The Fight Over The Future of Texas' Deer

Animal breeders square off against Texas.

Mike Wood whispered with a mix of pride and reverence, "There he is. It's Max Dream!" High atop a sound-proofed, air-conditioned deer blind on the Madera Bonita Ranch in Kaufman County, Wood peered through binoculars at the crown jewel of his herd. Max, one of the top five whitetail bucks in the U.S., was feeding placidly on pelletized grains from a trough inside a heavily wooded, two-acre pen surrounded by a 10-foot fence.

His antlers, even this early in the growth process, were more befitting of an elk than a whitetail deer. The rack's main branches were like live-oak limbs, and its kickers and drop tines and points twisted and canted in all directions, crowding like branch coral. The huge, perennial growths of bone scored 342 inches, derived by measuring their length and every point sprouting from them. He'd be the highest-scoring whitetail deer ever, if the Boone & Crockett Club, the arbiter of hunting records, allowed consideration of pen-raised bucks.

Wood declined to disclose how much Max Dream was worth. "It's enough that I'd never have to work again," he said. "He's a once-in-a-lifetime buck."

Max Dream, the Madera Bonita Ranch’s prized buck, is a semen-producing cash deer.
Courtesy of Mike Wood
Max Dream, the Madera Bonita Ranch’s prized buck, is a semen-producing cash deer.
Breeder Mike Wood, co-owner of Madera Bonita Ranch in Kaufman County, appraises his whitetail deer herd.
Brantley Hargrove
Breeder Mike Wood, co-owner of Madera Bonita Ranch in Kaufman County, appraises his whitetail deer herd.


In magazine advertisements in which Max is backlit in messianic grandeur, his value can be determined in other ways. Wood sells half-cubic-centimeter straws of the animal's cryogenically frozen semen (or about a 10th of a teaspoon) for $5,000 a pop. And breeders will pony up just for a shot at a fawn boasting the great Max Dream as sire. Bear in mind, a buck in his prime with an electroejaculator inserted in his rectum can produce 60 straws at a time.

Though Max never leaves the confines of Madera Bonita, FedEx spreads his cryogenically frozen seed far and wide.

Many of his offspring could be found in the pen next to his, where yearling bucks already sported 10-point, even 12-point racks — estimable antlers for a full-grown wild buck but commonplace among Wood's farm-raised youngsters.

As we drove back toward the main lodge, he gestured out the window at the native buffalo grass and the bluestem that grew lush and thick, and at the brimming ponds they'd dug. It was about more than money, he said. When his business partner Art Browning bought the place from a rancher in 1995, the land was a shambles. It had been grazed down to the nub and took years to rehabilitate. The way he sees it, outfits like his preserve native habitat that might otherwise be destined for the dozer and the concrete slab. It's a business that's keeping failing cattle ranches, struggling through drought and narrowing profit margins, in the family.

What's more, Wood believes deer breeding is democratizing trophy bucks. "People pay $25,000 to the King Ranch to shoot what we'd call a scrub buck. Or they can come here for $7,000, $8,000 — for half the money — and shoot a genetically superior buck."

That may be one reason, he says, why deer breeders have encountered so much opposition to the legislation they've pushed over the last two sessions: one bill to establish their ownership of bred deer, another to transfer oversight of the industry from Texas Parks and Wildlife to the state animal health commission, which deals exclusively with livestock. Yet even uncontroversial measures like microchipping the deer in place of plastic ear tags and tattoos faced impassioned resistance. Wood believes it all springs from massive, low-fenced wild game ranches whose bucks can't compete anymore. "It's all about the money," he said.

Greg Simons, a wildlife biologist and outfitter, said the industry had to have known it would face resistance when it pushed a slate of controversial bills in 2011 and again this year. "This was legislation they knew would be hot-button issues: privatization of natural resources, transfer of regulatory authority. These were very sensitive issues that would not conveniently come into the capitol and go unnoticed."

The industry nevertheless cheered a bill recently signed into law that will grant breeders whose permits have been denied by TPW the chance to contest the decision. The agency has never revoked a permit, which would allow a breeder the opportunity to plead its case before the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Instead, TPW denies the permit when it comes up for renewal, when the breeder has far less recourse to appeal.

"It was quite alarming that come renewal time, Parks and Wildlife could tell you, 'We're not going to issue a permit or renewal and, by the way, you have so many days to close down your operation and vacate the premises of any deer,'" says Texas Deer Association President Gilbert Adams. "When someone has hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars invested in that farm, that's concerning and alarming."

But most breeders I encountered claimed the absence of due process was typical of an agency that polices rather than promotes the industry. "Texas Parks and Wildlife is regulating us to death," Wood said.

When I pressed him for specifics, he rattled off a list of bureaucratic backlogs and headaches. Robert Williams, one of the first deer breeders in the state and known by some in the industry as "The Godfather," admitted he'd personally never had a problem or "a cross word" with the agency. Yet if you want to get a breeder truly riled, ask him about chronic wasting disease (CWD). Both Wood and Williams called it a "political disease." They characterized TPW's efforts to control its spread as fear-mongering.

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What a tragedy! I can't believe there were do many deer killed. I am a hunter and I usually hunt deer every year. There are no hunting limits where I live, but I can understand why place like this have different policies now. Thank you for sharing what happened—I wish you the best in the future as you rebuild and keep moving forward.


I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well. Thanks for sharing this information. And I’ll love to read your next post too.


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

DEFRA U.K. What is the risk of Chronic Wasting Disease CWD being introduced into Great Britain? A Qualitative Risk Assessment October 2012    

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.



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.