White Oak Mountain Ranger: A Slow Sense Of Doom

  • Sunday, June 16, 2024

If you’ve spent a decent amount of time hunting deer for the last four or five decades around here then you’ll possibly understand what this is all about. If you’ve been new lately to this sort of endeavor, you’ll likely come away from this somewhat bewildered.

There was a time around these parts when deer were scarce to the point of almost being nonexistent. I know that’s somewhat hard to fathom given our rather prodigious deer herd of today. There was a era to two back when just finding a big set of buck deer tracks in the dirt was an exciting day afoot. I know that’s hard to imagine given the population of deer among us today, but it’s in fact, a veritable truth.

Scarce as hen’s teeth back in those days they say. Only the best, luckiest and remotest of deer hunters could find a decent buck with a big rack back then. Small town papers, when there were small town papers, long ago, proudly sent out scribes carrying cameras with film, so paper publishers could display photographs of bucks and proud hunters, on sports pages. This “news” was due to decent deer being a unique rarity. An eight point buck was unquestionably unusual back in the day.

Back then, for a good many trophy hunters, a recurring sense of doom set in as the fall and winter sun drifted to darkness in those days. All day spent on an uncomfortable board nailed in a tree, the cold shadows slipping away to night, and, if you were lucky, only a lone doe to be seen. Does were sacred in those days. Seed stock, they called them, back when.

It wasn’t the kind of doom like the sinking of a tall masted sailing ship in a bad storm, or hunkering down in some muck filled trench in France after surviving an artillery barrage and watching a cloud of mustard gas wafting towards your face. It wasn’t like some slow motion train wreck, or like the doom of churning through the surf of Omaha Beach in a Higgins boat on D day. It’s not even like that odd sense of doom experienced while watching your third wife’s rear end bloom and spread until it’s as wide as a good sized axe handle.

But still, it was a fatalistic sense of some kind of strange doom a deer hunter sensed as light faded in the forest of your choice. You’d spent all day without seeing a buck. An odd sense of doom of empty-handedness routinely set in as darkness fell.

You’d spent all day on a nailed board, high in some uncomfortable tree, hoping to at least finally just get a glimpse at an antlered deer, or for that matter, actually seeing a single deer. It was indeed an odd time, and if by chance, you’d spent an entire day without success, in some way it made you, either give up all together and go back to hunting squirrels, or in some strange way, it made you hunt for success deeper and harder. My, how things have changed in the last few decades!

I’ve been recently trying to follow the story of an 80 plus year old Texan who spent the last four or five decades raising massive racked deer in his 1500 acre pen. At one time, he states that he had grown his trophy herd to over 600 deer. The old rancher had apparently figured out how to grow massive sets of antlers on his best bucks. Somehow this “buck rancher” had broken the genetic code and the requisite mix of chemicals for growing massive racked deer in this pen.

He was so successful at growing horns that people with large sums of disposable income, and a thirst for a trophy wall hanger, would pay the deer raiser to hunt “trophy bucks” in his pen. Now I don’t know exactly how much he charged hunters on his “ranch” to hunt these monsters, but it’s a pretty fair guess that these “trophy hunts” were a bit more than the 60 easy months of payments of your first two or three pickup trucks. It really doesn’t matter. It was apparently a pay-to-hunt-in-a-pen sort of an arrangement.

As time went on, it also appears that the Texas Wildlife Agency gurus decided that it was necessary to inspect the old boys’ 600 or so penned deer that he had for sale. The purpose of this being, a search for penned up deer that were potentially infected or contaminated with the devastating disease, chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The story goes that it’s relatively easy for government types to search for this disease in deer that are confined to a pen. And, it’s apparently not so easy for wildlife officials to search for this disease in wild deer.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the Texas Wildlife authorities found what they had been searching for. The government’s solution to this devastating disease was extermination/elimination of the rancher’s diseased herd.

The old boy immediately fought back, sought the help of local judges, took the government agents to court numerous times in order to appeal for a stay of execution. So, he appealed the extermination attempts by the state so many times over the years that all interested parties wound up before the Supreme Court of Texas. After years of putting off the slaughter of his increasingly infected and expensive trophy herd, the old boy apparently just ran out of appeals.

The rancher, is quoted as believing to his dying day that the government put something in his pen that caused his deer to be infected. He also claims that the government was probably jealous that he had figured out how to grow massive racked trophies and the boys in the Texas Wildlife bureaucracy were just looking stupid in their government uniforms. Obviously, they couldn’t, or didn’t know how to, raise the same quality of deer in their wild herds.

The State Supreme Court seemed to be convinced that the old man was essentially growing, selling and transporting diseased deer. Thereby helping spread and infect Texas, and possibly other state’s wild deer, by spreading a disease that endangered the un-penned deer herd any where sick deer were sold.

