Ethical Hunter

Deer Breeding: Big Business Invites Crooks

Texas Deer Breeding - whitetail hunting - white-tailed deerIt’s no secret that white-tailed deer breeding is big business, especially in the Lone Star state. And wherever big money is involved, greed and illegal activity seem to follow. See for example, this story by Molly Hennessy-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times about a Texas deer breeder who chose to ignore importation laws to smuggle his six-figure deer herd into the state.

Even more alarming is the suggestion in the third to last paragraph that many more breeders might be putting profits above the regulations that protect the safety of Texas’ wild whitetails.

NEW SUMMERFIELD, Texas — Texas’ hunting season for white-tailed deer has now ended. Normally, Billy Powell would be counting his profit from catering to “hornographers,” hunters who will pay as much as $100,000 to bag a monster buck with impressive headgear.

Instead, the 78-year-old deer breeder is under house arrest and wearing an ankle monitor.

Meanwhile, hundreds of his deer, part of a herd that had included two big bucks named Hit Man and Barry, have been put down in a scandal that has rocked Texas’ $2.8 billion deer-hunting and -breeding industry, the largest in the nation.

Powell is one of 1,236 registered Texas breeders. Some have paid up to $1 million for first-rate bucks they mate with captive does. Their progeny, 103,155 registered this year, are raised in pens and released on high-fenced ranches for hunting.

But Hit Man and Barry were smuggled into Texas from Northern states where two deer diseases are found.

After a four-year federal investigation, Powell paid $1.5 million in fines and restitution and pleaded guilty to charges of smuggling more than three dozen white-tailed deer worth more than $800,000 from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Mitch Lockwood, big-game director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said Powell put the state’s 4 million wild deer “and the entire Texas deer-breeding industry at risk.”

Powell and other breeders say regulators have become overzealous, out for hefty fines that become their agency’s cut of the burgeoning deer-farming business.

“Parks and Wildlife don’t like deer breeders, and they’ll do anything to get you,” Powell said. “ I did wrong, but they did more wrong.”

Hunters rate trophy bucks according to a scoring system developed by Theodore Roosevelt’s Boone and Crockett Club in 1887. The score includes antler length and circumference, with the best Texas white-tails traditionally scoring 150 to 160.

Today, thanks to breeding, mammoth deerzillas are scoring 200 or more.

Texas outlawed importing out-of-state deer to prevent the introduction of bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease, a neurological disorder similar to mad cow disease.

Still, some breeders have ignored the ban.

Barry was among the bucks Powell had smuggled from Pennsylvania, where he was known as Fat Boy. Hit Man was actually Silver Storm, from Indiana.

Barry and Hit Man died of natural causes before authorities brought charges against Powell last year, but they helped establish the government’s case. Powell pleaded guilty in June to smuggling 37 deer.

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