A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovered a record number of state violations involving deer breeding facilities.
While Texas While Parks and Wildlife says the increase in violations could put Texas deer at risk of a deadly disease, some breeders argue the state is over-reacting. Scott Bugai is one of those deer breeders. He breeds about 200 of deer his 400 acre ranch in Seguin.
"It's not a bunch of hobby people out to raise deer, playing with deer and all that. It's a business to me," said Bugai, also a veterinarian.
Deer breeding is all about the bucks in more ways than one. Ranchers or other breeders can spend thousands of dollars to buy a buck with a large rack. They're paying for its genetics and its potential to breed other big bucks. While the number of deer breeders has increased in Texas, so have the number of violations. According to state records, inspection violations at breeding facilities increased 725 percent from 54 violations in 2009 to 446 so far this year.
"It's a privilege. It's not a right, and with that privilege comes full accounting for every deer that they have in their possession," contends Greg Williford, an investigator for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Williford says violations often include operating without permits. Some cases also include smuggling in deer from out of state that the state says puts Texas' deer in danger. Two years ago, TPW found a buck named "Fat Boy" and 40 other deer illegally smuggled into a breeding facility in Cherokee County. The deer were imported from several northern states. State investigators worried that these deer could have wasting disease, which is similar to mad cow. It's fatal and can decimate a deer population. That's why it's illegal to import live deer into Texas.
"Some of the states, where some of the deer came from, had chronic wasting disease in the past. These deer had interacted with some of the deer in the facility," said Williford, talking about the deer in Cherokee County. To test for the disease, the state euthanized all 336 deer in the facility. When the results came back, not one tested positive. State and federal authorities ordered the owner to pay nearly $2 million in fines and restitution.
“Fortunately, they came back all negative for chronic wasting disease, but there was no way to test them though without euthanizing those deer," Williford said.
"It's a political disease. It's used for political purposes," argues Bugai. He says the state has never found one deer with wasting disease in a breeding facility. Bugai doesn't condone smuggling, but he believes the state over-regulates his industry.
“To me, there are a whole lot more crimes that carry a greater risk as far as smuggling something into the state of Texas,” said Bugai.
Parks and Wildlife contends its regulations are working to keep Texas deer safe. According to Texas A&M, deer breeding brings in more than half a billion dollars in economic development a year. Bugai believes the state could make more money if there were fewer regulations.