Deer Smugglers Go to Prison
by: Jim Bell, December 29, 2008 8:12:18 pm
Everyone knows it's legal to hunt wild deer in Texas under controlled and licensed conditions. It's also legal for people to get a license to breed deer on private property and use them for private hunts. What's not legal is for the deer breeders to bring deer in from other states. Greg Williford is in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Special Operations Unit, and he says deer from other states could bring a very serious animal disease into the state. It's called Chronic Wasting Disease.
"Similar to Mad Cow Disease but it affects deer and elk. It's been found in Wisconsin and I believe Colorado had it in their elk population at one point. It completely decimates the native deer population."
Deer hunting is a huge industry in Texas. Add up the money hunters spend year round on hunting rifles, hunting and camping clothing and equipment, deer leases, everything related to traveling to hunting areas, hotels, motels, campgrounds, and you're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. A sick deer from another state could start an epizootic that could spread and kill thousands of deer, and do serious damage to the state's hunting economy.
What were those two men doing that got them in so much trouble? Williford says it started when Robert Eichenour of Houston bought mature trophy bucks with big racks from a rogue breeder named Brian Becker in Minnesota.
"Mr. Eichenour was able to buy them from Mr. Becker in Minnesota for approximately 1500 dollars a buck. Mr. Becker would bring the animals down, they'd be placed on Mr. Eichenour's ranch in Grimes County and then he would sell the hunt for this animal for anywhere between five and ten thousand dollars."
And that's per hunter. Over a four year period, Eichenour smuggled up to $300 thousand dollars worth of deer to his ranch for these hunts. The question arises: since he could breed deer legally as a licensed breeder, why did he need to import deer? Williford says:
"It was more economically advantageous for him to import these deer than it was to try to raise these deer. It would take four to five years to raise a deer with antlers of this quality anyway."
Williford says the Texas breeder just didn't want to spend the time and money it takes to raise trophy deer to adulthood. Both men were caught after an undercover investigation by Parks and Wildlife Department Game Wardens, and both were charged with illegally transporting illegally captured animals across state lines, which is a federal crime. Last month, both pleaded guilty and both are headed for a federal prison. Williford says they can blame it on greed.
Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.