This report was written by Diana Norris, Norm Phelps, and D.J. Schubert under the direction of Michael Markarian, Executive Vice President of The Fund for Animals, and Heidi Prescott, National Director. The report is based upon research and analysis by Sonia Baker, Laura Ireland, Jeff Leitner, Todd McDonald, Michael Markarian, Diana Norris, Laurie Paul, Peter Petersan, Norm Phelps, Heidi Prescott, Carrie Reulbach, and D.J. Schubert. Editing and formatting are by Diana Norris and Catherine Hess. The Fund for Animals wishes to thank the firm of Schubert and Associates for its participation in the preparation of this report. This report was made possible through the generous support of Park Foundation.
The closing decades of the twentieth century saw the rise of a new kind of "sport" in North America: the "canned hunt." Although canned hunts advertise under a variety of names -- most frequently "hunting preserves," "game ranches," or "shooting preserves" -- they can be identified by the two traits they all have in common: they charge their clients a fee to kill an animal; and they violate the generally accepted standards of the hunting community, which are based on the concept of "fair chase." In some cases animals may be shot in cages or within fenced enclosures; in others they may be shot over feeding stations; some of the animals are tame and have little fear of humans, while others may be tied to a stake or drugged before they are shot. But whatever method is used, the defining characteristic of a canned hunt is that the odds have been artificially manipulated against the animal so heavily that the notion of fair chase is subverted.
Canned hunts are commercial hunts that take place on private land under circumstances that virtually assure the hunter of success. As the establishment of canned hunts increases, they are attracting more public concern about their ethical, ecological, and biological implications. After extensive research, The Fund for Animals has concluded that these concerns are well founded, and we have created this report as a reference tool for use by members of the public, nonprofit organizations, legislatures, and government agencies in addressing the grave public policy issues raised by canned hunts.
Section I provides an introduction and overview; explores the ethical objections to canned hunts based on standards generally accepted by the sport hunting community; raises questions about the appropriate legal analogy that should be applied to canned hunts; and discusses the serious animal health and public health issues raised by canned hunts. Section II catalogs the relevant statutes and regulations of each state with an example of a model ordinance relating to the regulation of canned hunts. (Note: This report covers canned hunts for both native and exotic mammals; canned hunts for birds will be covered in a separate report to be released at a later date.)
Description: The Thrill of the Kill?
A sweltering summer day forces a large lion under the shade of a drooping tree amidst a bucolic landscape. She pants from the heat unconcerned at the sight of an approaching man wearing a pristine white shirt and clean, khaki pants. He stops about 100 feet from the tree and animal. As the feline lies in the relaxing shade, the man raises a rifle pointed toward the drowsy animal. An unseen voice directs the lone gunman. He shoots once and the lion, wounded and disoriented, races from the shade of the tree. Only her cries of pain can be heard and her flailing limbs seen over the grass. The voice again directs the man to shoot again after seconds have elapsed as the creature struggles for life. The second shot finishes the job. The man nervously approaches the feline and butts her with his gun. He then gives thumbs-up to the camera, bends down and feels her coat.... The camera pans out to show a tall, chain-link fence.1
Although canned hunts are advertised as rugged, outdoor adventures, in reality they are conducted in an atmosphere of comfort and convenience. You can fly into a hunting preserve here in the United States, and after a gourmet dinner, you can spend the night in a luxurious hunting lodge. The next day, you'll be given a high-powered rifle with a brief orientation to its use and driven to the "shooting area." The area is usually a fenced enclosure from which there is no escape, ranging from a few square yards to several hundred acres, depending on how strenuous you want your hunt to be. The outcome is never really in doubt. In many cases, the hunting preserve will give a guarantee: "No kill, no pay." Whether the area is large or small, the animals are either fenced in -- so that they cannot escape and have no hiding place that is secret from the guide -- or they have been habituated to eating at a feeding station at the same time every day for food. At many ranches, the same truck that brings dinner to the feeding stations also brings the hunters. Exotic animals bought from breeders are often accustomed to people feeding them and cleaning their cages, so they have no fear of humans. They are often surplus zoo animals or retired circus performers who are too habituated to humans or too old and arthritic to run away. The essentials are always the same regardless of the cost of the trip: an animal who is either fenced in, lured to feeding stations, or habituated to humans, and odds so heavily in the hunter's favor that there is little risk of leaving without a trophy. Most canned hunts have taxidermists on site or on call to mount your trophy, whose fate was sealed the moment you made your reservation.
