GAME BULLETIN NO. 6 A Survey of CALIFORNIA DEER HERDS Their Ranges and ' Management Problems By WILLIAM M. LONGHURST, A. STARKER LEOPOLD and RAYMOND F. DASMANN MUSEUM OF VERTEBRATE ZOOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY. DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME BUREAU OF GAME CONSERVATION, 1952 [starts on page 407 of Google book]


HISTORY OF DEER IN CALIFORNIA

The report on the Jawbone deer herd (Leopold et al, 1951) includes a rather detailed history of deer in the Tuolumne sector of the Sierra. The sequence of events affecting deer in that area was essentially dupli cated elsewhere in California with a few important modifications. At a risk of some repetition, the present chapter is included to amplify and elaborate deer history in the State as a whole.


Deer in Spanish Times

After discovery by the Spanish but prior to actual settlement, there was a period of 227 years during which California occasionally was re visited by explorers. Records of these early voyages, which only touched at points along the coast, do not give much information on the land or wildlife.

The first Spanish settlements in California were established in 1769 in the vicinity of San Diego. Subsequently, Spanish adventurers, mis sionaries and settlers explored and occupied most of central and southern coastal California. References to wildlife are infrequent in journals of that period (1769 to 1792). Deer are mentioned by Anza as being com mon in the San Francisco Bay area and on the plains west of the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains (Bolton, 1930). Palou also notes that they were abundant near San Francisco and has one reference to deer in the Santa Cruz area (op. cit) Fages mentions deer in the San Diego, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo and J olon areas, and around San Francisco Bay. Apparently he encountered them throughout his journey in 1769, yet during much of the trip his men must have had no success in hunting, for the party was frequently near starvation (Priestley, 1937). In 17 92. Longinos Martinez reported deer as among “the most abundant animals” over much of the country from San Diego to Santa Barbara (Simpson, 1938).

The Spanish settlers, although few in number and restricted in the area they occupied, nevertheless brought about many changes in the land, particularly as a result of their introduction of domestic cattle, sheep, horses and goats. \Vith the European livestock came European annuals, grasses and weeds, which generally replaced the original perennials throughout the Central Valley and foothills. The domestic herds were large, and much spread out. In 1825 it is estimated that there were 1,003,970 head of sheep at the Spanish missions, and about as many more kept by ranchers outside the missions (Miller, 1942). Bryant, in 1846, refers to the droves of wild horses encountered in San Joaquin County. He states further that “beef in California is so abundant, and of so fine a quality, that game is but little hunted, and not much prized.” He also says that “the horned cattle of California which I have thus far seen, are the largest and handsomest in shape which I ever saw. There is certainly no breed in the United States equalling them in size. They, as well as the horses, subsist entirely on the indigenous grasses, at all the seasons of the year; and such are the nutritious qualities of the herbage, that the former are always in condition for slaughtering. "" *“ "“ The varieties of grasses are numerous, and nearly all of them are heavily seeded when ripe, and are equal, if not superior, as food for animals, to corn and oats.”

The competition of domestic livestock must have had some local effect upon deer numbers, as well as upon the elk and antelope. Yet, the total impact of Spanish occupancy, except insofar as domestic livestock were concerned, was slight in comparison with the changes to be accomplished in a few decades after immigrants from the United States began to arrive in large numbers.


The Coming of American Trappers and Settlers

Jedediah Smith traveled over much of California in 1827-28. Along the lower Stanislaus River, in August, he found some deer, but elk and ante lope were more abundant. Later, during the winter and early spring his party encountered deer in the vicinity of the Mokelumne River, American River, Feather River, Yuba River and Chico Creek. In April the Smith party moved into the Trinity River area. Deer were apparently abundant all along the route down the Trinity and Klamath Rivers. However, when they headed into the mountains north of the Klamath they saw no deer, nor did they encounter any along the coast until the vicinity of Lake Earl in Del Norte County was reached where deer were found in fair numbers (Sullivan, 1934). Today deer are relatively scarce in this area.

In October and November of 1832 John Work entered Modoc County from the north and followed the Pit River down to Hat Creek where he crossed the divide to Cow Creek and the upper Sacramento. Work’s party found practically no deer until they reached Cow Creek, subsisting for much of the journey on the flesh of their own horses. This implies local scarcity of deer in the Pit River country, although in 1846 Fremont and Applegate found considerable numbers there. Around the borders of the Sacramento Valley and in Sonoma, Napa, and Lake Counties Work ’s party found game aplenty, including deer. They reported numerous deer on the Marysville Buttes, incidentally, where now there are none (Maloney, 1945).

Zenas Leonard arrived with the Walker Party which crossed the Sierra Nevada in October 1833. No deer were reported until the rim of Yosemite was reached, where they killed one. When they descended lower, perhaps to the floor of Yosemite Valley they found game in abundance. Moving out toward the San Joaquin Valley they continued to find deer and much other game along the wooded river courses (Quaife, 1934).

