Are high fences good or bad?
It is a question I have flipped-flopped on a bunch. Initially I was dead set against them, but with years to ferret out the debate I have changed my view. At best I would probably be called neutral.
This isn't a black and white argument. It has as many tentacles as an octopus, and for every good virtue there is a bad. My neutral stance is as much about being pragmatic as anything. They aren't going away so you might as well learn to live with them.
High fences first arrived in South Texas, probably on the Junco Ranch and then later on the Zachry. The story goes that H.B. Zachry ordered a high fence built when — after complaining about all the management work on his ranch and not seeing any big deer — his ranch foreman drove him around the boundary and showed him deer stand after deer stand on adjoining properties.
In a perfect world the first high fence would never have been erected in Texas. Then there wouldn't have been a second or third, and more than likely imported whitetails wouldn't be the trophy standard today. But they were and they are, and you can't put that genie back in the bottle.
I understand the perspective of hunters who don't like them. Chances are part of the reason they are against them is that they can't afford to hunt behind a fence anyway. There is definitely a price premium inside and out.
Surrounded by high fences has to be like renting the only one-story, ranch-style home in a neighborhood of mansions. You are going to have an inferiority complex and will always be wondering when you are going to be shoved out. To a deer hunter, losing a lease for any reason is disconcerting, but losing to higher bidders is the ultimate slam.
There is also the argument that high fences prevent deer movement. This is especially important to hunters on smaller tracts where deer are more likely to pass through than live. Genetically, it may not be an issue.
I get all of that, but on the other hand, if I were a landowner and could afford it I would build a fence. My goal wouldn't be to keep the deer on my property as much as to keep my hard work on my property. There is nothing more frustrating and irritating than seeing blinds lining a fence row on the neighbor's property. With a low fence there is no way to protect the bucks you have invested years in, hoping to see them grow to their potential.
I hunted a 3,000-acre ranch that in a matter of years after a fence was built was producing native deer that consistently scored in the 150s and 160s. At the same time neighbors with the same habitat were shooting any and all bucks that walked out, never seeing any improvement in age structure at all.
If a fence makes good neighbors, a high fence makes the best neighbors when it comes to deer management.
There really isn't a question of fair chase as much as there is a question of fair size. Hunting 100 acres without a fence is a challenge. Hunting 100 acres, not so much.
I recently hunted 1,600 acres of high-fenced land in the Hill Country and I never saw the same animals one day from the next.
Sure, the deer couldn't escape to the next property, but there were plenty of places for them to escape safely inside the fence.
Chances are there are deer that will live and die and never be seen on the ranch.
In other words, a high fence doesn't make it a canned hunt.
Bottom line is that the high fence vs. low fence debate really is an argument about class designation. Haves vs. have nots.
There isn't that argument about feeding corn, because even at $11 a bag everyone can afford to operate a feeder. At $10,000 to $15,000 a mile, not everyone is buying in to high fences.
I see the arguments on both sides. They all make sense. But fences are here to stay. Might as well live with it.
Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at email@example.com. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.