Prohibiting these questionable hunting practices from being captured on tape is a standard practice of game ranches. "Video cameras [are] permitted in lodge area only -- not on hunts," according to Cumberland Mountain Hunting Lodge2. Ohio's Whitetail Trophy & Exotics, Inc. warns, "Unauthorized video is considered criminal. You must have permission before using video equipment and must follow a strict set of guide lines."3 Obviously, they don't want the public to get a true picture of canned hunts. But, undercover footage occasionally leaks out and the images haunt the viewers: The Corsican ram stopped cold in his tracks, raised his head to sniff the breeze, and tried to peer through the foliage. The hunter, covered head to toe in camouflage, slowly raised to shoulder level a modern techno-marvel of levers, wheels, and pulleys and released his arrow. At the twang of the string, the ram jerked his head around -- just as the razor-sharp broadhead sliced into his left flank. Letting out a bellow of pain and terror, he lunged forward into the wire fence that held him captive. The hunter, no more than twenty yards away, reloaded and shot. Another strike in the flank and another bellow as once again the ram hurled himself against the fence. A third arrow struck him in the side, a fourth high up on the back. The hunter was deliberately aiming away from the head and shoulders to avoid any risk of spoiling his trophy. "If you fall," he yelled at the ram, "fall the right way. I don't want you bending my arrow." The slowly dying animal huddled against the bottom of the fence. After six arrows, the guide put the doomed animal out of his agony with a bullet.4
Game Ranching: A New Way to Separate City Slickers from Their Money
According to the Safari Club International, an organization dedicated to big game trophy hunting, the first game ranch in the United States was the Y.O. Ranch in Mountain Home, Texas, two hours southwest of San Antonio. Founded in 1880 as a longhorn cattle ranch, the Y.O. introduced Indian blackbuck antelopes in 1953. When the blackbucks thrived, the Y.O. went into the business of exotic hunts, and ranch managers began adding other species of exotic deer including axis, sika, and fallow.5 Today, the Y.O. advertises "North America's largest collection of exotic wild animals -- zebras, giraffes, ostriches, sika, oryx, aoudad and eland -- over 50 different species. The Y.O. is a hunting mecca for photographers, native game hunters and exotic game hunters from everywhere."6
By the 1960s, inspired by the success of the Y.O. Ranch, hunting preserves and game ranches had begun to appear first in the Texas hill country and then throughout the nation.7 But their current burst of popularity dates only from the 1980s as they began filling a new market niche created by the paradox of fewer and fewer hunters spending more and more money on their sport. From the 1950s through 1975, the number of hunters in America had held steady at around 10% of the population age twelve and above. But starting in 1975, a decline set in that continues to the present. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 1996, the latest year for which statistics are available, only 7% of Americans sixteen and older hunted. 8
Researchers for the hunting industry have identified several reasons for this decline, including the fact that a majority of Americans now oppose sport hunting.9 But only two of these factors are important in understanding the growing popularity of canned hunts. First, since World War II, America has become an urban and suburban nation. More and more people live in cities and suburbs, while development pushes wildlife habitat farther and farther away from them. Hunting has become more time consuming and less convenient than other forms of recreation like golf or tennis. Second, with two-career families now the norm rather than the exception, and household and child-rearing responsibilities typically shared by two working parents, hunting forays have to be fitted into a high-pressure schedule of work, parenting, and household chores.
To further complicate things, in many states -- including some in which hunting has long been popular, such as Texas and Maine -- most land is privately owned and finding a place to hunt can be daunting due the decreased accessibility to land. Hunting trips now have to be planned, scheduled, organized -- and paid for. And the operators of game ranches and hunting preserves are well aware of this. "If you don't have the 10 days to 2 weeks normally needed to hunt for trophies with someone else," say the operators of Cedar Ridge Elk Ranch in North Dakota, "and you want ACTION, and you want to 'bring it home,' then Cedar Ridge Elk Ranch is the place for you."10 The same people whose metropolitan lifestyle is incompatible with traditional hunting typically have significant disposable income to spend on recreation. And so we see that while the number of hunters is declining, the amount of money they spend is going up -- dramatically. In 1991, hunters spent $14 billion on their sport, but by 1996 that figure had risen to $20.67 billion, an increase of 33% while the number of hunters was dropping by 17%.11 The recipients of the $21 billion spent each year by hunters include the manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of hunting products ranging from firearms and ammunition to archery equipment to outdoor clothing, camping gear, and related accessories. They also include hunting lodges, guides, game ranches and hunting preserves.
There are three types of game ranches or hunting preserves operating in the United States. First, there are some that are simply large tracts of privately owned land, hundreds or even thousands of acres, which are not fenced and not stocked. No feeding stations are maintained and no crops are planted in small patches -- known as "feeding plots" or "food plots" -- for the purpose of attracting game. The only difference between these "ranches" and hunting on public land is that the hunter has to pay for the privilege. They are not the subjects of this report. Second, there are game ranches or hunting preserves that specialize in native species, usually white-tailed deer or elk. These establishments "manage" the herd to produce a high-proportion of "trophy" animals by techniques adapted from the cattle industry, such as keeping the herd inside a game-proof fence to prevent dilution of the gene pool, providing high-protein food supplements, prohibiting the hunting of young bucks until their antlers reach trophy size, and culling "inferior" animals from the herd.
Some game ranches buy and import stock from breeders, live animal dealers, and other ranches. For example, Forest of Antlers Outfitters in Minnesota promises "a unique hunting experience, specializing in trophy bucks . . ."12 while the Triple Three Ranch in Wyoming advertises that they "control the harvest and manage the herd for large trophy heads."13 In a letter to a Fund for Animals investigator posing as a prospective client, Triple Three owner Craig Smith wrote, "We have good trophies all through the season. Our Mule deer have averaged 24-inch spread 4x4 and five years old for the last six years. I really don't think you can do better as far as mule deer go . . . Whitetail are increasing in numbers with an 18-inch spread average."14 Often, the game ranches that breed deer and elk are also raising them for their parts and for the sale of their meat.
Third, there are game ranches and hunting preserves that deal in exotic animals, ranging all the way from African lions to Indian axis deer. Exotic species are either bred on-site or bought from breeders or dealers, and the hunting of exotics takes place in a fenced enclosure that may range from the size of a large pen to several hundred acres. This traffic in exotic animals exists because large municipal zoos depend on baby animals to attract paying customers. When these babies grow up, they must be disposed of to make room for the new crop of babies who will draw new crowds of customers. Since the public would not tolerate the animals simply being killed by the zoo, they are sold to dealers, who in turn often sell them to research laboratories, roadside petting zoos, and canned hunts. In this way, the zoos can claim to have no responsibility for their ultimate fate.15 (Exotic animals bought as "pets" and later discarded also add to the supply for canned hunts.)
