The business of breeding deer keeps growing in the United States as do the size of their antlers.
Just recently the Oklahoma City based company, DNA Solutions, Inc., tested and added its 100,000th whitetail deer to the North American Deer Registry.
Brandt Cassidy, lab director for DNA Solutions, said the lab received just 300 samples a year when it first started doing genetic testing on whitetail deer in 2001.
“Now we are doing that many a week,” he said.
In 2007, DNA Solutions was hired to create and manage the North American Deer Registry, which tracks the lineage of whitetail deer. Three years ago, just 40,000 deer were on the registry.
As the number of registered whitetails continues to increase, the genetic history of each animal is easier to trace.
Part of the reason for the registry's growth is that some states which did not allow big-game commercial hunting in the past - commonly known as high-fence areas – have legalized those operations in recent years, Cassidy said.
Most deer breeders using DNA testing and the registry are located east of the Rocky Mountains where there are more high-fence areas. Texas, with its proliferation of commercial hunting ranches, is a big contributor, Cassidy said.
In fact, the 100,000th deer tested by DNA Solutions came from Rancho Trinidad, a 3,000 acre ranch with two locations near Kennedy and Rock Creek, Texas.
“The registry has allowed us to better market our deer with the assurance that we can solidify every pedigree with documentation from DNA analysis,” said Davin Cox, ranch manager. “Without these DNA'd certificates, sales of breeder deer would not take place.”
Selective breeding is working to grow trophy racks on bucks that are far superior to wild deer.
Ten years ago, a 180 to 190 class typical buck was considered large in the deer breeding industry, he said. Today, a big typical is a 250 to 280 class buck, Cassidy said.
Antler growth has really exploded on the non-typical side, where they are often called mutant heads.
A decade ago, a 250 to 280 class non-typical set of headwear was considered big. Now, there have been two monster non-typical bucks from Pennsylvania that have scored more than 500, Cassidy said.
Commercial hunting operations across the country often sell three-day hunts anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 or more depending on the animal that a hunter is able to take home as a trophy.
But just like a great bucking bull, a great whitetail can be much more valuable as a stud.
A Tulsa breeder owned a deer named Maxbo that has more than 1,000 offspring on the North American Deer Registry, Cassidy said.
Maxbo died last year at age 9, but at one point its owner was annually selling 100 straws of semen from the animal at a price of $10,000 a straw, Cassidy said.
“Maxbo was unique,” he said. “He was sort of on the cusp of this deer breeding industry.”
A price of $2,500 a straw is more typical for a good buck, he said.
And there are no guarantees. Sometimes a trophy buck will never produce offspring as good as himself, Cassidy said.
Some breeders believe that the doe's genes are even more important than the buck's for reproduction, he said.
Did you know?
Oklahoma currently has 90 commercial hunting operations. They must be licensed and inspected annually by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Thirty-nine are upland game bird operations, 25 are high-fence areas for big game hunting and 26 are combinations of both.
On high-fence areas, the fence is required to be 8 feet high. It is illegal to mix wild deer with captive herds.
There is no minimum requirement on the size of commercial hunting areas in Oklahoma but they range from 400 to 1,000 acres, said Bill Hale, assistant chief of law enforcement for the Wildlife Department.
There are approximately 220 deer and elk breeding farms in the state. They must be licensed by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.