The buck stops here

PORT MANSFIELD — Like many residents, Jessica Simmons stays away from the herd of white-tail deer as bucks chase does across this tiny fishing village.

But hundreds of families drive into town to feed the stags and does during rutting season, making the local deer population a tourist attraction.

“I personally do not interact with the deer during the rut season because the does are in heat,” said Simmons, office manager at the Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce.

During mating season, some bucks spar in the streets of this bay-side village billed as the hottest fishing spot on the Texas coast. It’s also a town where deer can outnumber people.

“You see the rut going on,” Simmons said. “There are lots of bucks in town. They’re more active. The bucks’ horns interlock. The bucks chase the does until the does give up.

“We’re definitely unique that we have them here.”

John Sterling calls it a tourist attraction.

“People stop in cars with all their little kids,” said Sterling, the chamber’s vice president.

“The kids — you should hear them scream out of joy. As soon as they take out the corn, here come the deer. So they stop to take photos and look at the deer.”

But tourists aren’t alone.

For years, many residents have fed the deer, making them feel at home here.

“The deer know there’s corn,” Simmons said. “They’re eating out of your hand.”

Today, Port Mansfield’s deer population has soared to about 450 in this village of about 400 residents.

But as many as 200 more deer wander into town from nearby ranches during rutting season, which runs from early November through late January.

Authorities warn residents and tourists to be careful when they feed deer.

During rutting season, a feisty buck might mistake a person for a buck vying for breeding rights.

So the Willacy County Navigation District, which oversees the 7-square-mile port, has considered a ban on the feeding of deer to try to keep them from wandering into town.

But residents like Sterling like the deer.

“It attracts so many people to town,” Sterling said.