The Fight Over The Future of Texas' Deer

Animal breeders square off against Texas.

The Fight Over The Future of Texas' Deer
Andrew Nilsen

A procession of Texas Parks and Wildlife trucks pulled slowly past Sharon Anderton's home in southern Hunt County not long after daybreak. They carried ATVs and pulled short trailers that, for now at least, were empty. As Anderton caught the scene on video, a child could be heard in the background, asking, "Where are they going?"

Anderton knew where the wardens and wildlife biologists were headed. She climbed into a gas-powered utility vehicle and puttered after the trucks, steering along dirt roads that wound past the overgrown sod fields of Bermuda grass she once cultivated with her husband, past the 10-foot fences surrounding a lucrative herd of nearly 80 whitetail deer they bred and sold.

Wardens were positioned at gates leading to all of her pens and paddocks. They conferred in clutches, as though they were hashing out the final details of a coordinated police raid. She spoke with one of the wardens briefly and returned to the utility vehicle. "They're gonna tell us where we can go," she said, her voice strained, close to breaking. "But it'll probably be behind the fence."

Texas Parks and Wildlife agents shot breeder James Anderton’s entire herd of nearly 80 deer.
Sebron Snyder
Texas Parks and Wildlife agents shot breeder James Anderton’s entire herd of nearly 80 deer.
Afterward, they severed the deer’s heads, ears and antlers and tested for disease.
Sebron Snyder
Afterward, they severed the deer’s heads, ears and antlers and tested for disease.

Her cell phone rang. It was her husband, James. "They're not going to tranquilize them," she told him. "They're gonna shoot 'em. With bullets."

She cursed under her breath. The gearshift was sticking. Anderton worked it loose and made for one of the larger paddocks. It was five acres or so, and it held about two dozen does and a buck. One of the wildlife biologists was already padlocking the gate behind him as she pulled up. Anderton strode over to the high fence and watched as two men in khaki hunting jackets moved out into the paddock, each carrying a .22- or .17-caliber rifle in one hand and a tripod in the other. The herd streamed away from them, moving low, fast, fluid through the wild vetch and ragweed, white tails flashing. They bunched at the fence, no more than 100 feet from Anderton.

One of the men leaned against a utility pole and waited. The first shot rang out as the deer rushed past him again. Then a second, and one of the animals disappeared into the grass. For hours they worked the herd back and forth this way across the paddock, picking them off one by one. Most went down with a single, well-placed shot. Some took several bullets, gut shot and staggering. At the snap of the report and the whistle of the bullet, others sprang into the air, flailing, and fled as best they could on shattered limbs that swung loosely. With nothing but a few scrawny mesquites for cover and no way over the fence, the deer crowded the corners until the rifle reports stopped and none of them moved in the grass anymore. In other parts of the ranch, where the 70-by-100-foot pens were built with swing gates for working the deer into chutes like cattle, the killing was much easier. By dusk on December 6, 2010, Texas Parks and Wildlife had destroyed more than 70 of Anderton's prized animals, including a buck with a 272-inch rack. A white helicopter with what appeared to be a forward-looking infrared camera mounted to its nose flew lazy loops over the ranch, scanning for survivors.

TPW would return five months later to shoot a handful they'd missed.

Deer breeders across Texas — representing an estimated billion-dollar industry — reacted with horror to the extermination of the Anderton herd. They called it a stunning display of brutality by one of the state's most powerful law enforcement agencies. Much of the leadership in Texas Parks and Wildlife, they believed, had little but contempt for the deer breeders it was required by state law to police. And they feared TPW would shut down by any means necessary an industry that violated a closely held, almost canonical belief — that whitetail deer were a public trust, belonged to the people of Texas and should not be corralled, bred and sold like livestock.

