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Bred to be wild - and costly

As captive deer fetches $450,000, creating an animal with perfect antlers becomes a big-bucks business in Texas

09:34 PM CDT on Saturday, October 30, 2004
By RAY SASSER / The Dallas Morning News

They call him Jake the Dream Buck. What makes this white-tailed deer so dreamy are his antlers -- a rack so majestic that in August, a pair of Texas ranchers bought him for $450,000.

That's right -- $450,000 for a deer.

Jake's sale is the most extravagant example of a growing industry: breeding captive deer to produce genetically improved offspring.

Like a champion racehorse or a pedigreed bull, the 4-year-old deer will be selectively bred in hopes that he will pass along the genes for his huge antlers. Breeders such as Jake's new owners trade and sell deer -- and the animals' semen -- to one another, and also to landowners who release the animals for hunting and to upgrade the wild deer herds.

The bottom line: the bigger the rack, the higher the price hunters are willing to pay.

Deer breeding is helping to turn one of the most popular animal hunting sports into an increasingly big business -- and in the process may be shutting out average hunters unwilling or unable to pay escalating hunting fees.

Some scientists and hunters also complain that selectively breeding deer in pens is transforming wild animals into glorified livestock.

Texas' annual deer season, which will open statewide Saturday, attracts more than 500,000 hunters and pumps more than $2.5 billion into the state's economy, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. More than 4 million wild deer populate the state.

Less than 2 percent of the whitetails killed this season will be the product of deer-breeding efforts, according to the state, but the business is clearly lucrative -- and expanding.

An auction last month in San Antonio generated more than $1 million in sales. The average sale price per animal was $5,500.

The 20,000 to 30,000 whitetails held in breeding pens today are probably worth an average of $5,000 each, says James Kroll, who helped found the Texas Deer Association, a group of 2,000 landowners who manage deer. That's $150 million worth of breeding stock.

"It costs $1 a day to feed every one of those deer, and a conservative set of pens costs about $20,000 to build," he says. "Semen sales alone may generate $2 million a year. Deer breeding really has become a big business."

Possible record
The $450,000 paid for Jake by breeders Gene Gonzales and Don Wilson is believed to be a record. George Barnett, a deer breeder near Lake Texoma who has been photographing giant breeding bucks for 20 years, says he knows of higher offers for other deer, but their owners have turned them all down.

Jake, purchased from a South Texas breeder, is half Northern whitetail and half native deer. Deer breeders attempting to upgrade genetics often use Northern whitetails, which are bigger than Texas deer.

The deer will share his pen with a harem of does, and his semen will be collected and frozen in "straws" for artificial insemination. A straw of semen, enough to impregnate one or two does, sells for $3,500. Mr. Gonzales says he already has enough orders to pay for the animal.

He defends his deer breeding by arguing that a half-century of hunting the best wild bucks on the range has depleted the natural stock.

"For years, hunters went out there and shot the best buck they could find," Mr. Gonzales says. "They left inferior bucks to do the breeding, and inferior bucks passed on poor genetics. We're trying to reverse 50 years of bad management."

Like Mr. Gonzales, Dr. Kroll, who breeds deer for scientific and business purposes, sees nothing wrong with the process. "Whitetails are amazing animals," he says. "When you release them from the pen, they become wild deer."

Bob Brown, head of Texas A&M University's wildlife and fisheries sciences department, scoffs at that claim. He says hunting a deer bred in a pen "is like hunting a skittish cow."

"Texas is overpopulated with wild deer," says Dr. Brown, who is also vice president of the Wildlife Society, a national association of professional wildlife scientists. "An animal that's been bred in captivity is not a wild animal."

Dr. Brown also criticizes "the escalation of deer management" -- keeping deer in fenced-off areas, feeding them and using helicopters to survey the animals. Those costs, he says, also are passed on to hunters. "Most people can no longer afford to hunt on private land," Dr. Brown says.

Public vs. private
It's the well-heeled sport hunter who keeps the whitetail breeding business from becoming the equivalent of emus with antlers, says Karl Kinsel, executive director of the Texas Deer Association. Emus, ostriches and chinchillas have all been the featured commodity in business schemes with little or no market existing beyond the sale of breeding animals.

Package hunts for trophy deer generally cost anywhere from $1,500 to $15,000. By comparison, deer hunting on public land is basically free beyond minor permit fees. The catch: Almost all deer hunting in Texas is done on private land -- less than 3 percent occurs on public lands.

"Five years ago, I thought the deer breeding business was fluff, but I was wrong," Mr. Kinsel says. "The industry continues to gain momentum. It is driven by the sale of recreational ranches. Baby boomers are buying ranches, and they want to improve their deer herd without doing 20 years of management work."

