Back bill to can ‘canned hunting’

Posted March 12, 2009, at 11:12 p.m.

You might be surprised to know that in Maine we have places where people can hunt non-native wildlife that are confined in fenced-in acreage. It is called “canned hunting.”

Animals at these privately owned “hunting ranches” include red deer, elk, bison, fallow deer and wild boar. A fee is charged to people to “hunt” animals that have no chance of escaping. The target animals are bred on farms, have lost much of their fear of humans and congregate in certain areas to be fed and watered. Paid customers may then be guided to the “hunt” where unsuspecting animals are shot by trophy hunters. It has a theme park environment in which the prize is a dead animal.

The odds are manipulated to such a degree against the animal that owners offer a “no kill, no bill” policy. Many hunting groups like the Izaak Walton League and Boone and Crocket Club have publicly denounced canned hunting as unethical, void of fair chase, and a threat to the image of hunting.

Inland Fisheries and Wildlife professionals contend that the non-native animals are captive. Thus, instead of being wild species, the animals should be regarded as domestic — like cattle, therefore licensed by the Agriculture Department. Obviously, there is no sport in shooting a cow on a farm. Shooting an elk that cannot escape on a hunting ranch is no sport either.

Being private operations, they are not subject to wildlife laws. Customers are weekend warriors who do not have to have a license or any gun handling experience. There is no age limit or bag limit. You can hunt year round, even on Sundays, which is illegal for licensed hunters.

It gets worse. True hunters take pride in the chase and skill to drop the animal in one clean shot. This seldom happens with these typically very inexperienced hunters who may shoot numerous arrows or gunshots into the body of the animal, which suffers while bleeding up against the fence in severe pain.

There is also the issue of chronic wasting disease. Nine states have documented chronic wasting disease, which is deadly to Maine’s native deer species. Outbreaks of chronic wasting disease in those states were caused by the mingling of captive canned hunting area animals and wild animals.

Opponents of a ban on canned hunting will advance three arguments. First, this is not about meddling in property rights; it is about an activity that is neither sportsmanlike nor ethical. Historic precedent and recent case law are clear: “No one has an absolute right to use land in a way that may harm the public health and welfare, or that damages the quality of life of neighboring landowners, or of the community as a whole.” We also have laws protecting us from people who do not adhere to a basic core of ethics established by society.

The second argument is that this is the agenda of radical PETA animal-rights extremists. This is the very tired mantra of extreme hunting groups that will consider no change in hunting practices regardless of how unethical, cruel or unnecessary they may be. It rings hollow when a Field and Stream poll of its readers showed that just 12 percent of them approved of canned hunting.

An economic hardship argument will also be put forth. The facts are of the nine “hunting ranches” in Maine, two have gone out of business. The number of kills has steadily declined over the last six years to now its lowest level ever, and it is essentially a very small and dying industry that never really caught on, perhaps for obvious reasons in Maine. And it is not the primary source of income for these few property owners. The legislation to ban canned hunting also has a two-year phaseout period to help mitigate any financial loss.

Maine sportsmen need to speak up that this is not Maine’s heritage, not who they are, not the image they want for Maine and Maine hunting and not a practice they want to be associated with. They, like everyone else in favor of a ban, have a chance by contacting their state legislators and telling them to support LD 560.

Robert Fisk Jr. is the president of Maine Friends of Animals.

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