The big bucks start here (TX, of course....)


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Drizzt
November 15, 2004, 12:09 AM
The big bucks start here

Texas partnership pays nearly half-million dollars for a whitetail to produce trophy deer that are a breed apart.

By Mike Leggett

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Once upon a time, when a deer hunter dreamed of a big buck, he imagined a giant whitetail posed against a rising sun on a frosty hillside, blowing twin jets of steam from flared nostrils while surveying his brushy kingdom.

Now there are other "big bucks" in the woods: A Texas partnership recently spent an astounding $450,000 to buy a live, 4-year-old whitetail.

Though its stunning horns were a definite selling point, the most valuable thing about this magnificent animal wasn't his trophy potential but his semen.

At $3,500 per dose, breeder Gene Gonzalez says he's already taken enough orders to recoup the purchase price.

That payoff is hardly guaranteed. The deer could contract a fatal disease or hurt himself or simply prove unproductive as a breeder.

"It's a huge risk," Gonzalez said. "But the deer is so unusual and so special. . . .

"I knew I had to buy him. It's only a fraction of the price paid for Smarty Jones (the thoroughbred that barely missed winning this year's Triple Crown), and that sucker never even grew spikes."

Deer season opened statewide Saturday, and the growth of high-dollar breeding is just one sign of deer hunting's transformation from weekend pastime to thriving industry.

The sport has moved past hunters perched on boards nailed in trees, past the use of oat fields as food plots, to intensive management of habitat, deer herds and predators.

The dollars that hunters pay for access to animals and land have increased with inflation and with the changes in management philosophies.

In Texas, where there are about 600,000 deer hunters and more than 4 million whitetails, the surge in breeding operations, and the value of their sales, appears to be a logical extension of the intensive deer-management movement that started here about 25 years ago.

"It's natural for people to move forward," said Gonzalez, 37, who has held a Texas breeder's license since he was 15.

However, as deer breeding becomes a bigger part of management, and Texas A&M University acknowledges cloning at least one deer, some wonder whether the changes in the deer-hunting industry are coming too quickly or are even appropriate.

As whitetails are moved out of woods and into pens or labs, do they shrink from majestic wild animals to mere livestock?

"There's nothing more revered in Texas than the white-tailed deer. It's almost a way of life," said Houstonian Bill Carter, who owns deer hunting ranches in Webb and Kerr counties. "There are never any two alike, and to mess with that concerns me because it's such a part of Texas."

Billy Higginbotham, a Texas A&M wildlife extension biologist in Overton, saves most of his criticism for cloning, saying, "This is not wildlife manage- ment; this is animal husbandry.

"I don't think breeding is the same as cloning," Higginbotham adds, "but I think we have to careful. As we increase the artificiality of the things we produce, meaning when we put our hands on them, we're further and further from where we once were."

There's no sign, though, that the breeding industry will slow in Texas, not when land that once sold for cattle grazing now has its highest value as a place for recreational hunting.


Ultimate trophy


In the United States, Texas landowners and biologists have led the way in promoting big whitetails as the ultimate trophy animal.

Many hunters, pressed for time when it comes to getting out in the field, getting a deer and getting back home, are forgoing the traditional practice of leasing land for all of the hunting season in favor of package hunts of three to five days that often cost $10,000 or more.

There are about 800 licensed breeding operations in Texas, with approximately 30,000 deer held in pens statewide. More than half the licensed breeders run small operations that don't participate in the sales market.

Karl Kinsel, executive director of the Texas Deer Association, a group established in part to represent breeders, said about 8,000 breeding programs operate in North America. In the United States, he said, the breeding business is a $1.35 billion industry.

Gonzalez, of Catarina, about 100 miles southwest of San Antonio, said his operation will obtain as many as 100 semen samples for inseminating does from the dream buck each collection day.

In the past six weeks, the buck has gone through the collection process five times, but, so far, none of the sperm has been viable, possibly because of October's hot weather, Gonzalez said.

Nonetheless, orders are piling up from other breeders, even though a successful artificial-insemination program will boast only about a 50 percent success rate over time.

Business will only get better, said Gonzalez, who joined with two siblings and a major partner, Don H. Wilson of Zephyr, to pay the nearly half-million dollars for the buck.

"The genetics are working, and the deer will be bigger and better," Gonzalez said.

Others, however, are concerned about the long-term effects of breeding on the deer population.

