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Deer Debate: Should breeding for big antler racks be regulated?

New group favors fair chase hunting; landowners want to protect property rights

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SAN ANTONIO – A new group called Texans for Saving our Hunting Heritage is calling for limits on the way Texas whitetail deer are bred for hunting.

The group's executive director, Jenny Sanders, said deer hunting in Texas is moving far from the sport it once was because landowners are using pharmaceuticals to produce deer that hunters pay to kill.

"We feel that deer-breeding has gotten a little out of hand in Texas," Sanders said. "It has gone from a genetic enhancement tool to a tool for put-and-take hunting. We're using extreme animal husbandry practices to create massive antlers in a factory farming-type scenario."

She said in a state where whitetail deer are plentiful, deer are being bred just to be shot. She favors what is called fair-chase hunting.

"We do not want our sport to be defined as extreme animal husbandry practices," Sanders said. "Medicating animals, raising them in a pen, bottle-feeding them and shooting them 10 days later."

She said another concern is about the drugs given to deer and how long they linger in the deer's system. She worries that a hunter who shoots a deer might end up eating tainted meat.

Chase Clark, president of the Texas Deer Association, said there is a 10-day rule in effect that keeps deer from being shot within 10 days of being released.

"That rules has actually been on the books for over 80 years," Clark said.

He said the drugs are also carefully monitored by those who breed deer.

"All deer ranchers have to have a very close relationship with their veterinarian," Clark said.

The TDA defends land-owners who breed deer, arguing that the practice is safe and that disallowing it would take away the rights of property owners.

"We feel it's important for land-owners to be able to manage their wildlife resources how they see fit," Clark said. "We feel like hunters are pretty doggone smart. And if they choose to go hunt 100,000 acres of low-fenced country, or if they want to buy a piece of property and manage it more intensively, we feel like it should be their option."

In Freer on a recent afternoon, hunters Rudy Jaime and Jeff Karter were shopping for equipment at a local store. Neither had a problem with land-owners who breed deer.

Karter said he does both.

"We have property that we hunt on or if I'm invited to go hunt on a ranch or do a paid hunt, I'll do that," Karter said. "It's more about the camaraderie."

Jaime said he understands why landowners breed deer.

"It's another way of making money," Jaime said. "It's a way of being able to make a living for a lot of ranchers and a way to pay taxes."

This argument has also been framed as the big landowners versus the small landowners.

"The majority of what (Texans for Saving our Hunting Heritage) represent is larger landowners who financially have had some losses as a result of smaller acreage landowners being able to manage their wildlife more intensively," Clark said.

Sanders said it is simply a matter of returning deer hunting to the sport it once was in Texas.