Deer Preserve

Ray Clark is only inches away from a deer he calls Buddy. He keeps Buddy and other deer in pens behind his home in western Limestone County.

When Ray Clark is talking to Buddy, Mack or Junior in his backyard chances are he’s not talking to a neighbor but rather one of the many deer he keeps on his property.

His home on Cabbage Ridge Road in western Limestone County is a haven of sorts for injured deer. It’s also one of the few places where a person can come within inches of live deer without them running away.

But what’s odd about this deer keeper is that he also operates a deer-processing plant next to his deer refuge and he’s also a deer hunter. Yet, he considers himself more compassionate than the average deer hunter.

“I don’t shoot little deer; they have to have a good rack on them before I’ll shoot them,” he said. “If he ain’t a big deer and got a lot of horns, we don’t shoot them.”

Clark keeps 15 deer fenced on approximately three acres behind his house. Most of them are ancestors of a doe given to him by Toby Sewell years ago, but some are injured deer that people bring there to stay.

Clark spends more than $300 a month on deer pellets, horse feed and corn to feed the animals. He worms them and he bottle-feeds store-bought milk to those that still drink milk.

“They suck a lot of milk,” he said.

Clark even knows things about the animals that most people don’t, such as:

“(When a buck) keeps throwing his head up and everything runs from him, you know he’s boss,” he said.

The same is true in the wild.

“A deer knows two days before the weather changes,” he said.

Clark also knows to stay away from deer during rutting season due to their aggressive behavior.

The deer on Clark’s home seem to be content in captivity.

When he arrives each day at 4 p.m. to feed them, they are already waiting for him.

Despite his love for deer keeping, he is also a deer hunter. But he doesn’t like when hunters illegally kill deer that still have spots on them, and he will report people who bring illegally shot deer to his business.

It doesn’t bother Clark to cut up deer at his processing plant. But when a deer dies at his refuge, he doesn’t process it; he buries it.

Before becoming a keeper and processor of deer, Clark was a drywall finisher for more than 40 years. His processing plant, which has been there since 1994, is open only during deer season, which begins in Tennessee as early as this month.

He and his wife Jewell have 19 grandchildren and three sets of twin great-grandchildren.

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