White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana)

White-tailed deer, along with pronghorn and bison, delivered enormous “bang for the buck” to native peoples. They not only provided large sources of protein in one kill, they also contributed bones for tools, sinews for cording, and hides for clothing and coverings. Native peoples often processed the bones of deer and other large animals intensively to obtain marrow and fat, an essential part of the diet. In Late Prehistoric times, pottery makers added crushed bone to condition or temper local clay before forming vessels.

Deer are creatures of the forest edge, venturing out of protective cover to graze on forbs or to seek water. Native peoples hunted these animals in a variety of ways including stalking and driving them into a herd or surround using torches or perhaps by waving blankets. Once in a group, they could be dispatched en masse. Some historic accounts indicate that prairie grass was set on fire to drive the animals into an area where they could be killed. Accounts of the Mariame in south Texas indicate they consumed deer only sporadically, but occasionally killed them in mass, as many as 200 to 500 at a time.

Pronghorn were also a valued prey, ranging far onto the South Texas Plains during prehistoric times. These fleet, hooved creatures favor wide-open terrain where they can easily spot predators and make use of their best defense—their speed and sharp eyesight. Their natural curiosity for unknown objects, such as a waving piece of cloth, has been used by hunters, perhaps prehistoric as well as modern, to lure the animals closer for the kill. Often mistakenly called antelope, the deer-like animals depend on a diet of plants, including forbs, shrubs, and grasses. Although their former range once encompassed almost three-quarters of the state, pronghorn populations today are found only in small areas of the Trans Pecos and Panhandle, where their numbers continue to decline as prairie grasslands are overgrazed by cattle or give way to housing developments.

Although not as heavily exploited as deer, pronghorn were clearly targeted by native peoples for food and other resources. Bones of this species have been recivered at several south Texas sites including Site 41MC96 in the area of the present Choke Canyon Reservoir, and at the Hinojosa site in Live Oak county.


photo of white-tailed deer
With enormous antler racks and body weight, many white-tailed deer in south Texas are trophy specimens for hunters today. For native peoples, deer were one of the most important food sources, based on archeological evidence. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
photo of a proghorn antelope
Swift-footed Pronghorn, once common throughout much of the state, are now found only in the Trans Pecos and Panhandle areas. Native peoples would have used many parts of the creature for food, clothing, and tools. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
photo of deer dung
Deer dung and other remains were eaten by native peoples during periods of scarcity, according to historic accounts by explorers in south Texas. These droppings provided protein and a variety of other nutrients, with the added bonus of worms or larvae which may have invaded the stool.