The Transylvania Times -

The Ruff Study – Still Used In Deer Management


September 4, 2017

David Whitmire

The Ruff Study was one of the first studies published about deer management and is still referenced today.

On July 15, 1937 Fredrick J. Ruff submitted his original copy of "The Whitetail Deer of the Pisgah National Game Preserve," thus completing one of the first studies on whitetail deer in the country. Ruff was the Assistant Forester and the bulk of his study was done in Transylvania County in the Pisgah District of Pisgah National Forest.

The report was driven by the success of the Pisgah Game Preserve formed in 1917 when the deer herd population had increased to the point where reduction or regulation was needed. As the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was mainly a land management and forestry agency and rangers found it important to expand its field to include other natural resources, in particular wildlife. At that point in time there was no state agency that was responsible for wildlife. The study directive was to increase the USFS knowledge of the more specialized principles pertaining to game management.

The exact history of the herd was uncertain. Native deer were present, but George Vanderbilt also stocked deer. Deer from the Adirondacks, eastern North Carolina and Florida were brought in. No written records were kept from these stockings, but it was believed that 25 deer were purchased from these various locations during his ownership.

In 1916, when Pisgah National Forest was created, it was estimated that the herd was at 1,000 deer, which held steady through 1919, again an estimate from field studies. In the next eight years, until 1927, the herd increased to between 4,000 and 5,000 deer. Between 1930 and 1935 the herd leveled off to an estimated 5 – 6,000 deer. These estimates were obtained from deer drives and ranger observations.

Although exact numbers were not possible, one must keep in mind the more open nature of the forest allowed for better observations, thus the ability to do visual counts that couldn't be achieved today. The deer's weight, size, skull and antler character were noted. The 1936 public deer hunt provide 544 bucks and the 1937 hunt provided 100 does which allowed the broadest test case of individual deer to be measured. The habits of the herd were noted from breeding, social interaction, movement and feeding, all which were documented in the study. The fawn dropping dates were noted and graphed. Molting and antler development were some of the more important data collected that documented the life cycle of the deer.

The data on the herd, although groundbreaking for its time, only consisted of about one quarter of the 172-page study. The bulk of the study focused on the habitat of deer and its relationship to the different foods available in the forest. As a forester, Ruff wanted to bring balance to the forest. As most of the forest was in the young stage it was critical at that time that the herd didn't destroy too much of the young forest. As he noted, deer are browsers over most of the year, with the exception of fall when the mast crop of chestnut and oak was the preferred food source. The study looked at the palatability of the plants and woody twigs that the deer browsed on. The study also broke the browse and mast into the protein and fat content of each of the species and estimated the habitat available on the landscape. This was done in test sites throughout many locations of Pisgah. Despite this being the first comprehensive study of deer ever, it was so complete and detailed that it is still referenced today in deer management discussions.

The contribution to modern conservation that arose in Transylvania County and Pisgah National Forest is something we should all know and be proud of. When researching this story Cradle of Forestry Director Jeff Owenby shared a copy of the Agenda for Conference Administration of Wild Life Resources of the Pisgah Game Preserve, Asheville, NC – 1927. Listed on the personnel of conference was the Aldo Leopold, considered the father of wildlife management.

The next time you see a deer in Transylvania County, remember it isn't here by accident. Those that came before us cared enough to ensure the whitetail deer of Pisgah had a future.


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