Recently it came to my attention that in North Dakota there is a law coming up for vote that would ban high-fence hunting operations, Ballot Measure 2. The Wall Street Journal has a pretty good article on the specifics of this particular issue (seen here) and I’d like to tackle the issue on a global level here.
First off, I’d like to state my opinion on high-fence hunting, not as a legal issue, but as a personal preference. I personally am not drawn to the idea of hunting native big game animals on private, fenced ranches. These ranches purchase or raise their own deer and elk that are bred specifically for this type of hunting. The animals are restricted to the fenced in areas, which can be as large as a couple dozen acres to thousands of acres. Regardless of the size of the fenced in area, the animals are not able to freely leave the area. This type of hunting simply does not appeal to me.
In the past I have hunted pheasants on a private reserve where they were raised and released to be hunted in open land. The pen-raised birds are not nearly as smart as wild raised birds, but they adapt quickly and are able to freely go anywhere they want. I have also hunted in public areas where birds have been raised and released. While somewhat akin to high-fence hunting, the birds are not restricted to a certain area.It is a good way to get kids a lot of shooting and to train dogs, though it doesn’t compare to taking down a wild and wily rooster.
So what about exotics? There are many ranches that bring in animals that are not native to the area to raise and be shot in high fence operations. This provides an opportunity for hunters to shoot something that they would have to travel much farther for. Would I consider this? Possibly; it certainly would be interesting to chase some of the none-native antelope, sheep and other animals that I couldn’t afford to hunt otherwise. I would recognize the hunt for what it is and realize that it would never compare to hiking several miles in the dark to the top of some mountain and hearing the air light up with the bugles of wild elk in September.
But let’s take a look at the legal issue: these ranchers are fencing in their own private land, purchasing or raising deer and elk with their own money and then charging hunters to harvest them. While I do not believe that the hunters are getting the same experience as chasing open range, wild animals, what they are doing is completely legal, at least for now. I personally believe it should remain legal to do so as well. As long as the specifically bred animals are not allowed to inbreed with the wild animals (these are often genetically engineered animals that are bred for their antler size) by escaping the enclosures, I can’t find any personal objections.
Running high-fence hunting operations offers a livelihood, jobs, and a good amount of money to local areas. It gives people that are willing to pay, and who often pay a lot, a chance to shoot an animal that they probably wouldn’t have a chance to do otherwise. It may not be my, or your, preferred way of hunting, and some may even hesitate at calling it “hunting”, but who am I to tell others what and how to live their lives? I believe high-fence game animals have a higher quality life than pen raised cattle and as long as all of the meat is properly used I have no issues.
The counter argument is that it cheapens the experience and is not “hunting” as it is traditionally defined. Many of the high-fence animals are specifically bred for large antlers and can be susceptible to disease and other issues. It is always possible that some of these animals could escape and interbreed with local populations and thus damage the gene pool of the herd. As with almost everything, there is a positive and negative side of the issue.
In the end, I believe in free choice as long as the choice does not negatively impact others. This is such a case and I see little to no negative impact on hunters that do not wish to hunt high-fence establishments. If you don’t like high-fences and hunting in them, don’t do it; it’s as simple as that. Pitting hunter vs. hunter in this debate is not going to help the hunting industry as a whole and only serves to separate us into smaller fractions. And this is definitely NOT something that we want with all of the enemies that we already have.
What do you think?