This pivotal role of municipal zoos in the inhumane commerce in wildlife, including wildlife destined to end up at canned hunts, has been extensively documented by investigative journalist Alan Green in his groundbreaking expose Animal Underworld. Green notes that, "On a single day," while he was doing his research, "AZA zoos were looking to rid themselves of six hundred mammals, nearly four hundred reptiles, thousands of fish, hundreds of birds, and a variety of invertebrates."16 The AZA is the American Zoological Association, the trade association for the larger, more established zoos, including most municipal zoos. Green characterizes the fate of the baby animals who outgrow their public appeal this way: . . . the expendable two-year olds -- along with the aged, out-of-vogue, and reproductively spent -- become sacrificial lambs that are cast off, resold, and laundered on paper until they become officially 'lost to follow-up.'
Animals that are supposedly part of grand conservation schemes are recast as just more fodder for the dealers, brokers, auction houses, and sanctuaries that exploit them for profit, subject them to abuse, relegate them to unsuitable environments, or even worse, use them to breed new generations of product for their mercenary commerce.17 Green concludes by asking, "Are zoo animals nothing but crowd-luring props, to be blindly disposed of when they're no longer useful....Society castigates those who treat their mutts in such fashion." 18
Many game ranches and hunting preserves offer both native and exotic species to their customers. The following is a brief listing of species available at selected canned hunting facilities. (Many establishments advertise: "Other animals upon request" or "African animals upon request"): Addax Antelope Aoudad Axis Barasingha Bison Black Bear Black Hawaiian Ram Blackbuck Antelope Blesbok Bobcat Bongo Antelope Buffalo Corsican Ram Cottontail Rabbit Coyote Eland Elk Fallow Deer Feral Hogs 4 Horn Ram Fox Gazelles Hog Deer Impala Javalina Kudu Moose Mouflon Ram Muntjac Musk Ox Opossum Oryx Pere David Raccoon Red Stag Sika Deer Spanish Goat Texas Dall Watusi White-tailed deer Wild Boar Wildebeest Yak Zebra * The Cost of the Kill There are no statistics available on how much money hunters are spending on canned hunts. But a look at some of their advertisements suggests that they account for a significant portion of the 33% increase in hunters' expenditures between 1991 and 1996. For example, The 777 Ranch near San Antonio bills itself as "Africa in Texas." The Jim Carrey movie "Ace Ventura -- When Nature Calls" was filmed at the 777 Ranch. Prices range from $1,500 to kill a "trophy class" Indian blackbuck antelope to $12,500 for a "record class" markhor, a Middle Eastern member of the goat family.19 This ranch's prices are typical of what the market seems to bear. Glen Savage Ranch in Pennsylvania charges $5,995 for a white-tailed deer rated between 140 and 154 on the scoring scale of the Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) -- an organization that maintains a kind of "Guiness Book of World Records" for big game -- and $9,995 for a buck rated between 170 and 184. For bucks with higher B&C scores, Glen Savage discreetly suggests that the prospective customer "call for pricing."20
As with most ranches and preserves, prices include lodging, meals, and field dressing the trophy animal. Hunters are willing to pay these prices for a populous native species because white-tailed deer are so heavily hunted that few outside of hunting preserves live long enough to grow trophy racks. Except when they are "culling" the herd, the operators of canned hunts do not permit their clients to kill bucks until they have grown a trophy rack. Concerned that the industry's emphasis on the upscale market might prove intimidating to less affluent hunters, Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas invites prospective clients to "Come to where the 'WORKING MAN' can afford to hunt!" Broken Arrow, which specializes in exotic deer, offers customers the chance to "kill a TROPHY deer ... and a Fallow doe, stay in our modest but comfortable bunk house, receive continental breakfast for the low price of $1350." For the more moderate, they promise "other affordable hunting packages that will fit your needs."21
Since game ranching is a new and very loosely regulated industry, there are no dependable statistics on how many game ranches and hunting preserves are now in operation. In a telephone conversation, a staff member of the Exotic Wildlife Association, the principal trade group for game ranches and hunting preserves, told a Fund for Animals investigator that the association has between 800 and 1,000 active members, of which more than 500 are in Texas, while several hundred other game ranches "work with us" on a less formal basis. He declined to speculate on the amount of money taken in annually by game ranches and hunting preserves.22 There's a Reason They Call Them "Ranches" To prospective clients, the operators of game ranches and hunting preserves claim that they are in the hunting business. But when they talk to each other and to the government agencies that regulate hunting, they tell a different story. Then they claim that their real business is ranching, and that they are simply adapting tried and true cattle raising techniques to an alternative form of livestock.
It is no coincidence that Texas, America's premier cattle ranching state, was home to the first game ranch -- which was created on a cattle ranch -- and presently hosts more than 500 game ranches. Canned hunt operators want to be ranchers when they're raising animals, but hunters when they're killing them. Their point is that state game agencies should not be able to regulate game ranches and hunting preserves because their animals are domestic livestock, and state agriculture departments should not be able to regulate them because agriculture agencies have no authority to regulate hunting. Forced to choose, however, most game ranchers and hunting preserve operators would rather be regulated by state agriculture departments, which are, on the whole, more sympathetic to canned hunts than state wildlife agencies. This strategy was first brought to public attention by Alan Green, who reports that, "In one state after another, the game farmers have pressed legislators to reclassify a growing list of animals as agricultural products, much like apples, alfalfa, and other cash crops -- a change that allows them to raise, sell, and slaughter exotics without the hassle of fish-and-game department inspections or other government intrusions."23
Many state wildlife agencies oppose canned hunts for three primary reasons. First, since no hunting license is required to hunt exotic animals on private land, game ranches and hunting preserves -- or at least those that specialize in exotics -- potentially threaten a critical source of revenue for the agencies. Secondly, and more importantly, most state wildlife agency personnel have been educated in and are personally committed to the philosophy of "fair chase hunting." Although dedicated supporters of sport hunting, they generally believe canned hunts are unethical and should not be allowed. All too often, however, they are reluctant to voice their views publicly for fear that opposing any kind of "hunting" will be viewed as giving aid and support to the opponents of all hunting. Third, the agencies are concerned about disease transmission (as explained in "The Risk of Disease" section).