Clayton Wolf, who directs the Texas Parks and Wildlife deer program, says that outstanding bucks routinely are sold for $30,000 to $50,000 and that a well-bred doe can go for $5,000. The state does not track deer sales.

About 600 of the Texas Deer Association's 2,000 members hold scientific breeders permits issued by the state to allow deer to be kept in captivity.

The scientific breeders permit was created in 1985. Although early numbers are not available, TP&W says there were only 201 permits in 1996. The most rapid growth in permits has taken place in the last few years, increasing from 493 in 2002 to its present total of 737 (with some breeders holding multiple permits).

Each breeder permit costs $180 a year. A separate purchase permit, which allows multiple deer to be moved to a specific site, costs $30.

Recreational ranch owners who spend millions on land don't hesitate to spend $200,000 to $300,000 to upgrade deer herd genetics, Mr. Kinsel of the Texas Deer Association says. He acknowledges the criticism of deer breeding but says he believes the hunting industry has benefited from the controversy.

"It's like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue," Mr. Kinsel says. "Some people don't like it, but it creates a lot of interest."

A month ago, Jake's antlers were sawed off to make him less dangerous to does and people. Deer antlers are commonly measured using a system devised by the Boone and Crockett Club of North America. Jake's enormous "nontypical" antlers (those with numerous abnormal points) measured 301 B&C points. He also had four broken points estimated at an additional 10 inches. The Texas record for a nontypical deer is 286 points, held by a buck believed to have been killed by a hunter near Brady in 1892.

Posh pens
Jake's new owners say he will lead a life of relative luxury in the breeding pens at Double Drop Ranch, near Catarina in South Texas. Unconcerned with predators or food supplies, a whitetail buck in a breeding pen may live 10 years or longer. Wild bucks, stressed by often harsh and unpredictable weather, food shortages, predators, a frantic breeding season and fierce territorial fights with other bucks, seldom live that long, even on ranches where they are not hunted by humans.

But even in captivity, there are no guarantees. Jake could step in a hole and break his leg, or he could die when tranquilized for semen extraction.

White-tailed deer are high-strung animals, and captive deer are notorious for dying unexpectedly.

"They're as unpredictable as nitroglycerine," says the deer association's Dr. Kroll, who is also a wildlife professor at Stephen F. Austin University and a whitetail authority. Dr. Kroll has used artificial insemination in more than 4,500 deer. He figures the conception rate at 68 percent when performed by an expert.

"We're rolling the dice," Mr. Gonzales says. "If the buck lives, he's a cash cow."
And to think the Doctor was just here talking shop with our commissioners. Just talking you know, no harm in that. But its not about the money, oh no, its not about the money. Forget about Arkansas being a untapped area for trophy farming. Forget about large parcels of land being snatched up left and right by out of staters. If the economy doesn't put our sport in the red soon, folks from Texas who have interest in Ark deer hunting will for sure give some time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Statement on high fences from the Doctor

Dr. James Kroll, director of the Forest Resources Institute of Texas at Stephen F. Austin State University, says game ranches help not only habitat, but rural economies, too. ''The way we look at it is, anything that preserves wild places is a win-win for nature, especially for wildlife,'' he said.
 

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Son....you really need to acclimatize with the times and ...get over it.

What the hell does the comments you posted up (in this forum) have to do with "Quality Deer Management".....or you may just be stirring things up, as usual. Lets try to at least keep this forum in line with what we started it for....or maybe put this thread in the ADHA forum....:wink:

Guess things are slow and time to jump start your bashing of Dr. Kroll....again.
 

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I am glad Texas has money to waste learning how to AI deer. Like Bob Brown said, "Hunting deer bred in a pen is like hunting a skittish cow." Any offspring will be raised in High Fence operations and die there. If you turned them loose, they wouldn't last the season out. Its about HUNTING not killing to me. It's about the sunrises and the missed opportunities, not what's hanging on the wall, unless it can be taken legally. I have had the opportunity to kill many trophy deer in the past, just not legally and I hope to have more. JMO
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I guess odocoi and I are brothers now,,,,cool.

Son....you really need to acclimatize with the times and ...get over it.
Father...... I have tried but I just can't:rolleyes: :biggrin: That might require me to accept alot of different things going on in this world, and I want be jumping on that bandwagon anytime soon.



In fact until I see this state wide trophy agenda by some, help the common working man hunter and his hunting conditions, and not lean toward the elite, I will be against it. And I don't think I will ever see that happen. And let me clarify, I am talking about statewide regulations forced on private land hunters. I am also talking about our commissioners being courted and lectured by self claimed experts that have vast backgrounds in trophy management.




