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When Europeans came to the New World, the white-tailed deer played an important role in providing food. The army of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto found venison and whitetail hides being used by many Indian tribes in Arkansas.
By the early 1900s, white-tailed deer numbers were declining throughout the state. Unrestricted hunting, accelerated land clearing and the influx of people settling in the state took their toll on the deer population.
Deer management in Arkansas began in 1916, when a legislative act established a hunting season for deer, turkey and bear that lasted Nov. 11- Jan. 10. The newly established deer season was accompanied by a bag limit of two buck deer. At that time the statewide deer population was about 2,000.
By the 1920s deer had been eliminated from many Arkansas counties, leaving an estimated 500 deer statewide.
The development of state and federal game refuges in the late 1920s was vital for re-establishing Arkansas’s deer population. Stocking efforts were initiated and continued for about 20 years on these refuges. The deer population expanded from the refuges throughout the state.
Another important turning point for Arkansas’s deer was the 1944 passage of Amendment 35, which placed management and regulation of all wildlife resources under the authority of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. In subsequent decades, the goal of deer management was to increase deer numbers by restocking, setting “buck-only” deer seasons and providing strict enforcement of all hunting regulations.
By 1985 the deer population was estimated at 500,000 animals, and management emphasis shifted from herd growth to stabilization. As either-sex deer hunting opportunity continued to increase in the 1990s, the public grew more accepting of doe harvest. The three-point rule was implemented in 1998 as an attempt to reduce yearling buck harvest and improve buck age structure. During the late 1990s the AGFC implemented additional deer hunting restrictions, increased research efforts, developed a new deer management plan and initiated the Deer Management Assistance Program to help landowners provide better habitat and management on private land.
Today's deer herd is estimated to be near 1 million animals. The comeback of the white-tailed deer is one of the most successful conservation initiatives in history.