Saturday, July 26, 2014 · 7:09 a.m.

White-tailed deer for sale

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In several states, commercial "farming" of white-tailed deer is legal, and growers sell huge, genetically altered deer to hunting operations and other breeders. Such operations are currently illegal in Tennessee. (Photo: Contributed)

Stocker Deer for Sale—Great Deals on Bucks and Does!

That was the subject line in an email I recently received. I was shocked ... but I really should not have been. I've known for a long time that there are commercial operations that sell huge, genetically altered white-tailed bucks. Some operations raise them behind high fences specifically for "hunters" to kill. Others raise and sell them to other so-called hunting operations or for breeding stock. They even have a professional organization called the North American Deer Farmers Association. Besides Texas, there are at least 15 other states that allow commercial farming of white-tailed deer.

Tennessee, however, is not one of them. Commercial farming of white-tailed deer is illegal in the state of Tennessee. You cannot hold captive white-tailed deer. You cannot import white-tailed deer from another state without proper permitting from state officials (which is rarely, if ever, provided).

That is not the case in other states, such as Texas, where virtually anything goes when it comes to raising, selling or even "hunting" white-tailed deer. This is the same state where an operator tried to set up a business where so-called hunters could pay to use their computers to "remotely" shoot white-tailed deer.

Tennessee state Rep. Frank Niceley has been working hard for at least two years to pass a bill making such operations legal in Tennessee. Officials with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency have campaigned ardently against the bill—action that has kept them in political hot water.

The recent email I received offered a "package" of deer that included 16 bucks with antlers guaranteed to measure between 170 and 200+ on the official Boone and Crockett scale. Few Tennessee hunters will ever see, much less kill, a white-tailed deer of that size. If it were legal in Tennessee, I could buy that deer package for a mere $84,000.

That is not a typo ... those deer cost an average of $5,250 apiece.

These "free-enterprise" operations are perfectly legal in Texas and other states. The operators have found a niche business, and they're taking advantage of it.

In Tennessee, wildlife and agriculture officials have chosen to preclude free enterprise and forbid such businesses. They say they are doing so to protect our native white-tailed deer herds and domestic livestock from chronic wasting disease. CWD belongs to a class of neurological diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and is known to infect white-tailed deer, mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk. Other similar diseases include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also referred to as mad cow disease). Although CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle, there is no known relationship between CWD and any other disease of animals and people.

Regardless, Tennessee is extremely aggressive in its defense against CWD. There are even laws that dictate certain steps hunters must take before than can bring back the carcasses of deer or elk legally taken in other states. 

Others, however, such as Niceley, argue that the state's stance is too restrictive, that the CWD scare is not as bad as all that. Niceley points out that TWRA imported elk into the state in the past and is now being hypocritical by opposing deer importation under "extremely strict" circumstances.

So therein lies the issue: Do we support state officials in their fervent efforts to protect our native Tennessee wildlife and domestic livestock? Or do we not buy into the CWD "fear factor" and do as other states have done, allowing free enterprise to govern white-tailed deer farming in Tennessee?

It is a tough choice for me because I am a big believer in free enterprise.

But in this case, the wildlife-lover in me wins out. But not for the reason you might think.

I do not necessarily buy into the CWD fear. Sure, we must be aware and not stupid. But I am not convinced CWD is the "death knell" TWRA officials might have us believe.

I do, however, believe that wild animals should be just that—wild.

Our native wildlife should never become a commercial commodity to be bought and sold. Our native wildlife belongs to "we the people," not to farmers, landowners, wildlife managers or politicians. It belongs to us, and as trite as it sounds, I believe our wildlife should be born free and die free—not behind a high fence or at the hands of the highest bidder.

And you? Share your comments below.

Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports. The opinions expressed in this editorial belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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