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Oh deer!

By Kerry Sanders, NBC News correspondent


No Name Key, Florida-  I'm not a hunter. I've gone hunting, and enjoyed the camaraderie. I respect the skill involved in the hunt.  Still, at the end of the day, it's not my thing.

What surprised me to discover is the puny Key Deer was almost wiped out by hunters.  This, of course, was a long time ago when perhaps we didn't understand the delicate balance between man and nature.  But then again, not so long ago that someone realized if man didn't do something, the Key deer would be gone.


In 1939, Florida outlawed the hunt.  That didn't go over well with some hunters. They kept up, and overnight went from hunters to poachers.  And that's where Jack Watson enters the picture.  A hunter himself, Watson who was a presence wherever he would go, decided to save the Key Deer.  Hired first by a local group and then by the federal government, Watson protected the deer with a hard edge.


When he found a poachers boat, but couldn't find the poachers, he set the boat of fire and then left. His son, Jack Watson, Jr. says his father was a gruff character who enjoyed giving poachers a little discomfort.  With the boat destroyed, the poachers were stuck on the island where they were hunting.  Watson took off on his boat.  A day later when he returned, the poachers, half-eaten by mosquitoes, promised Watson they'd never hunt the Key Deer again.


If you hike a path in the Nation Key Deer refuge http://www.fws.gov/nationalkeydeer/ , go to a ball park here, or look at the street signs, you'll see the name "Jack Watson" immortalized. 

Visitors who see his name may not know who he was, just that he was someone important.

"Important" doesn't say it well enough.


Without Jack Watson, there's a good chance the only Key Deer we would be able to see today would be in a picture. I rather like taking a picture with the dog-sized deer myself.