Deer Destinations: Whitetails of the Czech Republic

White-tailed deer in the Czech Republic have an interesting history dating to at least 1840. Their current status includes several factors that limit growth including a problem with a parasitic fluke and limited reproduction in their small range. (PHOTO: JAROSLAV PEŠAT)

It’s a little known fact that a very small number of white-tailed deer can be found tucked away on the Eastern end of mainland Europe — the Central Bohemian region. Most of the (extremely small) whitetail population there now resides in what is current day Czech Republic.

White-tailed deer are not native to Europe, but were introduced in Czech Republic, as well as in Finland, from North America over a century ago. The population is extremely small — especially in comparison to the U.S. — (estimated figures are approximately 1,000 or less), but nevertheless represent a potential international whitetail hunting opportunity.

The earliest record of white-tailed deer being released into the Czech Republic was around 1840, but exact details are unavailable. However, it is believed that it wasn’t until 1892 and 1893, in then Czechoslovakia, when an additional 15 more deer from Canada were introduced, (on top of a previous seven released in 1853), that the population of white-tailed deer began to be truly established.

Czech Republic, with its 10.5 million human occupants, provides good habitat for these animals — its 30,450 square miles are made up of 33.7 percent woodlands and approximately 2 percent water. An abundance of plants and leaves — together with other nutrients such as acorns — exist naturally, acting as an abundant food source.

The region of the Dobris Forest — about 30 km southwest of Prague (Czech capital city), in the Central Bohemia region, between the Vltava and Berounka rivers — is where these deer were released. In 1906, 16 more whitetails were added to this population to boost the original numbers. However, during World War I, the Dobris Forest enclosure was destroyed and the deer escaped from their confinement, with most remaining in the area.

In order to help encourage whitetails to spread to — and potentially thrive in — other parts of the country, eight deer were moved to a 17-hectare enclosure in Holovous (northern Czech Republic) and two others to a small enclosure near Kosice in Slovakia.

The whitetails at Holovous were accidentally released into the wild in 1965. The main population is still localized in the Dobris Forest and to this day is considered well established and stable at about 700 deer.

The Czech whitetails, however, have suffered from poor reproduction from the beginning, which has limited their ability to increase and expand as whitetails in Finland have. A further misfortune associated with Czech whitetails has been the introduction of the large liver fluke to Europe. These parasites have now infected other native cervids, such as red deer, and are considered to be a major management problem in Czech Republic.

White-tailed deer in Czech Republic, in comparison to the USA, are not biologically managed in the same intensive, labored, focused, strategic manner. Czech landowners rarely create more cover or carefully add detailed, researched additional forage, for example, in order to implement the best deer management and hunting strategies common in the USA. (PHOTO: JAROSLAV PEŠAT)

In the Czech Republic, white-tailed deer co-exist naturally with red deer, fallow deer and roe deer, but population productivity and dispersal of white-tailed deer suggest negative consequences of competitive interactions for food resources. In other words, it has been suggested whitetails suffer and do worse (productively) when dispersed together with their subsequent deer rivals in Czech Republic, and is probably one of the reasons why they have failed to thrive in this region. Some scientists say potential causes for the limited success of whitetails in this region also include genetic bottlenecks and anthropogenic influences.

White-tailed deer in Czech Republic, in comparison to the USA, are not biologically managed in the same intensive, labored, focused, strategic manner. Czech landowners rarely create more cover or carefully add detailed, researched additional forage, for example, in order to implement the best deer management and hunting strategies common in the USA.

In the Czech Republic, such considerations and detailed information take place much more rarely, in contrast to the expected norm within white-tailed deer hunting in USA. Because the population is so small in comparison to the USA, related whitetail business is therefore correspondingly small. Money simply hasn’t been invested in research there.

However, limited scientific research does exist, such as a study to see if competition between white- tailed deer and sympathetic cervid species could limit expansion of the whitetail population. However, research so far, overall, has been inconclusive. A study by Professor Ludek Bartos et al in 2002, suggested that interspecific cooperative behavior, (rather than inter-specific competition), occurs among these sympathetic cervids in Czech Republic. Researchers did not detect any adverse behavioral interactions among white-tailed deer and native ungulates in the Czech Republic that would influence competitive interactions; in fact, they noted that inter-specific cooperative anti-predator behavior — particularly among white-tailed deer and fallow deer — was the case.

The authors of this particular study did not rule out competition for forage as a limiting factor for white-tailed deer productivity or dispersal. However, there is plenty more room for more understanding by the implementation of further scientific research — which so far has been very limited.

“White-tailed deer have become a rather old story for me these days,” Bartos noted. “We had a U.S.-Czech grant on investigating inter-specific competition. Dobris Forest has been so far the only area with a more or less stabilized free-ranging population of white-tailed deer. Repeated attempts to release white-tailed deer in Moravia (eastern part of Czechia) have turned into fiasco. Within the Dobris area a deer park called “Aglaia” was established in seventies, last century.”

He added, “Whitetails were kept together with fallow deer and after reaching the number of a few dozen they were not doing well, with poor reproduction and health problems. After our investigation on inter-specific competition, we advised to remove the fallow deer to keep white-tailed deer as the only species. However, the deer park has become a private commercial facility. In contrast to our suggestion, the owners ‘enriched’ the park with red deer, the third deer species.

“As a result the white-tailed deer suffered a lot and disappeared quickly thereafter. In the meanwhile another park was established in Frycovice (Moravia). White-tailed deer were imported from Finland and the population counts recently over 100 individuals. Hence, potential research could be realized either in Dobris Forest or in the Frycovice deer park in the future. Nevertheless, I don’t think there is too much official interest to investigate this species.”

