Captive Deer

In Texas, raising, managing, and hunting deer, especially white-tailed deer, is big business. The state has over 4.2 million white-tailed deer, as well as some 740,000 hunters who together harvested about 720,000 deer in 2016. For many hunters, it is a joy to be with their families enjoying the outdoors and the thrill of the hunt. Also, for many landowners and smaller rural towns, deer and hunting provide a crucial financial lifeline, contributing roughly $1.6 billion each year. In fact, many landowners earn more from hunting than from traditional ranching operations.

However, in recent years, the life of a deer has changed. Increasingly, deer, especially trophy animals, are bred with carefully selected genetics, reared with special nutritional supplements, culled to emphasize desirable traits, and shipped and sold to a high-level market. They are more akin to livestock than wildlife. This trend can be seen in the numbers and these maps: the state now boasts over 1020 registered, active deer breeders who sell to more than 6600 landowners.

Given the great financial value of these deer herds, and the interest in controlling their breeding and owning their harvest, the deer trade has triggered a number of changes. On the land, Texans see the rise of high-fenced operations that block the traditional migrations of deer and other wildlife. In animal health, the state has seen outbreaks of Chronic Wasting Disease, a prion-related illness that has spread through the captive deer industry. And, in the courts, the Lone Star State has seen challenges to the presumptions of public ownership of wildlife that date back to English common law.


Hahn, Megan. 2019. Deer Breeding Program Staff, Texas Parks and Wildlife. Personal communication, October 2019.

Outlaw, Joe, David Anderson, Margaret Earle, and James Richardson. 2017. Economic Impact of the Texas Deer Breeding and Hunting Operations. Agricultural and Food Policy Center, Texas A&M University.

Tompkins, Shannon. 2017. “Texas Deer Hunting Season Looks Inviting”, in Houston Chronicle. November 2, 2017.