Kerr WMA: Deer Research Facility

Phone: (830) 238-4483
2625 FM 1340
Hunt, TX 78024

Contact: Ryan Reitz

Dates Open:

Public access is open year round (see map for details), except closed for Special Permit hunts. Hunting is not allowed on the WMA except through Public Drawn System hunts. The office is open Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Kerr WMA Driving Tour & Birding Map:


Seminars and tours are annually hosted on the Kerr Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

Seminars include information on historical accounts of the Texas Hill Country and the Kerr WMA along with ecosystems management information using a holistic approach to land improvement. They also cover a summary of past and present deer research, over 40 years, from the Donnie E. Harmel White-tailed Deer Research Pens; an update on the status of feral hogs; a look at different management techniques for deer and general wildlife and an overview of TPWD programs that are available to assist landowners. We also offer a field tour of the WMA and the research facilities.

Please contact the Kerr WMA headquarters by calling (830) 238-4483 for more information and registration.

Deer Research Facility

Donnie E. Harmel White-tailed Deer Research Facility

Summation of studies and research projects associated with this facility.

In 1974, a high-fenced research facility was built on the Kerr Wildlife Management Area to study antler growth in white-tailed deer. This 16-acre facility consists of (6) 2/3-acre breeding pens; (3) 4-acre rearing pens; and a series of alleys, chutes, crush, and rotunda to facilitate handling of research animals. The original breeding pens consisted of 7 brood bucks (of which 6 were spikes) and 5 to 7 does per pen. All deer were native Texas whitetails obtained from various locations throughout the State. No additional deer were added after the fall of 1974 and the herd has been maintained as a closed, pedigreed herd ever since; perhaps the only one of its kind in the world. The original purpose of the pens was to address the following objectives:

  • To determine factors which contribute to antler formation in white-tailed deer.
  • To determine the effect of nutrition level on antler formation and body weight.
  • To determine if deer which were spike-antlered at 1.5 years of age have the same potential for antler development and body weight in later years as deer which were fork-antlered at 1.5 years of age.
  • To determine the influence of genetics on antler characteristics.

Since 1974, this facility has been used in a series of interrelated research programs to determine the role of nutrition and/or genetics in the antler development process. Although related, each program had its own research design and specific objectives. The original study was designed to determine the effects of nutrition on antler development. The second study was to determine the extent to which genetics was involved and the third compared antler development at 1.5 years of age to antler development at maturity. A fourth major study was initiated to determine how heritable certain antler characteristics really are. As a result of these studies, it was determined that antler development was genetically controlled and nutritionally influenced. The current project will demonstrate the effects of both nutrition and genetic influences on antler production. In addition to the above studies, the pens have also been used to facilitate many pilot projects, breeding experiments, demonstration efforts and as a focal point for monthly landowner field days.

In 1999, this facility was dedicated as the Donnie E. Harmel White-tailed Deer Research Facility. Donnie Harmel served as the Kerr Area Manager from 1975-1997 and was instrumental in establishing research determining factors contributing to antler development.

Kerr Deer Pens as a Demonstration/Technical Guidance Tool

Perhaps no other facility owned by the Wildlife Division has had a greater impact on the private landowners of Texas than the Kerr Area deer pens. Because of the opportunity to view large-antlered bucks, many landowners and managers have attended one of the many field days offered by Kerr Area staff. Although their original intention may have been nothing more than to view animals of this quality, they were first required to attend a two hour slide presentation on habitat management, prescribed burning, and rotational grazing then a short tour of selected sites on the Area. The deer pen tour actually constitutes only a brief portion of the overall program. However, by the end of program the general consensus is most participants have left with an appreciation for habitat management and no longer support the "silver bullet" approach.

Kerr Area staff are very sensitive to the fact of promoting habitat management over "pen situations" on private lands. That is why we are very careful in how we present deer pen research to our guests. The pens are only the "carrot" while habitat management is the message.

Due in part to the presence of the research pens, staff members regularly schedule management field days on the Area. These tours are generally scheduled semi-annually in October and April. Special tours are available upon request. Last year 54 tours were given that were associated with the deer pens to 2,103 participants (professionals, landowners, universities, sportsmen, youth, civic and outdoor writers). By comparison other TPWD WMA's have a much more difficult time attracting large groups to their sites due in part to the lack of such an attractant as the Kerr Area deer pens. For example, the Chaparral WMA was able to host 13 landowner events last year with 113 attendees. The Engeling WMA hosted a total of 32 groups comprising 320 total man days for the year (this total includes all groups - birders, youth, landowners, etc.). Since 1977 the Kerr Area has hosted over 1,300 tours on the area and has presented information regarding Kerr Area management and research to nearly 50,000 people.

TPWD Technical Guidance biologists and Wildlife District personnel also frequently use these facilities to provide personal field days and presentations to landowners and managers within their area of responsibility. Surplus antlers from the pens are utilized in displays by Kerr staff and other TPWD personnel across the state to illustrate antler growth and the role of genetics and nutrition in antler development.

Professional Associates

The following is a list of college and university professors who have been directly associated with research projects at the Kerr Area deer pens.

  • W. F. Krueger, PhD, Professor of Poultry Science, Texas A&M University
  • Donald S. Davis, PhD Associate Professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and Veterinary Pathobiology, Texas A&M University
  • Joe W. Templeton, PhD Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology and Genetics, Texas A&M University
  • Joe W. Templeton, PhD Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology and Genetics, Texas A&M University
  • Joe W. Templeton, PhD Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology and Genetics, Texas A&M University
  • Loren C. Skow, PhD Professor of Veterinary Anatomy and Public Health, of Genetics and of Medical Biochemistry and Medical Genetics, Texas A&M University
  • Rodney L. Honeycutt, PhD Professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, of Veterinary Pathobiology and of Genetics, Texas A&M University
  • John D. Williams, PhD Associate Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology, Texas A&M University
  • Mick Robinson, DVM, PhD Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology, Texas A&M University (ret)
  • John D. Baccus, PhD, Department of Biology, Southwest Texas State University
  • James R. Ott, PhD, Department of Biology, Southwest Texas State University