Ellison ’s chronicle (1937) of the adventures of George Nidever men tions an abundance of deer in the Santa Barbara area in 1837, which supports the observation of Longinos Martinez made 50 years earlier.

Fremont traveled along the eastern base of the Sierra in 1844, finally crossing the mountains in February. He found abundant deer sign on one winter range area northwest of Bridgeport, but elsewhere saw no deer until well down the west slope. In the foothills along the lower American River deer were encountered in abundance (Fremont, 1853).

In 1846, Edwin Bryant traveled up the Truckee River and over Donner Pass. He reports seeing deer in the Truckee River Canyon in August. Crossing the mountains he saw no deer, but stated that deer tracks were “numerous.” \Vhen the party reached the valley they saw large numbers of deer, as well as elk and antelope. Bryant also reports deer as numerous at this time in the Santa Clara Valley foothills, in eastern Napa County, and around Clear Lake (Bryant, 1936).


Conclusions Regarding Original Deer Populations

From these accounts we gain the impression that deer originally were numerous in the coastal mountains from San Diego to the Klamath River and in the foothills bordering the Central Valley. Populations were moderate or only locally abundant in the high Sierra, the Great Basin area and the Central Valley. They were scarce in the desert and the heavily timbered northwest.

... from all accounts the Indians set numerous fires in the coast ranges and foothills, (Sampson, 1944), often to drive game to the kill but sometimes apparently for the express purpose of producing tender green forage. Thus Herbert Bolton, dean of California historians, states in the foreword to the published journal of John Work: “The same rains had quenched the fires set each September by the Indians to provide pasturage for deer and elk.” (Maloney, 1945: iv). Quoting again Longinos Martinez in 1792: “In all of New California from Fronteras northward the gentiles have the custom of burning the brush, for two purposes; one, for hunting rabbits and hates; second, so that with the first light rain or dew the shoots will come up which they call pelillo (little hair) and upon which they feed like cattle when the weather does not permit them to seek other food.” (Simpson, 1938 :51). The mechanism of Indian fires, tend ing to set back plant successions to sub-climax levels favorable to deer, undoubtedly contributed to the high numbers found originally in coastal and foothill areas. It was only after the heavy timber was broken up that deer attained high density in the California mountains... [page 12, p. 414 in Google books]

... in 1879-80 and recurring during the next three decades, may have been sufficient in themselves to account for the scarcity of deer following the turn of the century. According to Tom Ivory, an old time resident of Modoc County, the winter of 1889-90 killed most of the deer and antelope. Before the winter they were quite numerous. [page 14, p. 416 in Google book]

... As early as 1852 deer were given legislative protection during six months of the year. In 1883 a buck law was put into effect, giving legal protection from hunting to does and fawns. In 1893 the open season on deer was cut down to six weeks. In 1901 a bag limit was placed on deer, restricting the kill to three bucks per hunter, to be taken during a two-month open season... [page 15, p. 417 in Google book]

... In most areas of the State our interviews indicate that deer continued to increase from the 1920 ’s at least until the period 1939-41. Since then there probably has been no over-all growth of the population... [page 22, p. 242 in Google book]

... Of the total area of 100,354,000 acres in California approximately 56,500,000 acres are occupied‘by deer... [page 24, p. 426 in Google book]


... The sum of the local population estimates for deer in all subdivisions of the California range is 1,123,000 animals. This we believe to be a conservative figure for the following reason. Assuming that the minimum kill in 1947 was 75,000 bucks (far below the computed 91,000 based on the 1948 poll), removal from the estimated total population would have been approximately 7 percent. A 7 percent annual kill, when only bucks with forked horns or larger may be taken, represents very heavy hunting pressure as was demonstrated in the Jawbone herd study where good kill statistics and census figures were available. We know that such heavy hunting does not take place throughout California; in fact nearly one eighth of the range is closed to hunting by public agencies, and private closures probably reduce or eliminate hunting on an equal area. If deer existing on areas of closure are eliminated from the above computation, the kill in the hunted portion of the population becomes an exorbitant 9 percent. Either the kill figure of 75,000 is too high or the estimated population of 1,123,000 is too low. We are quite convinced that the latter is true. The actual population of deer in California, therefore, is prob ably considerably above our figure. [page 30, p. 432 in Google book]


... We have in California an estimated population of Well over one million deer, as measured in the fall or early winter. As a result of normal winter losses the population may dwindle to perhaps 900,000 animals at the start of the fawning season. If it may be assumed that 40 percent of these deer are breeding females, then it is theoretically possible under near optimum conditions that they could produce perhaps 648,000 fawns each year (@ 180 ‘fawns: 100 does). If all of these fawns were raised to autumn we could remove nearly this number of deer annually from our herds. This, however, cannot be achieved. Natural losses never can be eliminated entirely, ‘nor is it desirable that they should be. However, under good management it is not too much to hope that a fawn crop with a ratio of 100 fawns per 100 does could be raised to autumn. We know of no area in California at the present time where this high a rate of productivity is maintained. Were it to be achieved we could perhaps harvest almost 360,000 animals a~year from our present breeding population. But the present annual crop (e. g.—net increase), judging from fawn counts taken all over the State, is probably no more than 250,000 deer and of these we are shooting only some 75,000. As a result of poor management, therefore, we are producing a smaller crop of deer than we should and are wasting over two-thirds of that.

