Texas boasts a native white-tailed deer herd somewhere around four million animals, yet for many trophy hunters that is not nearly enough. With extended deer hunting seasons across the state and an abundance of white-tailed deer, it’s hard to imagine that the smuggling deer into Texas would be an issue. One would think. However, this growing and cash-loaded illegal trade is challenging federal and state wildlife officers across the country. There are whitetail deer for sale throughout the country, but the threat of chronic wasting disease, a devastating disease to whitetail, has forced Texas to close the border to all movement of deer into or out of the state.
Hunting in the U.S. is a $20 billion industry, with about 80 percent of all expenditures related to whitetail hunting. Deer breeders, by trying to provide bucks with superior antlers, are trying to cash in on that huge pot of gold, offering whitetail deer for sale and hunting. Deer hunting was once about putting food on the table, but a once cultural tradition has undergone major changes in the past 20 years. It seems it’s all about big antlered bucks, and the “Benjamins.” A study by Texas A&M University a few years ago reported that white-tailed deer breeding is the fastest-growing industry in rural America.
State and federal game wardens now use the same undercover methods developed by drug agents to fight deer smugglers. In both cases, it’s all about monster bucks, only more so in the deer hunting industry. State biologist are available to teach landowners about deer management through native habitat improvement and harvest management of free-ranging populations, but many property owners see that the real money is in deer breeding.
Like athletes, deer can only do so much naturally. But specialized breeding and high protein diets can create the biggest buck a hunter has ever seen. He can shoot it too, for a price. This “bucks for bucks” trade has left a bad taste in the mouth of many sportsmen across the state, and across the country for that matter. The deer breeding phenomenon is not limited to Texas, but as you would expect, they do it the biggest.
Texas has 1,200 licensed breeders with approximately 90,000 deer and a total economic impact approaching $700 million. Breeders typically offer whitetail deer for sale at livestock auctions, or you can go to their breeding facilities and pick out the one you like. Hunters can pay to shoot “liberated” bucks in the field or purchase the deer to take home. The deer can then be put into another breeding facility or released onto a ranch, where it’s very likely that it will be sold again.
A high percentage of deer hunters despise the deer breeding industry and how it portrays whitetail deer hunting, where the hunters with the deepest pockets, not those with the most adept hunting skills, bring home the biggest, semi-domesticated bucks. Those in the industry argue that they are just providing supply for an obvious demand. After all, the price for a good buck hunt can reach five figures, and best breeding bucks can approach a half a million dollars. Now, what is the price of whitetail hunting worth to you?