Captive Deer Farming: An Industry Raising Hell


Many of my friends and I grew up hunting white-tailed deer or at least knew someone that did. We also lived in a small, rural town so it was not out of the ordinary to see a dead deer in the back of a hunter’s truck during the hunting season. It was just something folks talked about year-round because that’s the kind of stuff that farmers and ranchers “chew the fat” over while enjoying a cup of of coffee while watching the corn, the cows and the kids grow.

The only thing captive in our part of the world were the cows, pigs and chickens. We had no clue that something as wild as the white-tailed deer would one day be held captive on properties across the US, but that’s pretty much what’s happened over the last few decades. Now, captive deer farming has become a big business that’s producing big (antlered) bucks for big bucks ($). The hunter of such deer doesn’t seem so much like hunting anymore. And “successful” hunters make no bones about it — they are proud of their harvested trophy.

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Source: “I’ve noticed that some deer actually have tattoos under their ears,” Martinez says. That tattoo Martinez is speaking of is a telltale sign of a farm-raised deer. It’s part of an increasingly popular and lucrative breeding method known as captive deer farming, and its criticism has divided the hunting community.

The idea is that deer are raised with “superior” genetic qualities – in this case larger antlers – and then they are released into private ranches for hunting. Jenny Sanders is the executive director of Texans for Saving Our Hunting Heritage, and she says the method raises questions on hunting ethics.

“You know it’s just like any internet catalog business, they’re picking a deer out…they’re flying in on a corporate jet, and they shoot it within a couple of hours because they know exactly where it is,” Sanders says. “We feel this is exploitation at the highest level.”

But pro-captive deer breeders argue that this issue is hardly about ethics. Scott Bugai is a breeder, veterinarian and vice president of the Texas Deer Association, and he argues that this is about individual property rights. “It’s about me being able to utilize my land within the legal parameters…to enjoy my land, potentially derive profit off of my land, and hopefully pass something on to the next generation.”

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