It’s increased exponentially is recent years and has turned increasingly negative attention towards white-tailed deer hunting: Captive deer breeding. Pen-raised deer have fueled a segment of the hunting industry that many have tried to ignore, yet others see the breeding and hunting of captive deer as a necessity. Opponents say hunting preserves violate the fair chase concept. But what’s fair? That’s always a gray area, in any discussion.
“Did the animal have a fair chance to escape?” asks Keith Balfourd of the Boone and Crocket Club, a conservation group founded by Theodore Roosevelt. “They’re not hunts, they’re shoots,” he says, “and the club denounces that activity.” Critics of captive deer hunting operations think it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Proponents cite managed herds with optimal nutrition, not to mention genetics. It’s a discussion that pits hunters against hunters.
Source: Breeders sell the deer they raise to owners of private hunting preserves, where bucks and does are kept confined to fenced-in areas for high-paying customers to hunt. A prize buck can fetch $100,000 for breeders.
“It was a small cottage industry to begin with, but in the past 10 to 20 years, more and more folks have gotten into it,” Mark Smith, a wildlife biologist at Auburn University, said.
Landowners across the country have long allowed hunters to shoot deer on their property, but recently breeders and farmers have built high fences to trap deer in smaller areas for hunters who are willing to pay a high price to get access to those smaller areas. While some animal rights activitsts oppose this practice on ethical grounds, wildlife managers criticize the role these preserves play in spreading chronic wasting disease among the nation’s wild deer population, and they would like to see tighter regulations.
Deer farmers and preserve managers argue that their operations provide a boon to rural economies that are strapped for ways to make a living. Ohio, for instance, is home to between 500 and 550 facilities that breed deer or host private hunts, Erica Hawkins of the Ohio Department of Agriculture said. A typical deer farm in Ohio yields $71,391 in annual revenue, according to a 2010 report prepared for a coalition of deer farmers in Ohio. Each farm is a slice of a $59.2 million statewide industry that generates 1,254 jobs. A 2007 study estimated that the industry generated $103 million a year in Pennsylvania and $652 million in Texas — the only two states with a larger industry than Ohio.
“We feel we are approaching a $1 billion industry,” says Chase Clark, president of the Texas Deer Association and a deer farmer himself.
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