By Alain StephensJanuary 9, 2015 8:29 am|

Deer hunting is big business in parts of Texas. As the season winds down across the state, a debate over how some hunting is done will likely continue. Captive deer farming breeds deer for their impressive antlers. But some argue those deer are more like livestock than wildlife.

Alex Martinez Jr. runs a taxidermy shop in Austin, where people bring in their recent kills for preservation. Most of the deer Martinez works on are born and raised in the wild, but not all.

“I’ve noticed that some deer actually have tattoos under their ears,” Martinez says. That tattoo Martinez is speaking of is a telltale sign of a farm-raised deer. It’s part of an increasingly popular and lucrative breeding method known as captive deer farming, and its criticism has divided the hunting community.

The idea is that deer are raised with “superior” genetic qualities – in this case, larger antlers – and then they are released into private ranches for hunting. Jenny Sanders is the executive director of Texans for Saving Our Hunting Heritage, and she says the method raises questions on hunting ethics.

“It’s just like any internet catalog business, they’re picking a deer out… they’re flying in on a corporate jet and they shoot it within a couple of hours because they know exactly where it is,” Sanders says. “We feel this is exploitation at the highest level.”

However pro-captive deer breeders argue that this issue is hardly about ethics. Scott Bugai is a breeder, veterinarian, and vice president of the Texas Deer Association and he argues that this is about individual property rights. “It’s about me being able to utilize my land within the legal parameters…to enjoy my land, potentially derive profit off of my land, and hopefully pass something on to the next generation.”

With modern equipment hunting has become a far cry from the days of old, and both sides agree that this evolution is only natural – what they can’t seem to agree on is what constitutes fair sport or exploitation.