It's almost dusk as hunting guide Don Small climbs into a golf cart, holding a feed bucket. Gravel crunches under the tires as he scatters the grain, calling ''Come on, babies, come on.''
As if on cue, deer line the lane, and three bison lumber out of the woods. It's feeding time in the breeding area at Misty Mountain Trophy Hunting in Fallen-timber, where owners Phil and Deb Schreyer raise deer, elk and bison.
''It's a farm,'' Phil Schreyer said. ''It's the same as raising livestock.''
Phil Schreyer feeds a piebald buck in the breeding area at Misty Mountain Trophy Hunting in Fallentimber, which he owns with his wife, Deb. In addition to hosting guided hunts, the Schreyers breed deer, elk and bison. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
The Schreyers' operation is one of more than 200 commercial deer farms in Pennsylvania, which had the second most commercial deer and elk farms in the nation in 2002, according to a 2007 economic impact study commissioned by the Pennsylvania Deer Farmers Association.
Some of the animals raised at Misty Mountain go on to stock the farm's hunting preserve, some are sold to other breeders and some are kept as breeding stock at the farm. Deer, elk and other cervid species are raised for use in breeding, venison production, deer watching and private hunting, according to the PDFA study. Specialty products, such as antlers, deer urine and craft and deerskin leather are also sold.
Deer can sell for a few thousand dollars up to $500,000, depending on the animal's lineage, Schreyer said.
The state Department of Agriculture requires anyone owning a cervid species (deer, elk, moose, sika) to hold a cervidae license operators license. There is no charge for the license.
Cervid owners are also required to have a chronic waste disease management program. CWD is a disease that cervid species can pass to each other. For more information, visit www.agriculture.state.pa.us.
By the numbers
In Pennsylvania in 2002, there were:
- 21,617 deer and elk kept on farms
- 616 deer and elk farms
- 256 commercial farms
- $103 million of economic impact and 3,500 jobs created by the deer and elk farming industry
The top five deer- and elk-producing counties in 2002 were as follows:
Source: Pennsylvania Deer Farmers Association's 2007 economic impact study
"There have been deer that have sold for over a million dollars," he said. "And one straw of semen can go for $20,000."
While there's money to be made, deer farming started as a hobby five years ago for Dennis Roub, who owns Hillside Drive Whitetails in Martinsburg.
''I got a couple just watch, just to sort of have them,'' Roub said. ''And then I bought some more and started getting into breeding them.''
Roub had no previous agriculture experience and said he's been learning as he goes along. He now sells what are called ''shooter bucks,'' or trophy animals, to hunting preserves, as well as breeding stock to other deer farmers.
A background in dairy farming combined with the potential for profit brought Bonnie and Clair Rhodes of Hopewell to raise elk. They started in 1995, after reviewing a Penn State University study on how much money could be made from selling the elks' velvet antlers. They now have about 200 elk at Hidden Springs Farm.
When they started, the velvet sold for $100 per pound and was in demand in South Korea, where it was used in medicinal drugs.
However, the Korean ban on U.S. beef includes ancillary products such as the velvet, which Bonnie Rhodes said now sells for $10 per pound.
They also sell bull elk to hunting preserves and own a butcher shop where they slaughter the elk and sell the meat.
"It's just different farming," Bonnie Rhodes said. "You gotta learn a little different things, but they're basically like a cow. They're not tame; they're tame to the point that they'll follow you around, but if you try to catch them, you can't."
Deer farming is an industry that's far from recession proof, said Joseph McMullen of Tyrone, who's been raising deer at Keystone Whitetails since 1988.
"When the economy's the way it is, shooting preserves lose money also," McMullen said. "It takes people with disposable income to go there, and the last couple years have been kind of iffy."