What the hell does the comments you posted up (in this forum) have to do with "Quality Deer Management".....or you may just be stirring things up, as usual.
Well lets see,,,,,,,if you can comprehend the inference, that Texas started out with a noval idea of Quality Deer Management, that has led to genetically farming whitetails for profit, then I think it has alot to do with this forum. Let me clarify, there are several states using QDM, and I am not against it per say. A majority of those states have drawn the line before it started to hurt its blue collar hunters. Unlike Texas, it just kept going and going. Its like the energizer bunny. And when one of the leaders of that movement from Texas starts to come to my state and try to sell me on its snake oil, then forgive me if I don't climatize to it. And as far as stirring things up,,,,,, oh boy, thats like Bill Clinton telling Ted Kennedy to quit skirt chasing. I would consider you the father of "stirring the pot" on this board, and after reading all your post, for what, 6 years maybe, you have infected me with your pot stirring. I have learned from the best, I guess you could say. :thumb:

Lets try to at least keep this forum in line with what we started it for....or maybe put this thread in the ADHA forum....
Where ever you would like it is fine with me. I would have posted it on a trophy board, but for some odd reason, I don't think they would have liked it. So I posted it here, to which thankfully this board has a open mind, it likes all kinds of hunting, and it understands the struggles of the blue collar hunter, at least IMO.

Guess things are slow and time to jump start your bashing of Dr. Kroll....again.
Surely not bashing the man personally, just don't agree with his deer for profit agenda. Just like you don't like the 07 AGFC Deer Plan. You never bashed that did you? Surely I am mistaken on that. :head: :biggrin:
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Not really, if I wanted to stir things up, for the sake of stirring, I would post a game fencing thread or maybe a dog running thread, or maybe even talk about killing snakes, or the ethics of baiting, or splitting, cutting, or adding of the gun or bow season. Those seem to be topics that generate interest most.

Someone courting our commissioners from a state who practically has ruined their own deer hunting for the average hunter, and are looking for new untapped markets is not much of a concern for most hunters. Only a few understand it or care. And I think most believe its unavoidable to a degree. I contend its not unavoidable, if the hunters will speak up.
 

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Firehog, i'll call you brother any day of the week!:wink: You're going to get on his ignore list if you don't watch it. BTW, thanks for keeping us informed on all the wonderfull info. you can find on Dr.($$$)Kroll.
You must forgive CP, he's been on his knees "taking" knowledge from Kroll for so long that he hasn't noticed the dark clouds ahead for the average hunter here in Ar. Keep the tidbits coming.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Hey back at you Odoc, you know me, I am just trying to pass on information that I come across. I got a strong feeling when the implentation part of the deer plan starts to commence, I bet there will be one person, surely sharping his pencils and firing off letters left and right,,,,again.

Whats that saying again...

need to acclimatize with the times and ...get over it

I really need to remember that...
:thumb:
 

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"For years, hunters went out there and shot the best buck they could find," Mr. Gonzales says. "They left inferior bucks to do the breeding, and inferior bucks passed on poor genetics. We're trying to reverse 50 years of bad management."

Isn't this what the 3 point rule is doing to us. All the 1.5 year old 8 and 10 pointers get killed and the goat horns get to do the breading.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Trapper, I don't think so in my personal opinion. I think the average kill age was 2 1/2 yo's. So we have increased our numbers from 1 1/2's but thats due to passing up the smaller bucks with 3pt rule. This statement
"For years, hunters went out there and shot the best buck they could find," Mr. Gonzales says. "They left inferior bucks to do the breeding, and inferior bucks passed on poor genetics. We're trying to reverse 50 years of bad management
is mixing what they use to do before fencing. They are after the biggest and fastest growing buck they can get. Why else would they mix northern deer with Texas deer. Is he trying to tell us, they once had body weights and antler size deer like the north has? I don't think so. You can't tell me, they killed out the bad genetics of the state. No way. They are after the bottom dollar plain and simple by mixing these deer and then breeding these huge bucks with their does. Its all about getting the fastest growing antlered buck out there.

To me its like body building in humans. If I can take steriods, and build my body up so massive. Would that be a true thing to admire and be happy about in the body building competetion. I would have cheated the system. In my eyes doing what they are doing is cheating the system. When they can grow a 300 inch buck, within 3-4 years, and manipulate all the breeding to get that. IMO its not a true trophy. Nature did not grow that buck, humans did, by manipulating.

If thats what some want then by all means, but lets not confuse their management with free roaming management. Its two different things.
 
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