The agency, for its part, said it destroyed Anderton's herd to test for a fatal contagion that is similar to mad cow disease. Experts say chronic wasting disease is decimating populations in parts of Wisconsin, Colorado and Wyoming and so far has been detected in nearly 20 other states. It was identified last year in West Texas mule deer for the first time. The agency has quarantined much of Hudspeth County, hoping to prevent the illness from spreading to the state's four million whitetail deer. James Anderton, the chief warden said, was a "bad actor" whose deer were untraceable and potentially infected. TPW needed to know for certain so it could locate other breeders who may have purchased deer from him.

The agency's supporters — many of them conservationists, wildlife managers and low-fenced hunting ranches — believe Anderton and his ilk threaten wild deer herds with disease. They say pen-raised, genetically cultivated bucks with incredible (and occasionally grotesque) spreads of antlers represent not only the commodification of wildlife, but the outright perversion of traditional hunting culture.

Breeders call it antler envy.

Either way, it's a fight with fronts in the courts and in the Legislature. And the victor may just shape how we breed and hunt Texas' most iconic game.

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There are many things at play here. One prominent point is personal property. Texas keeps property taxes so you never really own your land. It is always in jeopardy of taxes. Why can't a person own a deer or cow or cat outright?

Personal property is liberty.


Whether raising deer is right or wrong, the deer themselves should not have been destroyed in such a ghastly and inhumane way.  As a hunter, I strive for a clean shot, to avoid pain and suffering of the animal, yet the lawmen took no care to avoid pain and suffering of the animals they were destroying. If you have to destroy animals, at least do it humanely.  I have had nightmares ever since I read this article and it has made me profoundly disappointed in the judgement and actions of our officials. 


I fully support Texas Park's & Wildlife actions here!!! SHUT down the TEXAS Deer hunting fenced in pens!!!! You don't hunt in "natural" zoos!!!! Go to the NORTHERN border of the USA & we will show Y'ALL how to really HUNT...yes....HUNT...look it up!! 


Friday, December 14, 2012

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Monday, June 24, 2013  

The Effects of Chronic Wasting Disease on the Pennsylvania Cervid Industry Following its Discovery    

Tuesday, April 16, 2013  

Cervid Industry Unites To Set Direction for CWD Reform and seem to ignore their ignorance and denial in their role in spreading Chronic Wasting Disease    

Tuesday, May 28, 2013  

Chronic Wasting Disease CWD quarantine Louisiana via CWD index herd Pennsylvania

Update May 28, 2013  6 doe from Pennsylvania CWD index herd still on the loose in Louisiana, quarantine began on October 18, 2012, still ongoing, Lake Charles premises.     

Thursday, June 20, 2013  

typical, BSE, CWD, Scrapie, Captive Farmed shooting pens (livestock), Wild Cervids, Rectal Mucosa Biopsy 2012 USAHA Proceedings, and CJD TSE prion Update  

Saturday, June 01, 2013  

Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) Proposes Modifications to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), Brucellosis, and Other Rules     

kind regards, terry


Arrogance, selfishness, and greed is the reason James Anderton unlawfully imported illegally captured wild deer from another state into Texas; arrogance, selfishness, and greed is the reason James Anderton used a half million dollars worth of stolen property he purchased for pennies on the dollar for farm and ranch operations; arrogance, selfishness, and greed is the reason James Anderton chose to involve his son in criminal conduct that unnecessarily resulted in the son sharing a federal prison cell with his father; and arrogance, selfishness, and greed is the reason James Anderton's deer herd was destroyed.  


CWD or not I disagree with these "Genetically Superior" deer farms. As a hunter I love taking a large buck for the dinner table, but not some genetically modified animal. I know people have tied up their life's savings in their farms. But that doesn't make it right. When you go to hunt this type of deer it's not about the utilization of the meat. It's about the trophy on the wall.

James080 topcommenter


I'm a conservationist and a hunter. I agree with you. The problem is too many wanna-be hunters have more money than skill or sense. They are willing to pay hugh amounts to have a B&C caliber mount on their wall, then strut around like they're a great white hunter. These people are not hunters.