White-tailed deer are everywhere in Texas, so why is the state struggling with a deer-smuggling industry? “It’s like everything else in society,” one game warden tells Time, “people want bigger, better, faster.” Luxurious lodges charge hunters big bucks for access to reserves full of, well, big bucks. Texas breeders charge huge sums for such prizes, but smugglers offer them on the cheap.
Texas is currently free of chronic wasting disease that has plagued deer, elk and moose populations in 11 states, and to keep it that way the state’s banned importing deer. That’s driven up the price of Texas-bred bucks—some specimens can fetch half a million dollars. Since capturing wild white-tails is also illegal, lodge owners often turn to the smugglers.