Preserve 101

Hunting Preserves - Ending Myths and Enlightening the Public

By: Gail Veley
Originally appeared in the Fall 2017 Issue of the Upper Midwest Cervid Newsletter

Hunting preserves provide a way for hunters to harvest a top-quality deer, but they also provide deer with a quality and quantity of life they more-than-likely would never have had in the wild. Contrary to what many people may believe, deer in preserves are not easy targets unable to escape a hunter’s bullet. Deer in preserves are not harvested until they have matured and are at least four to six years old. The latest study, however, shows the average age of a free range or wild deer that is harvested across the U.S. is only 18 months old, explains Herb Jeane, a preserve owner in Louisiana.

Deer in the wild can face some pretty harsh obstacles as they seek to survive. These obstacles include lack of natural habitat, lack of food, lack of clean water, predation from mountain lions and coyotes, diseases such as EHD (Blue Tongue) and death from motor vehicle accidents.

On the contrary, deer raised in a preserve are generally much healthier and better able to fight off disease. This is due in part to the high-quality grain and alfalfa provided by most ranch owners, and the abundant forage found naturally on the preserve. There is little to no threat of native predators and they cannot wander onto a roadway to be involved in a motor vehicle accident, injuring or killing themselves or a motorist.

By the time a preserve deer is four to six years old (old enough to be harvested) it has already lived a much longer and stress-free life than its wild counterpart, Jeane said. In fact, some preserve deer are never even found by hunters, living well into their teens and merely die of old age. “People don't mind eating a hamburger,” he said. “So why is eating a deer that has lived a long natural life an issue?”

Perhaps well worth mentioning, deer are never transported in a crowded trailer and taken to a slaughterhouse where they see and smell death, unlike other agricultural animals raised on a farm. Deer live a quality stress-free life until the day they may or may not be shot. And while there may be a few "bad preserves” or “canned hunts" there are also bad free-range outfitters who tarnish the reputation of the good free-range outfitters and legitimate preserve owners. “If you ever go on a well-run preserve hunt you will be sold for life." Jeane said.

Out of the approximate 110-120 deer found on Jeane’s preserve, only 30 or so are harvested each year during the usual hunting season of mid-October to late November. They are not hunted year-round. All surviving deer spend the next ten months thriving in the preserve, growing up and experiencing life in all aspects possible. Only when a deer has matured are, they allowed to be harvested by a hunter on Jeane’s land.

Harvested deer meat can feed a family throughout the year. Because of individuals like Jeane, hunters are not the only ones who benefit from having deer meat. He donates deer meat to the Men's Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army on a regular basis. Likewise, Donald Hill, a preserve owner in Missouri, donates deer meat to needy families as often as he can.

"Deer meat tastes much better coming from a preserve where they have lived a stress-free life. In a preserve we are able to control our population and manage our deer a little better, insuring all of them have plenty of food and cover. These deer do not want for anything," Hill emphasized. “The quality of food we feed them puts at least a couple of inches of fat on them. Deer in the wild don’t have any fat."

Both Hill and Jeane, and a vast majority of preserve owners, have preserves that span hundreds if not thousands of acres, providing all the room necessary for a satisfying hunt. They also do not allow you to shoot a deer that has not fully matured. Guides that accompany hunters at Hill's preserve will give the “okay" to a hunter if the deer is old enough to be shot. Otherwise, they move on and wait for another deer to come along or be found.

Jeane agrees. “I know we have 12 bucks in my preserve right now that are between four and a half and six and a half years old,” he said. He even employs a man year-round to ride his fence line looking for evidence of coyotes, and set snares if he sees any, ensuring yet another longevity venue for the deer.

Typically, in both preserve and free-range areas you will encounter young deer without the street smarts necessary for long-term survival. However, the young preserve deer is spared when this happens, lives to a ripe old age and may even become nocturnal and hard to hunt. The curious free-range deer does not have this luxury and doesn't typically live past two and a half. If it ends up investigating a deer blind or happens to wander by a tree stand in the wild it will likely get shot, never having the chance to mature. “A deer that lives long enough gets smarter. They earn what hunters are and how to hide. It’s much harder to shoot a deer in a preserve." Hill said. “Yes you have more opportunities in a preserve, but that doesn’t mean they are easier."

Taking all this into account “you will have a much better experience hunting in a preserve,” Jeane said. “You get to observe deer in their natural habitat like God intended and see behaviors of mature deer." These behaviors can Include vocalizations, mating calls, mating rituals, and buck sparring. Free range hunters seldom see this type of action because there just aren’t many mature wild deer. “I’d have to say a preserve hunt is much more enjoyable than sitting in a deer stand all day," he added.

Through the years hunters have told Hill they weren't quite sure if they could come hunt in a preserve and truly enjoy the experience. For that Hill invites them out to take a look at his place and to realize his deer are just as wild as those found on public lands, even more so. He takes them on a tour of a free-range area where young deer have not learned to run and hide. The tour then goes into the preserve where the young deer behave very differently, they do not stick around. After seeing this “ninety to 99% of the time they book a hunt,” he said. “Once you enter my gate you don‘t even see the high fence anymore. Hunters soon realize this is an exciting, enjoyable hunt, giving them the opportunity to harvest a superior deer."

Hill's preserve offers hunting from August through December. Both Hill and Jeane agree that a quality hunt is “hard work to do it right.” They even offer hunts to wounded war veterans and children with disabilities. Both are also strict safety advocates and make sure all hunters know how to safely shoot and handle their guns (or bows) before heading out on the preserve. Both Jeane and Hill provide guns if those visiting their preserves don't want to travel with theirs. Prices for hunting at a preserve can vary and depend on whether you are looking to harvest a cull buck, trophy buck, or doe. Most preserves also provide lodges and home-cooked meals to make the experience very enjoyable and worthwhile. Although there is no official directory of hunting preserves in the US. you can find most by going on-line.

“You owe it to yourself to try hunting 'in every aspect possible," Hill said. “Preserves are just another aspect. I'm not saying you should choose between free range or preserve hunting. Preserves just give you a few more months of hunting compared to free range hunts in most states.”

“I had my first high fence hunt back in the 90‘s in Texas,” Hill said. “l wasn't sure I wanted to, but I didn’t want to hurt my clients feelings, so I went. I learned more about mature deer in three days than I ever had my whole life up to that point. l was so hooked (on preserve hunting) it was unreal. Everyone owes it to themselves to try it and see how enjoyable it really is.”

Donald Hill - Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch
178 Oak Creek Ln. Bland, MO 65014

Herb Jean 'Diamond “J” Ranch
498 Jones Road Haugton, LA 71037
318-470-7 623