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Big Buck Project Breeder Bucks Released Into Marengo County
Program starts with a nice buck finding a new home, and a new owner—the state.
By AON Staff
Posted Tuesday October 30 2012, 2:43 PM
This impressive buck was raised by an Alabama deer farm and is now a free-roaming buck somewhere in Marengo County.
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Plans to release farmed deer into the wild deer herd in Marengo County—arguably the heart of Alabama’s deer herd—have reverberated across the deer world, drawing both praise and opposition—most of the opposition coming from professional biologists, and most of the praise coming locally.

Titled Big Buck Project, and having a website of the same name, the plan is “simply to improve the quality of the deer herd here in Marengo County,” said project spokesperson Hale Smith.

“We are excited about this program,” he continued. “This is a natural outgrowth of what has been happening here in Marengo County for the past couple of decades. If you go to our website, you can watch Mr. Roy Jordan describe his positive results over the past 17 years as he has been releasing deer that he purchased onto his property, free range. What we are doing is nothing new, at least in that regard.

“We have seen the results Mr. Jordan is enjoying and then, for the past five years, we have been introducing better deer into our captive herd in a 1,300-acre enclosure here in the county. Our herd quality has improved, markedly.

“The Big Buck Project is essentially an invitation from us to other hunters and landowners in the county to work together to continue to foster the improvement we have witnessed over the past years. We think these releases of deer with proven genetics can help improve the quality of both the herd and the deer-hunting experience here in our county,” Smith said.

Is the program legal?

Yes. There is no obstacle in Alabama law that prohibits the release of farmed deer into the wild, so long as those deer were raised in a permitted facility in Alabama and that proper documentation tracking the sale and transportation of the deer from the deer farmer to the new owner is done.

When released, each deer becomes the property of the state and can be legally harvested by any hunter under normal and legal hunting conditions. Mr. Smith claims the program has received “overwhelming support locally,” and he points to voting on the website as tangible positive interest in the program. “We have more than 35,000 votes, and there are not that many people in the whole county,” he said.

The Big Buck Project has divided the county into 10 zones and has invited sportsmen to vote online on the area they think should receive stocking priority (see inset below, left). Participants can vote for more than one zone and can vote as often as they wish. Mr. Smith did not release the number of persons involved in casting those 35,000 votes but did say that he did not think there was a great deal of over-voting going on.

As to how many deer would be stocked this season, Mr. Smith said, “It depends on the support we get from that landowners and the hunting public. We just got this thing started about two months ago, and the response so far has been very encouraging. But these deer cost money. I don’t want to project what the number will be at the end of the season, but I will say I am very encouraged and that interest is building.”

Mr. Smith did say not all deer stocked will be mature breeder bucks.

“We learned from Mr. Jordan’s study on his free-range herd that we see very good results of stocking yearlings and bred does as well as large-antlered breeder bucks. I would add that one of the interesting things we have seen in our experience is that the does in our enclosure are dropping more fawns earlier now that when we started (five years ago). We are not sure why that is, but we see it, and we think it is generally a positive thing.”

As positive as Mr. Smith is about the program, not everyone supports the project.

It has generated strong opposition from the likes of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) and Field & Stream, and others. Field & Stream titled their piece this way.

“Alabama’s Big Buck Project is Delusional—Maybe Dangerous.” The link addy for the website is very long, Just google up the title above and you are there.

Quality Deer Management Association’s (QDMA) Executive Director Brian Murphy objects to the project and asked the proponents to reconsider and withdraw their plan. He pointed to the unwarranted disease risk and that the impact of stocking better genetics one buck at a time would be like “adding a gallon of fresh water to the ocean and hoping to change the salinity.”

Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is being quiet and neutral at this point.

When asked about the detractors to the plan, Mr. Smith responded by saying there were only two complaints that he was aware of. The first was the threat of disease and the second was a general notion that it wouldn’t work.

“One of the things I just don’t understand about the disease issue is that there are those who object to us turning deer loose, but do not object to deer moving from breeder farm to high-fence area. Within Alabama, there are many high fences and a lot of deer have been moved over the years, and there was never an issue. Until now.

“There is a lot I don’t know about deer disease, and CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) is the one that represents the largest threat, I understand. But I have seen deer in an enclosure rubbing noses with and licking deer on the other side of the fence (in the wild), and vise versa. So I don’t understand how a fence is an effective barrier to the spread of CWD.

“It seems to me that we aren’t adding to any risk that isn’t already here and that hasn’t been here for some time and that everyone has accepted. We do not want to do anything that would harm our deer herd. We live in this county. And we are not doing anything that hasn’t been done before in this county and in others. There are others like Mr. Jordan in other Alabama counties who have bought deer and released them on their land for the same reason Mr. Jordan did on his, and for the same reason we thought the Big Buck Project would help everyone.

“As for the people who say it won’t work, we just want to improve the quality. How can it hurt? We don’t expect there to be 200-inch-plus bucks running all over the county because of this program. But our history has shown us that we can do better and have better hunting if we work to improve the quality of our herd.

“And we have to work to improve our landowners as well. Keeping our herds in the carrying capacity and improving habitat and being wise about the deer that we do take are all a part of our program.

“We think this program will help. We want to work with our landowners, our neighbors, our state officials, everyone who is interested, to learn as we go and to make this program as successful as it can be,” Smith said.

The Big Buck Project website is http://bigbuckproject.org.
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