State agriculture departments, on the other hand, tend not to judge canned hunts in terms of a long tradition and an ethical code. They often view game ranches and hunting preserves as a way to help farmers and ranchers increase the profitability of their businesses. From their point of view, allowing the hunter to "only occasionally succeed," while the animals "generally avoid being taken" would be an inefficient way to try to turn a profit. After all, do the butchers in slaughterhouses "only occasionally succeed." In chicken processing plants, do broiler chickens "generally avoid being taken." Canned hunt operators and many state agriculture departments treat hunting as an alternative form of animal slaughter, and hunting enclosures as outdoor slaughterhouses. But thus far, due to their newness and their pretense at being "hunts" rather than slaughter, game ranches and hunting preserves have generally avoided the kind of regulation to which traditional livestock producers and slaughterhouses -- at least in theory -- are subject, such as health inspections. But most importantly, these outdoor slaughterhouses should be subject to the federal Humane Slaughter Act, which requires that an animal be rendered immediately unconscious and not allowed to suffer in the process of being slaughtered.
But hunting, even under the conditions of a canned hunt, inevitably entails a significant wounding rate in which the animal suffers for a period of minutes or hours before being found and -- in the euphemism of the hunting community -- "dispatched." In bow hunting -- which is popular on game ranches and hunting preserves because it heightens the illusion of an authentic hunt by a skilled outdoorsman -- the typical cause of death is exsanguination. The animal almost never dies immediately, and up to 50% of animals who are struck by an arrow in free-range hunting are wounded and never retrieved.24 This is clearly inconsistent with the federal standards established in the Humane Slaughter Act, and with similar standards enacted by many states. There is no way that slaughtering an animal under conditions that simulate hunting could comply with currently existing statutory requirements for the slaughter of livestock. And livestock is precisely what these animals have been turned into.
Ethical Objections from Both Ends of the Spectrum: Unfair Chase
Hunting is a sport whose object is to kill sentient beings for pleasure, and that can never be ethical. It is a sport in which only the aggressor participates willingly; the victim has no choice in the matter. And it is a sport in which the stakes are dreadfully uneven; if the animal loses, he dies; if the hunter loses, he goes home empty-handed and life goes on as before. That being said, we all recognize that among ethically objectionable acts, some are more heinous than others.
Due to their egregious cruelty and blatant violation of the hunting community's "fair chase" standard, canned hunts inspire a higher level of outrage than more traditional forms of hunting, even to the extent that many staunch defenders of sport hunting are vocal opponents of canned hunts. Hunting advocates defend the ethics of their sport by invoking the concept of "fair chase." Even the pro-trophy hunting Safari Club International has a code of ethics in which the hunter pledges "to comply with all game laws in the spirit of fair chase, and to influence my companions accordingly."25
"Fair chase" is left undefined. In an affidavit for hunters who wish to have a trophy buck recorded in its record books, the Boone and Crockett Club defines fair chase as "the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging, wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such game animals."26 This statement leaves several key terms, including "ethical," "sportsmanlike," and "improper advantage" undefined, although B&C does give examples of practices that violate fair chase, such as shooting an animal who is helpless when mired in deep snow or swimming in the water.
Jim Posewitz spent 32 years as a biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. As founder and president of Orion: The Hunter's Institute, he is one of sport hunting's most passionate defenders, much in demand as a speaker by hunting organizations and wildlife agencies across the country. In his book, Beyond Fair Chase, which is widely viewed within the hunting community as the "bible" of hunting, Posewitz discusses fair chase in these terms: "Fundamental to ethical hunting is the idea of fair chase. This concept addresses the balance between the hunter and the hunted. It is a balance that allows hunters to occasionally succeed while animals generally avoid being taken."27 One page later, he notes that, "The concept of fair chase is important to hunting. The general public will not tolerate hunting under any other circumstances."28 Posewitz's organization, Orion, defines hunting as "the fair chase pursuit of free-roaming wildlife in a noncompetitive situation in which the animal is used for food."29
Orion's definition of ethical hunting includes four elements: 1) fair chase; 2) free-roaming wildlife; 3) non-competitive; and 4) used for food. The first two elements are shared with the definition used by B&C. Since B&C exists to promote trophy hunting, their definition of fair chase does not include "a noncompetitive situation" or consuming the animal. Fair chase is the fundamental standard put forward by defenders of hunting. All other defenses of hunting for sport depend on and derive from the notion of fair chase. But, hunting on game ranches and preserves is killing for fun and bragging rights under circumstances in which the traditional defenses of hunting become meaningless. And as we have already seen, they make a mockery of the alleged ethical codes of the hunting community. Therefore, is hunting on game ranches and hunting preserves really hunting at all, or is it something else entirely -- something quite different that is masquerading as hunting?
