This week, State Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station) filed a bill that would require the release of antlered deer in the spring – rather than in the fall right before hunting season begins. It will limit the time that deer breeders have to transport their deer. It's an effort to curb the practice of captive deer farming, which breeds deer for their impressive antlers. It's a method that some deer hunters argue is unfair and unsportsmanlike.
Alex Martinez Jr. runs a taxidermy shop in Austin, and lately he's been pretty busy. This Monday officially marked the end of deer hunting season in North and Central Texas; there are still a couple of days left for those hunting down south.
All this means people are bringing in their recent kills for preservation. Most of the deer Martinez works on are born and raised in the wild – but not all.
"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."
With modern equipment hunting has become a far cry from the days of old, and both sides agree that this evolution is only natural – what they can't seem to agree on is what constitutes fair sport or exploitation.