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      Nature Report: Whitetail Deer

      Texas boasts the largest whitetail deer herd in the nation numbering somewhere between three and four million animals, but deer were not always so abundant in the state, and they were particularly scarce in deep South Texas.

      Jim McAllen whose family has ranched in South Texas since 1791 recalls the early descriptions of the Santa Anita land grant in what is now western Hidalgo County where the McAllen Ranch is located.

      McAllen, Rancher, says, "I read one of the old land grants and it talks about there were lions and tigers, but there were no deer on the Santa Anita grant, which was amazing. And why were there no deer? I guess because it was all prairie.

      Deep South Texas was primarily grassland once you got past the riparian woodlands along the Rio Grande. It was not until cattle ranching and the subsequent proliferation of mesquite and other brush spreading northward that provided whitetail deer with the browse they thrive on.

      The vast swath of land between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River was known historically as the Wild Horse Desert, and it was not until ranches like King Ranch established windmills that deer and other wildlife had a permanent source of water.

      Tio Kleberg, great, great, great grandson of King Ranch founder Richard King recalls the scarcity of deer on the fabled ranch.

      Kleberg says, "Dad would tell me stories that he and John Armstrong, because he grew up there at the headquarters, Dad did, and they would ride from there down to the point of rocks which is about 15 miles to the mouth of Baffin bay.

      They would go riding to hunt and maybe see four or five deer all day long|and today you make that|not ride but drive and you see hundreds of whitetail deer."