer research in Texas, with extensive work done on deer habitat, genetics, nutrition, antler growth, selective harvest, carrying capacity and more.

“What we’ve learned on the Kerr is that production and quality of white-tailed deer is genetically based and environmentally influenced,” says Ryan Reitz, project leader for Kerr and Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Areas. “There’s a whole lot that goes in that statement.”

Decades of research and dozens of studies have provided scientifically based principles on everything from a deer’s preferred diet to the effects of early weaning. Hunters and land managers have implemented the lessons learned at Kerr over the past 50 years, leading to improvements in both the quantity and quality of deer in Texas.

Some of the best-known research that’s come out of the Kerr involves antlers. That’s where Big Charlie comes in.

 Chase Fountain | TPWD

The Kerr was established in 1950 in the heart of the Hill Country west of Kerrville. In the 1970s, the Kerr established a deer research facility with deer gathered from all over the state and started studying the roles of genetics and nutrition on antler development. Big Charlie made his contribution to deer research by being the sire of many of the fork-antlered deer in the Kerr’s groundbreaking study on spike-antlered deer vs. fork-antlered deer. The multi-decade study concluded genetics are involved in antler production, leading to multiple succeeding studies revealing a road map of how age, nutrition and genetics fit together.

“One thing is clear that although the foundation for antlers is based on genetics, sound management of range and habitat systems is critical to production of quality bucks that hunter and landowners strive to produce each year,” Reitz says.

Studies such as these coupled with harvest data collected by TPWD biologists across many parts of the state provided strong support for the antler restriction regulation now in effect in 117 Texas counties. The restrictions are intended to limit the number of young bucks taken (resulting in older, bigger-antlered bucks). A second buck tag was also added to the bag limit in antler restriction counties to encourage the harvest of unbranched-antler/spike bucks.

“A lot of hunters and landowners know the Kerr for research on nutrition and genetic components that affect antler development,” says Alan Cain, TPWD’s white-tailed deer program leader. “A big part of their research has also been on habitat management and range management, especially in the context of providing quality nutrition and quality habitat for white-tailed deer. A lot of those guiding principles and management practices we use all over the state were validated through the research at the Kerr.”

A GUIDE TO WHITE-TAILED DEER

(Almost) Everything Whitetail

In the Wild: Focus On the Eyes

In The Wild: Leave Fawns Alone

In the Wild: What the Rut?!

Before the Hunt: Stay Safe in Deer Camp

Before the Hunt: Learn Before You Leave

Before the Hunt: The Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety

The Hunt: Becoming a Deer Hunter

The Hunt: Public Hunting

The Hunt: Become a Legend

The Harvest: A Life-like Vision

The Harvest: Wall-to-Wall Antlers

The Harvest: Ancient Rock Stars?

The Harvest: Hunters for the Hungry

The Feast: Venison Backstrap Stuffed with Pecan and Cranberry

The Feast: How to Butterfly and Truss a Loin

The Feast: Oh-So-Spicy Venison Ribs

The Feast: Venison Loin

The Feast: Venison Sourdough Toast

The Feast: Cooking Tips from Tim Love

The Stories: A Fever for Fiction


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