The Fight Over The Future of Texas' Deer

Animal breeders square off against Texas.

In cases like Anderton's, Madera Bonita co-owner Art Browning said the slaughter had more to do with retribution than disease prevention.

According to TPW's numbers, between 2009 and 2010, the year Anderton's deer were destroyed, the number of breeder deer the agency dispatched for CWD testing rose 350 percent, to 289 animals. The following year, that number doubled. The TPW big game program's director, Mitch Lockwood, said he isn't sure what might explain the sharp increase, apart from the discovery of big herds of untraceable or smuggled deer coming to the agency's attention more often. And when they do, he said the agency does what must be done to prevent an epidemic.

For now, that means a post-mortem sample taken from the animal's spinal column. There is a live tonsillar biopsy, but the deer must be sedated, making for a lengthy process.

Sebron Snyder


"We certainly look forward to a day when there's another option out there," Lockwood says.

Wood doesn't buy it. "There's no doubt CWD is just used to keep us under their thumb."

Disease experts, of course, see it differently. "If you look at a deer in the clinical phase of the disease, I find it hard to understand how you'd call it a 'political disease,'" U.S. Geological Survey CWD coordinator Bryan Richards says. It's a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, so named because the brain of an animal in the end stage of the disease will be pocked with tiny holes like a sponge, where neurons used to be. It usually takes a few years to kill a deer, but once an animal begins to display the symptoms — listlessness, rapid weight loss — it's dead within weeks.

"Take everything you know about disease and throw it out the window," Richards says. The fatal illness is caused by a prion, which is nothing more than a common protein found in animals. But at some point, its sequence of amino acids mutates, and it becomes deadly. Because the body can't recognize the prion as an infectious agent, it puts up no immune response. It can be transmitted between deer through excrement or animal-to-animal contact. Prions remain dormant in the soil for years, decades even, and are impossible to eradicate.

CWD has been detected in wild populations in 22 states and in 50 different breeding farms. It was first identified in Colorado in 1960, at a government research facility. The disease moved quickly through animals in tight concentrations. It sprang up in another facility in Wyoming that was known to trade elk back and forth with the one in Colorado. In mule deer near Boulder, it's been detected in 40 percent of bucks and has caused a "significant reduction," Richards says, in doe lifespans. Over a 20-year period, they've documented a 50-percent decline in that population.

In a 65,000-square-mile range in Wyoming, some 50 percent of mule deer bucks are infected with CWD. Their numbers have declined by 50 percent over the last decade. In parts of southwest Wisconsin, disease rates among whitetail deer have climbed 30 percent a year after its initial discovery in 2002. "That type of growth is unprecedented," Richards says.

He cautioned that it's difficult to prove just what exactly is behind the declines. Other factors like drought and land development could be contributing. But the disease is spreading, and he fears that its best vector is a trailer going 60 mph down the interstate. He finds it suspicious that the disease emerged in Wisconsin, some 900 miles away from where it originated, on the other side of the Mississippi River and in a state with a vibrant breeding industry. "The Canadian food-inspection agency has spent significant time and resources tracking movement in facilities," Richards says. "They believe they can track how CWD has moved between a majority of those facilities and that it is in fact through the transfer of animals — deer farmer to deer farmer.

"The idea that there's no involvement by this industry, that's probably not true."

The same year CWD was detected in Wisconsin, Texas Parks and Wildlife officials closed the state's border to imported deer. Wildlife officials said the move was an attempt to protect a nearly $3 billion hunting industry from the ravages of the disease. And as much as they worry about its impact on the state's deer, just as troubling is the shadow it could cast on Texas' reputation among hunters nationally. If CWD found its way into high-density whitetail populations in the Hill Country, local economies in hunting meccas like Llano could be devastated.

In 2012, however, the disease walked right into the state, carried by wild mule deer. In the Hueco Mountains spanning the Texas-New Mexico border, the agency believes 30 percent of the mule deer population is infected.

James Anderton waded through the overgrown wild vetch around his empty deer pens. Sections of neglected fence bowed and rusted. The black canvas he'd hung along the working chutes was tattered and fluttering. During fawning season, when Anderton would artificially inseminate the does laparoscopically, there'd be several hundred deer in these pens. He'd bottle-feed the females himself or nurse them on blindfolded goats to make them gentle. He could sell a trailer full of 25 yearlings for $2,500 apiece. In good years, when his does dropped two fawns each, he made more money off deer than he did his 300 acres of irrigated Bermuda sod.

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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.