In considering the size of the annual increase in California deer herds, it is necessary to take into account the sex ratio in the population. Un hunted herds tend to approach equality in sex ratio. The existing ratio in any herd is in part a measure of the past hunting pressure to which it has been subjected. In California where the buck law prevails, as hunting pressure increases the percentage of female deer present in the herd also increases. As a result, more fawns are born each year than would be born in a herd of the same size where the sex ratio is near equality. Thus if one fawn per doe were raised to the first winter, the number of fawns found in herds of equal size but differing sex ratios would be as shown in Table 8... [page 54, page 456 in Google book]


... This picture is complicated by the fact that a second factor, namely hunting, seems to have an independent effect on reproductive rate. The more heavily hunted herds in every case were found to have the highest fawn survival. [page 59, page 461 in Google book]


... the kill of bucks in California under present restrictions represents less than 7 percent of the population per annum [page 60, page 760 in Google book]

... The mountain lion is without doubt the principal deer predator in California. Grinnell et al. (1937) conclude that deer make up 75 percent of the diet of the mountain lion. The number of deer taken annually by individual lions has been estimated as high as one deer per week, or 52 a year, but most authorities consider 30-40 per year a more probable average. Grinnell, for example, estimates the usual yearly kill of an individual lion at 36 deer. [page 74, page 476 in Google Book]


... The number of lions in California has been variously estimated. Grinnell, Dixon and Linsdale (1937) place the population at about 600 lions. They quote Jay Bruce as saying that there is an average density of one lion per township in California. This assumes only about 22,000 square miles of lion habitat. Even omitting the Great Basin and desert, there are at least 65,000 square miles of deer range in the State, all occupied by moderate to high numbers of lions. Applying Bruce 's density of one lion per township to this area would give a population of 1,800 animals. The Forest Service estimates the number of lions in the national forests of California at 1,200 (Young and Goldman, 1946)... [page 75, page 477 in Google book]


[The graph below shows the decline in the number of deer tags during WWII from page 79, page 481 in Google book]

.. deer hunters have become thoroughly imbued with the idea that to harvest any female deer would endanger the herd. Nothing could be farther from the truth. N at to harvest any females is much the greater danger today. [page 81]...


... Trapping and transplanting excess deer has been found to cost from $59 to $88 per head, [page 95] ...


... on critical winter ranges it may well prove worthwhile to deliberately cut the timber heavily and burn undesirable forms of brush for the purpose of increasing the better forage species for deer. [page 97]


... Some deer that stuff themselves on alfalfa after prolonged semi-starvation die at once, apparently as a result of digestive upsets of one sort or another. [page 102] ...


Deer originally were abundant in the chaparral and oak-woodland zones of the coastal mountains and in the foothills bordering the Central Valley. Periodic fires doubtless helped maintain the brush and scrub for est in optimum condition for deer. Conversely, there were relatively few deer in the timbered mountains, presumably because there were not enough crown fires to create openings in the heavy timber. Deer were more or less scarce in the arid shrub-grasslands of the Great Basin and very scarce in the desert.

The primeval picture was little distorted during Spanish occupancy but was completely upset with the arrival of American settlers. Over grazing, indiscriminate slashing and burning of forests, and perhaps most importantly year-long, persistent hunting led to a rapid depletion of all big game including deer. The low point was reached in the period 1890 1910 when severe winters, on top of all the other depressant influences, reduced deer to a status of extreme scarcity over most of the State.

From 1907 to 1917 a program of deer restoration was evolved which proved highly successful and has been retained with little alteration up to the present day. The backbone of this program was close legal protection in the form of a buck law and conservative bag limits and shooting seasons. Although increasingly stringent protective laws had been adopted in the period 1852-1905, they were ineflective for lack of enforcement. After the warden force came into existence in 1907 deer were given real protection, and the population began steadily to increase._ Concurrently a program of land management was applied on national forest lands which greatly aided the multiplication of deer. Many thriving herds developed in mountain areas where brush had replaced the original timber. Regulation of livestock grazing permitted the deer to increase in these brush fields. The system of parks and refuges, and the control of large predators, further accelerated the increase, though these influences were of lesser importance than the two mentioned above.

The increase of deer slowed down in the 1930’s and ceased in the 1940’s. By that time, practically all ranges were fully stocked and many were overstocked. Limitations in range carrying capacity precluded any further growth of the breeding herd. Common manifestations of overstocking were (and still are today) : (1) periodic starvation losses; ( 2) periodic disease epizootics; (3) overbrowsed and deteriorating ranges; (4) increasing agricultural and garden damage; and (5) re duced productivity in the deer herds.


Peaceful Coexistence with Deer — Bay Nature Institute (History of Deer in the Bay Area and speculation about the population size) , ... Bay Area Hiker: Waterfall Loop Big Basin Redwoods State Park ...