The State Supreme Court apparently also decided that the rancher’s deer were not really the old ranchers property, even after thirty plus years of raising them in a pen. The court somehow decided that these deer may legally belong to the state of Texas because they had come from stock that was once, years ago, wild. The Supreme Court decided that because the state of Texas therefore legally owned the rancher’s deer, therefore, the State Wildlife boys could legally do what they thought was right. What was apparently thought to be “right” turned out to be the slaughter and disposal of the old rancher’s entire CWD infected herd and three or four decades of effort at raising trophy bucks?

Talk about a sense of doom! The old rancher said in just three or four hours after the wildlife boys stopped shooting; he was left with an empty 1500 acre pen and he promptly cried like a baby. Too late to start over for a guy in his eighties.

If you spend any time researching available media associated with CWD, and you try to make sense of what’s going on with this disease, there are quickly several, or at least three or four strange, slow moving doom shrouded things that will jump out at you. That is of course, if you believe what you’re reading.

The disease appears to be spreading internationally. There is no cure and no effective way of stopping the disease. No way to effectively test for the disease in wild herds. Deer, elk, moose, caribou, and maybe mankind (who eats contaminated meat), can all be at risk of death. (No one medical professional, researcher or scientist apparently wants to be the first to seriously consider professional suicide by being that individual who confirms an infected meat eating consumer at this point.)

Some say this is now becoming a political disease. (ask that old boy down in Texas). Additionally, CWD has the potential to wipe out herds to the tune of up to 20% per year in some locations. Some say there is no real way to predict where or when this disease will infect all animal herds. Some say the miss-folded prions, which cause CWD, lives in our soil and can’t be killed. Some shudder in their new boots, when they start to think about the impact of CWD on the multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to the hunting of these animals. Some say the disease is moving at a pace that is unmeasurable. They say there are some researchers working on guesses of how many generations it will take to restore these animals once the disease wipes out the present population. (maybe for our grandchildren)

Talk about a slow sense of doom!

So, we’re left with a bunch of questions that maybe we are in need of answers for. But, who do we need to believe? Maybe it’s like that Jack Nickelson movie where old Marine Colonel Jessup says, “You can’t handle the truth”. Maybe we just plain don’t want the truth. Maybe the truth is too confusing for a large majority of us hunters. Maybe it’s kind of in the same vein as you don’t really want to know the truth about alien visitors from other galaxies. Impending doom is a hard thing to stomach sometimes.

But, just for the sake tamping down some of my own gnawing sense of impending doom, I’m going to throw out some maybe stupid questions in the interest of getting your feedback and hopefully your knowledge on what appears to be for all the world, big game hunters stuck in the middle of a slow moving train wreck.

I’d sincerely like your thoughts on these few questions that seem to gnaw at me more frequently than I care to admit:

1. If you wanted to take a dead animal from the surrounding counties and get it tested for CWD where would that test site be? How long would it take to get the test results? Who plays the cost for the test and how much is it?

2. Are dead deer in counties near where CWD has been confirmed in your state, (say, those killed by a vehicle) picked up off the side of the road for testing by your state Game and Fish agencies?

3. What percentage of animals are tested for CWD at your deer/elk/moose/caribou processor’s cooler during hunting season? Have you bothered to ask?

4. If you had a confirmed infected deer and you wanted to dispose of it instead of eating it, where is your nearest Class II landfill? Would they take it? Would you pay to dispose of it?

5. How many deer a year are tested for CWD in your area? Who does that testing? Who publishes that data?

6. If you wanted a trophy mount from your taxidermist of choice, would they require a CWD test?

7. If you donate your animal to “Hunters for the Hungry” type charities, do they require a negative CWD test?

8. What percentage of your states wildlife agencies budget is spent on CWD related costs?

9. If you find yourself in a CWD zone will you continue to hunt potentially infected animals?

10. If the miss-folded prion, that causes the disease, lives in the soil, who in your area is doing soil testing and where is that data published?

Not too long ago I was invited to a fish fry hosted by a group of old friends who could easily be considered a grey bearded, hardcore bunch of experienced and wide ranging hunting and fishing experts. Just ask them. These old boys in this tribe are not an especially humble bunch, but they do pay attention to what’s going on when it comes to things like where the Fed and the States are spending their hard earned money.

I was enquiring about one of the more well traveled members deer and turkey population that he routinely feeds and photographs in his yard. As the conversation unfolded, I asked his opinion on CWD and where he thought the whole slow moving phenomenon was headed.

Maybe the time wasn’t just right for such a question. Maybe we just had too much to eat, but his reaction to the question was pretty quick and to the point. (and this is by no means a direct quote) It went something like this; ‘It’s all just a huge bunch of crap. Just like the kind of crap we went through with COVID. Just pure-D crap. Let me tell you one thing…They won’t get my deer feeder…Let me tell you why…’cause the slimy @#$%#$^& can’t illegally sneak onto my property and set up their cameras without a search warrant anymore.’ That was the end of that discussion.Then he just ambled off for some more sweet tea.

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Send comments to whiteoakmtnranger@gmail.com

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