Outdoor writer Ted Kerasote, whose popular book, Blood Ties: Nature, Culture and the Hunt, is an impassioned defense of hunting, including trophy hunting, has no doubt about the answer to this question: "Wildlife is not livestock. The problem comes when people are supposedly hunting these animals. That's the problem right there." According to Kerasote, canned hunts are turning hunting "into this caged, paid affair and it bears no resemblance to what hunting is, was, and could be. Like so many things in our world, people want to buy the product (the trophy) rather than experience the process (meeting the animal on its own terrain)."30
Orion's definition of "ethical" hunting and Kerasote's comments provide an excellent standard for identifying canned hunts and making judgments about them by comparison to traditional hunting. And these judgments will not be made according to the standards of the animal protection community, but according to the standards of the hunting community. In fact, concluded from both Orion and B&C's definitions, any managed situation which is manipulated to significantly reduce the animal's chance to survive is a canned hunt which fails to meet the hunting community's own standard for hunting.
No Kill, No Pay
A hunting preserve or game ranch at which the hunter occasionally succeeds while the animal usually escapes is at a strong competitive disadvantage in today's market. And the canned hunt operators are closely attuned to the economics of their business. They also know that a busy professional or business person or first-time hunter who plunks down several thousand dollars for a day of hunting does not expect to go home empty-handed. And their advertisements go out of their way to reassure prospective clients. "We specialize in 100% Success Rate on all Whitetail rifle hunts," brags the Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch in Missouri.31 By Jim Posewitz's standard, a rifle hunt at Whitetail does not even have a nodding acquaintance with fair chase, regardless of what other conditions it may be conducted under. In one fashion or another the operators have manipulated the odds so that the hunter always succeeds and an animal always dies.
Pennsylvania's Tioga Boar Hunting Preserve tells prospective customers that hunts never require "more than two days; all hunts are guaranteed." Nor do hunters have to be accomplished shooters since "kills are usually made from 25 to 100 yards," which is point blank range for a modern hunting rifle.32 And in case the prospective client is "gun shy" of vaguely worded guarantees, the European Wild Boar Hunt, a hunting preserve in Idaho, spells it out: "You are guaranteed a pig, or your money will be refunded."33
Don't Fence Me In
Most people assume that the animal's physical inability to escape when approached by the hunter is what makes hunting inside a fenced enclosure incompatible with fair chase. From this, they conclude that if the enclosure is large enough -- say several hundred acres -- the animals within it are, for all practical purposes, "free roaming," and the fairness of the chase is preserved. While it is true that shooting an animal within a corral or a fenced lot is a particularly heinous form of canned hunt, the animal's physical inability to escape is only one aspect of the unfairness of hunting within a fenced enclosure.
A large fenced enclosure -- up to hundreds or even thousands of acres -- on a managed game ranch can tilt the advantage to the hunter so dramatically that the animals within cannot be considered free-roaming. Every hunter knows that in most states most years, nearly half the deer killed during hunting season are killed on the first day. Partly this is because there are more hunters out that day, but mostly it is because the deer are caught by surprise. As soon as the sound of rifles begins to reverberate through the woods, the deer change their feeding, drinking, and sleeping habits. If they are able, they leave the area where they are being hunted. In more built up areas, they go onto private land, and -- when they realize there are no hunters -- stay there. In wilderness areas, they go into deep woods and bed down under cover during the day, only coming out at night to eat.
The point is that on a fenced hunting preserve -- no matter how large the enclosure -- the animals are not able to change their behavior patterns in any way that will thwart the hunter. Game ranches and hunting preserves employ "guides" whose full time jobs are: to be intimately familiar with the entire landscape of the preserves; to know where the animals are on the preserves at all times; to know where and when they like to eat, drink, and bed down; and to know all their hiding places. Unable to escape from the guide's backyard, so to speak, the animals are as much "sitting ducks" in a 500-acre enclosure as in a five-acre pasture. A canned hunt will take a little more time and effort on 500 acres than a five-acre pasture, but the hunter's chances of killing an animal are about the same either way. All that the larger area accomplishes is to give hunters the illusion that they are actually hunting an animal when in reality they are simply slaughtering with a bow or a rifle. If this were not so, hunting preserves would not be advertising "no kill, no pay." In their public statements, operators of game ranches and hunting preserves often claim that a facility is a canned hunt only if the animal is shot at point-blank range in a cage or fenced pasture.
In an interview which aired in March 2000, for example, Ike Sugg, who was then-director of the Exotic Wildlife Association, told Dateline NBC that any enclosure of more than a few acres can provide a fair chase hunt if there is dense cover which makes the animal hard to find.34 This may sound fair to people who are unfamiliar with hunting, but it ignores the role of the guide and the fact that once flushed a fenced animal has no escape route. Kerasote, also a columnist for Sports Afield magazine, makes much the same point, although he expresses it a bit more obliquely, when he says, "I would say that for hunting to take place there has to be a simulacrum for some original condition. Whether that's 20 or 50 or 100 acres is irrelevant. I think one can have a legitimate hunting experience on 20 unfenced acres in upstate New York as long as there is no enclosure or barrier to turn the animal back."35
Canned hunt operators know that their clients understand that the fence and the guide are what ensure the kill while the size of the enclosure determines the realism of the illusion that actual hunting is taking place. And so they advertise both the presence of the fence and the size of the enclosure. Cedar's Edge Game Ranch in Michigan offers "white tail and fallow deer, Russian boar, various types of sheep and upon request elk, buffalo and red deer" and has "90 acres in our enclosure with plans to fence the remaining 320 acres."36 Davenport Game Preserve in New York boasts "an intensely managed 250-acre enclosure which harbors many record-class trophy Whitetail and Sika deer,"37 while Michigan's WilMar Ranch has "over 100 acres enclosed for your enjoyment."38
"Game-proof" fencing of the type used by game ranches and hunting preserves can also have a serious detrimental impact on the entire ecosystem in which the fenced enclosure exists. According to a draft report prepared by a working group of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Specific problems caused by hunting within high-fence enclosures ... include: (1) substantial increase in risk of disease to native free-ranging wildlife [See "The Risk of Disease" section]; (2) disruption and displacement of wildlife within their natural home range, animal densities that exceed natural biological carrying capacities, risk of escape by non-native wildlife resulting in undesirable wildlife populations established in the wild, hybridization and even threatened elimination of some native species; complications that inhibit effective enforcement of statewide hunting egulations...39
Animals such as deer and bears who are displaced from portions of their native home range by fenced enclosures typically seek to replace the lost territory by extending their range or searching for a new home range altogether. This can lead to unfenced lands being stressed beyond their carrying capacity and to an increase in human-animal interactions, as displaced deer, for example, wander into suburbs looking for browse. The ultimate cause of most unwanted human-animal contact is residential development encroaching upon natural habitat. Game-proof fencing constitutes a similar encroachment and can be expected to have a similar effect, with the sole difference that the unwanted contact will not occur where the encroachment exists, but in nearby residential areas and on nearby roads and highways.
