— PRATTVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Nationally, commercial game breeding has grown into a multibillion-dollar business as producers have discovered there are big bucks in big bucks.
The game breeders are out to produce deer and elk with larger body weights and massive antlers. The animals are shipped across the country for breeding, much like prized livestock. Some of the animals are sold to preserves and hunting lodges and turned loose for hunters to pursue, after they have dug deep in their wallets, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
The practice does come with concerns — the spread of disease and ethical questions among them. Most preserves are bordered by high fences, which keep the valuable animals inside the enclosure. Even if several thousand acres are in the enclosed area, it raises fair chase concerns for some hunters.
"It doesn't sound much like hunting to me," said Richard Smith, a Prattville deer hunter. "You go to a lodge, look at pictures of deer and pick out which one you want and then plunk down your money. Then you go to where that deer is and shoot it.
"That's shooting; that's not hunting."
There are 204 licensed game farms in Alabama, and they operate under strict state guidelines. It is illegal to import game animals into the state, said Mark Rouleau, assistant chief for the law enforcement arm of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The farms can export the animals, with the practice being controlled by game laws in the receiving states, he said.
Each game breeding location is inspected twice a year by the state, Rouleau said. If they want to move an animal within the state or to another state, a permit is required. If an animal dies at a breeding facility, the breeder must pay for a necropsy to be performed by a state approved lab.