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Monday, March 26, 2012

What About “Canned Hunts”?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, March 24, 2012.)

When it’s not part of our experience,
we can still have an opinion,
but we probably can’t have
a completely authoritative opinion
With some trepidation, I’m about to express my view on a topic where many hunters strongly disagree.

I’m talking about hunting inside fenced preserves, what some people disapprovingly call “canned hunts.” Please hear me out. I have never hunted inside an enclosure. When it’s not part of our experience, we can still have an opinion, but we probably can’t have a completely authoritative opinion.

I say that to say this: I don’t know all about them, and it’s a much bigger subject than I can cover in this space. My view definitely isn’t the bottom line.

It’s worth saying again: Please hear me out, and don’t get me wrong. Let’s think about it. I recognize that the sporting aspect of preserve hunting has limits. But is there a place for fenced preserves?

I’ve heard the stories and I know the opinions of those who argue against them. Yes, the industry has some bad apples. So does the NFL, where a coach was suspended recently for rewarding players for hurting other players. So do we condemn the whole lot?

I’ve read the arguments against fenced preserves, and they’re often exaggerated, dramatized, and overstated – just like anti-hunters do against licensed hunting.

I’ve watched TV shows where hunters shoot bucks inside a fence. Critics often say that the hunters need little skill, but skill is not the issue. You don’t want hunters better than you are sneering at your skill level. Neither do I. Lots of people who hunt outside an enclosure succeed have limited skill, but they succeed in a big way because they live in a place that grows big bucks, and they have access to great hunting land.

I’ve noticed those TV programs sometimes involve hunters who are victims of a terminal disease and won’t be around next hunting season, or are bound to a wheelchair, or are otherwise seriously handicapped. I don’t begrudge them the opportunity to experience hunting, even if it is a limited kind of hunting.

Sometimes the hunter inside a fence is a wounded warrior who left his legs in the Middle East. I’m glad he didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice. And I’m glad he is healthy enough to do what he likely dreamed of while serving our nation, at the very time I was free to hunt.

When I think about it, I can think of lots of people who don’t deserve criticism for hunting behind a fence. Besides the handicapped person, the victim of a terminal disease, or the disabled veteran, what about…
… the soldier who is home on leave outside of hunting seasons?
… the person who works outside the country and isn’t here during hunting seasons?
… the person whose schedule doesn’t allow him time off during hunting seasons?
… the hard-working, low-income guy, who’s living right, obeying the law, and dreams of hunting elk, but will never have the financial resources – and someone who owns a local preserve offers him a free opportunity?

Few of us would oppose at least some of the situations outlined above, but keep in mind that if these situations were the only permissible reasons to hunt behind a fence, hunting behind a fence wouldn’t be possible for anyone. A hunting preserve is expensive to run, and needs paying customers. The above situations are only possible because other customers buy hunts.

You don’t like their motivations? OK, for some it’s merely an occasion to brag. So what? We’ll always have windbags. Ignore them. For others it’s just an easier way. So what? We’ll always have people who take shortcuts. You’re free not to.

My opinion doesn’t make me a promoter of high-fence hunting. It’s definitely not for everyone, and it shouldn’t be what hunting becomes.

If I had more exposure to it, maybe I’d change my mind. But I think about the handicapped guy who has no other opportunity, and the terminal patient who won’t live until next hunting season. Those of us who want to make a different choice are blessed that we can.

Enough about my opinion. But if you are someday disabled and can’t scale a mountain, or wade a swamp, or climb into a treestand, I hope you can find some way to hunt.


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