The Primrose Path
There are other, more subtle ways than a fence to restrict the "free-roaming" nature of animals and thus remove the element of "fair chase" from the hunt, assuring the hunter of a kill. One is the use of "funnels." A funnel is a narrow area bordered by natural or man-made barriers along which an animal must move to get to a destination, such as a food source. A trail leading from deep woods to a cornfield with a steep embankment along one side and a creek on the other would be a natural funnel. A creek on one side of the trail and a fence on the other would be a man-made funnel. By setting up a tree stand overlooking the trail, a guide who knows the habits of the deer living on the preserve can give his client a guaranteed shot at close range.
To assure that potential customers have no fears of coming home empty-handed, deer hunts at Blackhawk Farms in Louisiana "are fully guided and tree stands, blinds, and rifle stands are the norm. These stands are strategically located over funnel areas, food plots, and cut-overs and are chosen based upon deer movement patterns and wind conditions."40 A cut-over is an area in which the mature trees have been cut down so that young saplings, whose leaves deer like to browse, grow up in their place. By manipulating the environment, both natural and man-made, the hunt operators can then ensure a kill for their clients.
The Condemned Animal Ate a Hearty Meal
Often used in conjunction with funnels are food plots and feeding stations. Food plots, as we noted above, are small patches of land planted in a crop, such as corn, that the targeted species enjoys. Usually no bigger than a large garden, they are typically bordered by a grassy strip that leaves the animals exposed while they eat. Surrounded by woods or scattered trees that give the hunter cover, food plots turn the animals they attract into standing targets at close range. Most game ranches that use food plots plant several at a distance from one another so they can switch off randomly from one to another. Animals would soon begin to avoid a food plot that was "overhunted."
To further increase the deadliness of food plots, some operators erect permanent ground level blinds or elevated shooting stands overlooking them. For example, RockBridge Lodge in Alabama assures clients that, "You may hunt over white oak acorns, green fields, persimmon trees, corn food plots on trails to and from bedding areas, and rest assured you will get the opportunity to launch an arrow ... RockBridge deer are fed and managed year round. Specialty crops are planted to attract and hold the game."41 Shot at close range by hunters hidden from view, the animals have no chance. Essentially a refinement of food plots, feeding stations are troughs in which a guide places food at the same time every day for days or weeks before taking a client to hunt over it. In this way the guide knows precisely when animals will appear at the station to eat, and the hunter doesn't have to waste time waiting for a target to show up. In a hi-tech variation, some feeding stations use automatic dispensers with electronic timers.
As with food plots, feeding stations are often used in conjunction with blinds or shooting stands. Harry's Lodge in Maine takes no chances on prospective clients worrying that they may not get a point blank shot since, "At Harry's Lodge we run our bear hunts from tree stands over baits. Because of an average of less than 20 yards from tree to bait, we are set-up especially well for all types of weapons, whether you use a gun, bow, or pistol."42 The significance of "free-roaming" for the standards of hunting is that the animal has a greater opportunity to elude the hunter and the hunter has a more difficult time in locating the animal and getting in range. It is a critical factor in the "balance" that Jim Posewitz of Orion talked about. Animals lured to food plots, feeding stations and bait piles are as hard to find and easy to shoot as animals in a pen. Like everything else in canned hunts, the notion that an animal shot over a food plot, a feeding station, or a bait pile is free-roaming is an illusion. The appearance is there, but the truth is just the opposite.
The Risk of Disease
It is well accepted that when animals become concentrated in numbers the likelihood of disease transmission increases. Whether the concentration is caused by natural factors, influenced by artificial elements, or is the product of captivity, diseases and the intra- and inter-specific transmission of disease can flourish under such circumstances. Animals, whether wild or captive, have different susceptibilities to disease. The susceptibility of individual animals to one or more diseases is a function of, among other things, environment, stress, genetics, nutrition, and age. If an animal's immune system is compromised as a result of the stress of captivity, poor or inadequate nutrition, youthfulness or old age, the animal has a greater chance of being affected by disease. Animals concentrated in a captive environment like a shooting preserve or game farm are more susceptible to a variety of diseases than are animals who live under more natural, wild conditions. That is not to say that wild animals are disease-free as there are an abundance of diseases that afflict many wild and free-roaming species.
Furthermore, admittedly, animals in captivity who are, or can be, handled can be more easily treated for disease than animals in the wild. It is doubtful, however, that those involved in the shooting preserve business provide any level of veterinary care to their captive targets. Since the killing of these animals is guaranteed, spending money on veterinary care is not cost-effective and would adversely affect profits. Since most of those who partake in canned hunts do so for a trophy to mount on a wall, as long as a disease does not affect the appearance of an animal, there would be no incentive to address the problem.
