As hunters sit in their blinds and tree stands every fall hoping to bag a deer, does a minor controversy involving this game animal ever come to mind? Put another way, do hunters think white-tailed deer are native to the province or do they believe they were introduced. The question is moot, I suppose. The deer are here, so introduced or not, thousands of hunters enjoy hunting them year after year and that’s all that really matters.
However, once there were opposing sides to this question. And as far as any controversy existing over deer being native or an introduced species, this isn’t correct either. Controversy is the wrong word. It’s just that if you go back a generation or two you’ll find people either believed deer were native or were introduced by some far-seeing visionary who did future hunters a huge favour.
So, are deer native to the province or not? What do you think?
If you think “introduced,” you probably heard of John Daly and what once was known far and wide as “Daly’s deer.” Sometime in the 1890s John Daley conceived the idea of capturing deer in New Brunswick and releasing them in various areas around the province. In 1893 he was given the authority by the Surveyor General “to take alive within the province of New Brunswick twenty-five Red Deer and export same to the province.”
Daly was to meet certain conditions before proceeding. As Daly told it, he eventually ran an advertisement in a New Brunswick newspaper asking for live deer. As a result, Daly writes that he “got over in February, 1894, 7 does and 4 bucks, eleven in all.” These deer were released in Digby County, “about twenty miles from Digby town.” This was his first release and apparently Daly continued with the stocking the following year.
Unfortunately I don’t have the complete Daly story. The above quotes are taken from letters I was privileged to read (in the files of the late L. St. Clair Baird of Kentville) in which Daly spoke of his efforts to stock deer. In the letters Daly boasted that “unaided and of his own accord (he) secured and imported what is known all over western Nova Scotia as Daly’s Deer.”
Now, jump forward to the research on deer made by the late biologist and teacher, John Erskine (1900-1981). In the late 1950 s and early 1960s Erskine excavated Mi’kmaq winter camp sites dating from around the year 1060. Erskine unearthed deer bones from this and an earlier site. “Deer antlers, often on skulls were frequent” at the sites Erskine wrote. Further proof that white-tailed deer were in Nova Scotia well before Europeans arrived is examined by former Wildlife Director Dr. Donald Dodds and Dennis A. Benson in their 1977 book, The Deer of Nova Scotia. The authors concluded that Daly’s release in 1894 was a stocking, in other words a reintroduction in the province, since evidence indicates deer were always here. In a later work co-authored by Dodds and Frederick F. Gilbert (The Philosophy and Practice of Wildlife Management) the authors refer to 1894 as the year Daly stocked deer in the province, noting this was a stocking and not an introduction.
So there you have it. Wildlife experts the likes of Dodds, Benson and Gilbert, and biologists the likes of John Erskine conclude that deer are a native species. The evidence supports their conclusions. In historical footnotes, John Daly must be remembered as the man who re-introduced deer, perhaps at a time when their numbers were low. His stocking possibly may have spurred a population explosion in the areas where he made his releases. John Daly must not be forgotten, however. Daly’s Deer are forever part of the white-tail lore and legends that all hunters should and do cherish.