Bartos further explained: “In general, white-tailed deer do not represent any really important game species (we have red deer, fallow deer, roe deer and sika deer) within the country (Czech Republic). There is no real problem either with this species as we do with some other species. For example, a very dangerous problem is an inter-specific hybridization between native red and imported sika deer not only in my country, but in many other areas in Europe. Unlike other exotics such as the afore-mentioned sika deer, white- tails have been just surviving.”

He was keen to stress, however, “Although our research on this subject finished a couple of years ago, we still have unpublished data and I hope we will come back to it sometime in the future.”

Hunting overall in Europe is worth a staggering $16 billion Euros at present (almost $19 billion U.S. dollars, according to the September 2016 figures from The European Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation). Whitetail hunting is only a tiny proportion of this, of course, but various hunting opportunities do exist in Czech Republic, as with Finland. However, it is different system than in North America.

One of the most noted tourist attractions is Old Town Square in Prague. Hunters visiting the Czech Republic, which has a storied past in European history, definitely should add extra time to enjoy the sights and experiences of the country.(PHOTO: JAROSLAV PEŠAT)

Experienced Czech hunter and photographer Jaroslav Pesat explained how: “The situation in Czech is a bit different compared to, for example, Canada or Alaska.” he said. “Hunters here are in associations and must earn it for their beneficial long time activities for the animals and forest by a particular region where they live before the first shot. They wear specific uniforms and only members are allowed to go hunting. We call it ‘Myslivost.’ My colleagues myslivci also support the animals during tough winters, holding animal populations and guard the wildlife poachers away.”

Various hunting tour companies exist, however, which make hunting — including white-tailed deer — accessible and a great way for North American visitors to hunt in Czech Republic with very little hassle. The owner of one such hunting tour company, Elio Giobergia — an experienced hunter, and the owner of St. Hurbertus Hunting Tours, — explained: “Hunting white-tailed deer is not common in Europe. You can find white-tailed deer in Finland and in the Czech Republic where they were imported in the second half of 19th century. It is necessary to specify that white-tailed deer hunting offered in the Czech Republic is very limited. You can hunt them in two open grounds in Central Czech and in some fenced game preserves (with an extension from 100 to 500 hectares) situated in different districts of the country.

“The level of difficulty, of course, depends on the type of grounds selected by the hunting guest: open grounds or fenced game preserves,” he said. “Given that, the free range [hunts] are not particularly physi- cally demanding (grounds are set in a soft hilly area with mixed forests and meadows) and the fenced areas are able to assure gripping hunting days thanks to the lay of the land and the good organization of the hunting days. The free-range [deer] exist just 50 km south of Prague.”

He added: “White-tailed deers’ favorite habitats here in Czech Republic are forest edges, small and moist forest meadows, places where raspberries and blackberries grow. It ranks amongst so-called browsers just as, for example, roe deer, unlike the red deer or fallow deer, which are classified as so-called grazers. Therefore, the food requirements of the white-tailed deer are higher [in regard to] food quality. However, it does not cause significant damage in forest management or agriculture in connection with food demands, unlike the European red deer or the sika deer that have been spreading invasively in recent years. We organize white-tailed deer hunts in all the Czech grounds with these deer.”

When asked about the differences between these European ungulates and their North American compatriots, Elio explained, “The white-tailed deer in the Czech Republic are smaller than the ones you can find in the USA. The weight of does is 25 to 35kg and stags are 35 to 55kg (55to 77 and 77 to 121 pounds respectively).” The 44-year-old owner also stressed, “Our hunting guests from USA up to now have been mainly interested in roe deer, red deer, fallow deer, wild boars, Japanese sika deer, Manchurian sika deer and mouflons (the Czech Republic has excellent populations of deer and mouflons with outstanding trophies). We can, however, greatly recommend a white-tailed deer hunt in the Czech Republic to American hunters that would like to experience a hunt of white-tailed deer out of his homeland. We do our best to assure to our friends from USA a hunting trip of a lifetime (with a rich tourist offer for non-hunting guests).

“The Czech [people)] were successful in maintaining a population of white-tailed deer in a place different from North America thanks to a good management of grounds and deer. They feed on native food.”

He concluded, “We work in all the regions of Czech Republic and we recommend all the regions for hunt- ing. As per white-tailed deer, we recommend Central Bohemia near Prague.”

These types of whitetail hunts take place as guided tours, using rifles. Bowhunting does exist in Czech Republic, but mainly for other animals. It is legal to own a crossbow in Czech Republic, and no special license is required, unlike many European countries, and can be used at private places, and licensed shoot- ing ranges.

It’s best for international visitors to arrange a hunt through a company, because it can take care of all the administration needed in advance of travel, such as obtaining a Czech hunting license and a whitetail hunting license, which are both necessary, for example, together with insurance.

Stalking or waiting hunts can both be undertaken for whitetails. The best period for whitetail hunts in Czech Republic is November through January. Infrastructure is good in this modern, industrialized Eastern European country, comparable to the USA. Many comfortable hunting lodges and quaint hotels exist in the rolling hill country of Bohemia and the beautiful Jeseniky Mountains of Moravia. Modest prices, rich hunt- ing traditions, historical ties with the USA and friendly people make the Czech Republic a preferable destination for an international hunting trip. The Bohemian atmosphere and abundance of wildlife attract thousands of sportsmen and women each year. (It’s where Donald Trump Jr. went on hunting trips with his grandfather as a child, for example). The Czech Republic is famous for its many sightseeing treasures, not least the beautiful capital Prague and is arguably a hunter’s hidden gem in Europe.

— Leanne Dunlop is a freelance journalist from Northern Ireland, and science major from Queen’s University Belfast. She contributes regularly to local news outlets such as The Belfast Telegraph. She is an avid outdoors enthusiast, with particular interest in white-tailed deer across Europe.