As canned hunts have proliferated in many states, concerns about disease have increased. Diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, and chronic wasting disease (which is similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy or "Mad Cow Disease") have been diagnosed in wild and captive wildlife.43 While some are concerned about the health of individual animals held captive, more are concerned about the potential impact of disease on wild, free-roaming animals. The reality is that despite legal standards requiring fencing of shooting preserves for big game and exotic wildlife, captive wildlife can escape (as a result of human error) and, if diseased, can become a vector for disease transmission to wild animals. For example, Montana game ranches were faced with the occurrence of tuberculosis in 1991 when an elk on a game ranch tested positive for the disease (27other elk showed signs of exposure). Wildlife officials worried the disease could infect the neighboring Yellowstone free-roaming herd of elk.44
In addition, the interstate transport of animals for breeding purposes adds to the increased possibility of spreading such diseases. Michigan has been battling an outbreak of tuberculosis in deer for the past few years due to the preponderance of baiting statewide. Scott Everett, legislative counsel of the Michigan Farm Bureau, claims "deer baiting and feeding promotes the congregation of animals in a small location. That allows for the aerosol transmission of bovine TB ... TB is a disease created by certain conditions: stress, crowding and overpopulation. Baiting and feeding create these conditions."45
As baiting and feeding are common practices on canned hunts, the possibility of the spread of disease such as tuberculosis increases. Though disease is a natural element in nature and though some diseases may have more serious consequences than others, the introduction of a disease into a wild population as a result of the escape of an animal from a fenced shooting gallery poses an unacceptable risk to our free-roaming wildlife. In some cases the disease introduced to a wild population from an escaped captive exotic animal may be an unknown organism for which our native wildlife have no natural immunity. The consequences of such a disease outbreak could be substantial. For example, V. Geist, speaking at the 54th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, stated that, "Asiatic sheep and goats on western ranches for 'trophy hunting' is a time bomb that will destroy bighorn sheep."46 Furthermore, the escape of captive wildlife -- exotic or native -- also poses a threat to the genetic health and purity of our wild, native populations.
In August 1995, The Fund for Animals' national director, Heidi Prescott, was invited to speak at the Fourth Annual Governor's Symposium on North America's Hunting Heritage in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It may seem implausible to have an animal protection advocate speaking to a conference of the hunting community's leaders; Prescott's speech, however, entitled "How Hunters Make My Job Easy," challenged hunters to clean up their own ranks and speak out against egregious practices such as canned hunts.
She asked: What do people who may not have strong feelings about hunting either way . . . think of outdoor ethics when a story runs in their local newspaper about someone paying thousands of dollars to kill a tame lion or sheep on a fenced-in ranch? . . . Do you think that the average person who looks at this practice thinks that hunting is a spiritual outdoor experience, and that hunters respect the wild and are the great wildlife managers and conservationists they claim to be? I can tell you what they think, because they call The Fund for Animals' office to express their horror, their sorrow, and ask what they can do to help.47
The Fund for Animals is committed to working with hunters and state wildlife agency officials -- people with whom we may never agree on many issues -- to find areas where we have common ground and common interests. We believe that the issue of canned hunts is one of those areas. To animal protection advocates, a canned hunt is the cruel and inhumane killing of an animal simply for a trophy. To hunters, a canned hunt is a violation of fair chase and a blight on the image of their sport. To biologists, a canned hunt is a "time bomb" of potential disease for native wildlife populations. All in all, it would be difficult to find anyone who would be willing to defend canned hunts. Except, perhaps, the operators who profit by breeding or trading in animals who are marked as guaranteed trophies, and the hunters who lack the skill or the inclination to hunt in the wild.
1 "Shame on You." CBS Morning News. Arnold Diaz Investigations. 8 March 1995.
2 "Cumberland Mountain Hunting Lodge." Cumberland Mountain Hunting Lodge. June 2000 www.cmhl.com .
3 "Whitetail Trophy and Exotics, Inc." Accessed 27 June 2000 www.outdoorshow.net/Trips/Trips/Whitetail .
4 This description is of an actual canned hunt that took place in 1994 and was captured on video by undercover investigators for the Humane Society of the United States.
5 Unsigned. "Hunting Exotics Where It All Started." Safari Club International Texas Hunting Special Section. Tucson, AZ. (2000): 1.
6 "Your Legend Begins Today." Y. O. Ranch. November 2000 www.yoranch.com/RANCH. According to the website, rare and endangered species are available to be photographed, but not hunted.
7 Unsigned. "Hunting Exotics Where It All Started" Safari Club International Texas Hunting Special Section. Tucson, AZ. (2000): 1.
8 Phelps, Norm. Killing Their Childhood. New York: The Fund for Animals, 1997. 7-8.
9 Balzer, John. "Creatures Great and - Equal?" Los Angeles Times 25 December 1993.
10 "Cedar Ridge Elk Ranch." Cedar Ridge Elk Ranch. August 2000 www.recworld.com/state/nd/cedarridge/cedar.Capitalization and boldface in original.
11 Phelps, Norm. Money, Motherhood, and the Nineteenth Amendment: The Hunting Industry's Open Season on Women. New York: The Fund for Animals, 1999. 1-3.
12 "Forest of Antlers Outfitters Specializing in Trophy Whitetail Bucks." Brochure. Minoqua, WI: Forest of Antlers Outfitters, undated.
13 "Hunt Wyoming: Antelope, Deer, Elk." Brochure. Buffalo, Wyoming: Triple Three Outfitters, undated.
