The New Hornographers: The Fight Over the Future of Texas Deer

A herd of headless deer, the looming threat of disease and Big Government in Texas's thriving trophy buck industry.

"I could walk in my pen, push them out the gate and walk 'em down the chute and work them like cattle," he said. "We didn't have to tranquilize the deer or nothing on our farm.

"My deer were nothing but pets."

He still wished he had been there when Texas Parks and Wildlife came to exterminate his animals. But he was sitting in a Texarkana prison camp at the time, serving a 25-month sentence. He thinks the investigation was personal, stemming from a lawsuit he filed against TPW in 2006 for failing to issue his breeder permit in a timely fashion. "That's what made them mad," he said. "They don't want people to contest them."

James Anderton pleaded guilty to trafficking wildlife.
Sebron Snyder
James Anderton pleaded guilty to trafficking wildlife.
Max Dream, the Madera Bonita Ranch's prized buck, is a semen-producing cash cow.
Mike Wood
Max Dream, the Madera Bonita Ranch's prized buck, is a semen-producing cash cow.

Nonetheless, the FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety caught wind that Anderton and his son Jimmie were involved in a conspiracy to move stolen trucks, tractors and trailers across state lines. The same informant told them in 2006 that Anderton was trucking deer in from out of state. According to investigative records, it's clear investigators also suspected Anderton was breaking state law by capturing wild deer. In 2003, the year after Texas closed its borders, a man named Raymond Scott Sly said he hitched his pickup to a low-slung, shop-built trailer with plywood partitions at Anderton's ranch, according to investigative reports.

He followed Anderton to a Walmart in Greenville, where the deer farmer bought a road atlas. Anderton put his finger on Bald Knob, Arkansas, northeast of Little Rock. If Sly got pulled over, he instructed him to tell the officer they were fallow deer — an exotic, legally transportable breed similar to whitetail deer.

Sly hauled the trailer north and before dusk came to a gravel road with a high fence on one side. As he pulled up to his destination, he told investigators, he was scared. There was an Arkansas Game and Fish truck parked next to a double-wide trailer. A man he thought might have been Native American came out and waved him in, told him he'd come to the right place. The Arkansas warden would later tell investigators during an interview that he didn't think it was his job to worry about where the deer he sold were headed, even if the end customer was flouting federal law. So Sly backed the trailer up to a barn, and he and the game warden pushed a herd of does and a few bucks inside. One of them balked, and the warden darted the doe with a tranquilizer, then administered a reversal once they'd loaded her. Sly handed the warden a check from Anderton and steered south into Texas. He had an auxiliary tank on his Dodge, so he wouldn't have to stop at a fueling station where curious eyes might pry.

As he was instructed, he left the trailer-load of deer at Anderton's hunting ranch in Delta County, near the guest house. Two weeks later, he was paid $2,000 for his trouble. Years later, he was paid a visit by state and federal investigators. By 2009, Anderton and his son had received federal indictments for trafficking wildlife and stolen property. From 2003 to 2005, investigators said, they'd moved 125 deer across state lines. These weren't high-quality deer, according to one U.S. Fish and Game agent involved in the investigation. They were shooters, he said, worth about $62,000 all told. The Andertons pleaded guilty in August 2009. Anderton surrendered himself to a federal prison camp in March 2010. The month before, even though he'd admitted to trafficking deer, the breeder license he'd been waiting on finally came through. That's because TPW's own rules didn't allow the agency to strip him of his license for a federal prosecution. So, in August 2010, TPW changed the rules and revoked Anderton's permit.

Four months later, agents showed up at his ranch to carry out the destruction of the herd. It would have been roughly five years since the federal complaint accused him of bringing in the last shipment of deer. TPW said Anderton couldn't provide proof of origin for the animals. They may have been infected with chronic wasting disease, the agency reasoned. "They could've come from anywhere," a spokesman told Lone Star Outdoor News in 2010 (the agency wouldn't comment on the case because of pending litigation).

"They had zero evidence that a deer that came from out of state went into my breeder pens," Anderton claimed, adding that each animal had a state-issued unique number. The deer he was accused of transporting, he said, went to his game ranch in Delta County, not the farm in Hunt County. If they'd come into contact with infected animals, they'd be dead by now. "This was all done in 2002, 2003 and 2004. They killed my deer in 2010 and 2011, five or six years after all this stuff was supposed to happen. They knew about it in 2005!" he said. "They wanted me out of the deer business."

TPW leadership, for its part, seemed to agree. In documents obtained by WFAA-TV, the former chief warden sought changes in the rules in order to "shut [Anderton] down." In an internal message, he wrote that he'd "already put too much info in emails about putting Anderton out of business."

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IT'S. THE. FEED.  If this is a prion disease, than it comes from the animal feed. This is from 30 years of experience in the UK. Mad Cow Disease was and is caused almost entirely by allowing animals to eat brain and spinal tissue infected with the disease.  Not a conspiracy, a well known, BASIC fact that means that in Britain (and elsewhere) it is now strictly illegal to allow culled dairy cows back into their own feed (yes, animal remains were added to herbivour feed for years).  Mad Cow Disease has been pretty much eliminated from Britain after years of strict rules on feed; the number of human deaths has been much lower (so far) than feared - hopefully due to years of enforcing rules on what bits of cow can enter human consumption.

What are you feeding your farmed deer?  Is it standard cattle feed or similar? Does it have cheap slaughterhouse reject animal protein in it?  Then, when you've thought about that... if deer have, basically, Mad Cow Disease... how prevalent is it in the cattle you are eating?

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