When we need to relocate a deer, reaching for the dart gun is the obvious choice. It wasn’t always that way, and the dart gun that’s now used everywhere has its roots right here in Georgia.
The founder of the dart gun
Wildlife biologist Jack Crockford started with the Georgia Game and Fish Commission in 1947. He was hired by then-director Charlie Elliott, for whom the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield is named.
At the time, deer were almost completely absent from Georgia’s landscape, and the national Pittman-Robertson Act (Wildlife Restoration Act) was still new. With the need and the money, restocking deer in Georgia was a priority. In order to get deer into the state, the deer had to be moved requiring them to be captured first.
The first restocking attempts
In 1954 you used a box-trap. To lure the deer into the box, you used salt or food as an attractant. On Georgia’s coastal islands, where most of our remaining deer herds lived, the target animals had plenty of access to food and salt, making the box-traps less tempting. The traps often lured in raccoons, hogs and cows instead. A net-based system also failed when one deer was killed, and another deer escaped.
The capture plan needed to change
Jack Crockford proposed the idea to use a propelled dart to deliver a chemical payload that would incapacitate a deer. The Georgia Game and Fish Commission and the University of Georgia collaborated on the dart gun and drug system, and Crockford developed the pump air gun and darts.
Initially, a mixture of honey and strychnine were adhered to the darts as it absorbed quickly into a deer’s bloodstream. Deer mortality was too high with strychnine, however. The search for a better drug led the research team to try 165 possibilities, leading to the discovery of six new drugs. On the 165th try, what started as the least likely candidate ended up as the solution: nicotine.
Eventually, the air rifle was upgraded from a pump system to a carbon dioxide propellant, and the dart was replaced with a syringe that deployed on impact. This became known as the Cap-chur Gun.
A legacy was left.
In the end, deer restocking priorities shifted to the more economical option of bringing in deer from other states. But the Cap-chur Gun was still a hit, with applications in animal agriculture and control. Jack Crockford later served as the Georgia Game and Fish Commission’s director from 1972 to 1978. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 88. His legacy remains as the dart gun continues to be used around the world.