The thing that's always been most attractive to deer hunters is the fact that no two wild deer are alike. Two may have 8 points or 15 points, but there will always be slight differences, and that's what keeps hunters going back time and again.

If the deer are all trophies, then the allure of hunting suffers.

Carter, who sells exclusive hunts on his ranches, worries about the increasing manipulation of whitetails and whether the practice might sully deer hunting.

"You can't blame people for wanting to improve things. Texans are that way," Carter said. "We just need to make sure we don't go too far."

Kinsel doesn't see a problem, arguing that breeding simply won't craft every whitetail into a trophy animal, just as only a few select thoroughbreds become Triple Crown winners. Even trophy deer will remain distinctly different, each altered slightly by their experiences in the wild.

Though some might be see breeding as fooling with Mother Nature, Kinsel says, "I don't see it as cutting corners. I see it as speeding up time. If I were buying a yacht, I wouldn't want to pay for it now and wait for somebody to build it.

"It's the same way with a deer herd. You don't want to spend millions on a ranch and wait five to seven years to have good deer. A breeding program can help you speed up the process."


Bargain hunting


Breeders also predict a trickle-down effect for hunters of more moderate means.

As top-level trophy deer become more abundant, hunting ranches will be quicker to release lesser bucks no longer needed for breeding, Gonzalez said. As more of those deer become available to hunters, the prices for hunts should fall.

"I believe very soon the average hunter will see the benefit, and people will be able to hunt for that mid-range buck," Gonzalez said.

"It's not about a breeders' market," Kinsel said. "It's about a consumers' market. (Breeding) means Texas will continue to have bigger and better deer than other states."

For more and more Texans, the deer breeding industry presents a profitable way to hang onto the family ranch.

Scott Bugai, who maintains a veterinarian's practice in Seguin, considers himself lucky to have inherited 400 acres near the city. With the inheritance, however, came a new responsibility: finding a way to make the land pay so he could keep it whole and in the family. His deer breeder's license was his ticket to saving the land, he says.

Even though his business is small, by breeding and selling deer in the breeders' market, Bugai is able to generate income he can't through traditional domestic livestock operations.

"I'm in the lower end of the whole thing," Bugai said, "but I believe the white-tailed deer business is going to save the small family farm. . . . There's not any other animal I can put out on that property out there that's going to make me money. It's not a privilege to have deer in a pen, it's a blessing from the Lord."

Gonzalez puts it more bluntly.

"A ranch is no fun without deer on it," he said. "The deer industry is pulling along real estate values and the overall business economy. I think it's good for everyone. It's a beautiful little industry."

http://www.statesman.com/sports/content/sports/11/7deer_rs.html

Of course, it's stuff like this that has meant I haven't been able to afford to take a deer the last few years. I can't find anyplace to go hunting that isn't going to cost me an arm and a leg. For what people are asking, I could buy and raise the blasted deer myself....

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HankB
November 15, 2004, 02:08 PM
The article ruffled a few feathers . . . :evil:

Today's Austin American Statesman carried letters from a couple of local treehuggers condemning the guy for raising deer just so someone can blow them to pieces.

Like Drizzt, I agree that this is a problem with Texas . . . there's limited public hunting land, and deer leases are going up in price all the time. The better places are so expensive that you can start contemplating a hunt in Alaska - or maybe even plains game in Africa - for about the same price.

Smoke
November 19, 2004, 08:49 AM
I got a short video of the deer in question here.

Unbeleivable atypical rack. It's a complete freak :what:

Smoke

El Tejon
November 19, 2004, 08:57 AM
Good for him!

Glad something is being done. The deer down there are tiny.

duckslayer
November 19, 2004, 12:31 PM
The deer down there are tiny.

Yep, but you can shoot 5 of them per year :neener: . That is a lot of steaks for the freezer.

Jalexander
November 19, 2004, 02:29 PM
What's really sad about this is according to what I've read and understood, genes play a small role in the size of the size of the antlers. What's more, the gene that does play a role comes from the doe. In fact, diet is much more important for growing a trophy rack.
I'm no wildlife biologist, though, so I may be wrong.

I didn't realize it was getting that difficult to find a good deer lease. Mighty sad. Makes sense, though, between all the old ranches getting cut up for subdivisions and the rapidly escalating cost of land I'm surprised it's not worse. I wish I had the money to buy the place we used to lease for cattle down near Rocksprings. The deer down there weren't big, but there were a lot of them.

James

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