14 Smith, Craig. Letter to a fund for Animals investigator. 18 November 2000.
15 For a description of the commercial trade in exotic animals and the role played by zoos and canned hunts, see Green, Alan and The Center for Public Integrity. Animal Underworld: Inside America's Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species. New York: Public Affairs, 1999.
16 Green. 45.
17 Green. 253.
18 Green. 254.
19 "777 Ranch." 777 Ranch. June 2000 www.777ranch.com .
20 "Big Game Trophy Hunting Close to Home." Brochure. Fairhope, PA: Glen Savage Ranch, Inc., undated.
21 "Broken Arrow Ranch." Broken Arrow Ranch. June 2000 www.brokenarrowhunting.com .
22 Staff member of the Exotic Wildlife Association. Telephone Interview by a Fund for Animals investigator. 16 November 2000.
23 Green. 163.
24 Benke, Adrian. The Bowhunting Alternative. San Antonio, TX: B. Todd Press, 1989. 34, 86-90. Benke, a bowhunter and bowhunting advocate, says, "Archery wounding is the most denied problem in bowhunting and the most ignored problem in wildlife science." pg. 34.
25 "SCI Ethics Process." Safari Club International D.C. Office, Department of Wildlife Conservation and Governmental Affairs. November 2000 www.sci-dc.org/public/general/ethics .
26 "Hunter and Conservation Ethics." The Boone and Crockett Club. June 2000 www.boone-crockett.org .
27 Posewitz, Jim. Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting. Helena and Billings MT: Faclon Press, 1994. 57.
28 Posewitz. Beyond Fair Chase. 58.
29 Masterson, Robert. "The Trophy Hunters' Loophole." The Westchester County Weekly 29 July 1999: 4.
30 Masterson. "Loophole".
31 "Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch." Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch. August 2000 www.fordinfo.com/oakcreek. Italics and capitalization in original.
32 "Tioga Boar Hunting Preserve." Tioga Boar Hunting Preserve. July 2000 http://members.tripod.com.petegee/Information .
33 "Welcome to: The European Wild Boar Hunt." The European Wild Boar Hunting Preserve. July 2000 www.europeanwildboarhunt.com .
34 "Canned Hunts." Dateline NBC. Arnold Diaz Investigations. March 2000.
35 Masterson. "Loophole." Emphasis added.
36 "Cedar's Edge Game Ranch." Cedar's Edge Game Ranch. July 2000 www.outdoorshow.net/Trips/CedarsEdge .
37 "Davenport Game Preserve: The Finest Deer Hunting in the East." Brochure. Fair Lawn, NJ: Davenport Game Preserve, undated.
38 "WilMar Ranch." WilMar Ranch. July 2000 www.wilmarranch.com .
39 Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Captive Wildlife Issues Impacting the Wildlife Resources of Arkansas. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Report. 16 August 2000: 1.
40 "Welcome to Blackhawk Farms, Home of the Super Bucks!" Blackhawk Farms. June 2000 www.huntguide.com/bhf .
41 "RockBridge Lodge." Rock Bridge Lodge. June 2000 www.rockbridgelodge.com .
42 "Harry's Lodge." Harry's Lodge. June 2000 www.uswebx.com/harryslodge .
43 There are an abundance of diseases that can afflict wildlife, including animals in the wild and animals in captivity. For more information about wildlife disease, whether or not specific diseases are known to afflict wildlife in your area, and to determine if disease has been diagnosed in captive wildlife in your area, please consult wildlife disease journals and books at your local library, consult with wildlife or zoological park veterinarians in your area, or contact your state wildlife agency.
44 Associated Press. "Elk Have TB: Tests at Corwin Springs Game Farm Show Positive Results." The Montana Standard 15 April 1991.
45 Michigan Farm Bureau. "Farm Bureau Calling for Immediate, Statewide Deer Baiting and Feeding Ban." Press Release. 23 December 1999.
46 Geist, V. "Legal Trafficking and Paid Hunting Threaten Conservation." Transactions of the 54th North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference. Washington D.C. 17-22 March 1989.
47 Prescott, Heidi. "How Hunters Make My Job Easy." 4th Annual Governor's Symposium in North America's hunting Heritage. Green Bay, WI. August 1995.
The debate over hunting goes way back. While activists and sportsmen will probably be in dispute for years to come, there are steps being taken to make this sport as ethical as possible. That's the idea behind fair chase hunting.
According to Boone and Crocket, fair chase hunting is the ethical, sportsman-like, lawful pursuit, and taking of any free-ranging, wild, native North American big game animal that does not give the hunter an unfair advantage [source: Hunt Fair Chase]. In simpler terms, it means hunting without taking advantage of the animals and allowing them a fair chance to escape in defense.
Here are some of the basic rules of ethics that fair chase hunters live by:
- When hunting, obey all laws and regulations.
- When away from home, respect the land and customs of the locals.
- Adapt and follow a specific personal code that will bring out favorable abilities and sensibilities as a hunter.
- Never draw out the death of prey. Try to attain the best shot to make the kill as quick and precise as possible.
- Keep the personal code in mind and let it dictate behavior. It is the responsibility of the hunter not to dishonor the hunter, the hunted or the environment [source: Hunt Fair Chase].
The ethical approach also states that a hunter may not take an animal if:
- The hunter herded or spotted the animal from air and then quickly landed to pursue.
- It was herded or chased by a motorized vehicle.
- Electronic communication devices are being used.
- It is confined by artificial barriers or transplanted for commercial shooting.
- It is trapped or drugged.
- It's swimming, trapped in snow or helpless in any nature.
- The hunter is using another hunter's license.
- Laws or regulations are being broken [source: Hunt Fair Chase].
Read on to learn about both sides of the fair chase hunting debate.