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High-fence hunts should come to an end

Hunting remains under fire in a nation where the vast majority of citizens live in densely populated areas. Some of the things taking place in hunting now only serve to shorten the time before its demise.

Hunting remains under fire in a nation where the vast majority of citizens live in densely populated areas. Some of the things taking place in hunting now only serve to shorten the time before its demise.

I write today of "high-fence hunts," while strongly suggesting that "hunt" is not a term that should apply to the practice of hunting penned whitetail deer or elk within small confined areas. Can you imagine Teddy Roosevelt doing this?

High-fence hunts are a blight on our sport because a true hunt includes the concept of fair chase, and in this effort, there's no chase. Thus far, 19 states have banned "high-fence" hunting and Minnesota is now considering it. So should we. In fact, the North Dakota Wildlife Federation is looking at this issue.

I will confess to once having participated in a "high-fence hunt," though nothing on the order of those in question. Years ago, I bow hunted elk in South Dakota's Custer State Park, an area that spans 250,000 acres enclosed by a high fence. That's an area about a third the size of Lake Sakakawea at full pool, or slightly larger than the present size of Devils Lake.

There's more at stake in this issue than merely the continuation of sport hunting in America. Consider the spectre of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) - an epidemic that has, in most cases, been traced directly to fenced-in herds of animals.


Many wildlife managers maintain that further spread of CWD could jeopardize the future of American big game hunting.

I have written and talked about this issue in the past, and each time, I receive a bevy ofe-mails and letters from owners of such places. Apparently, they believe the public shouldn't know what goes on behind that fence.

I believe part of the problem with this issue lies in the fact that in nearly every state, regulation of penned herds of deer and elk is given to the state Department of Agriculture. Ag groups have lobbied long and hard to call this "alternative agriculture."

Yet, the state game and fish agency is charged with the responsibility of maintaining herds of free-roaming animals, thus, this should be under their bailiwick.

But that's politics, and having spent nearly my entire life in rural America, I'll admit that farmers have a bigger share of the ears of elected officials than do sportsmen.

The main point is, hunting penned animals behind high fences isn't hunting, and each time a sportsman enters such a place, he feeds the image many non-hunters have of us: that we don't care how we do it as long as we have a dead animal with large antlers at the end of the day.

Several years ago, I was one of the speakers at the Governor's Conference on America's hunting heritage at Green Bay, Wis. This annual event that rotates among various states brings together all players.

Two major ones were present:


Heidi Prescott of the anti-hunting Fund for Animals organization and Ted Nugent. She criticized hunters for looking the other way on the subject of canned hunts. For once, Nugent had little to offer in way of rebuttal other than his flip, "You know me, Heidi, I just kill it and grill it." Most of the more than 1,000 in attendance conceded that round to Ms. Prescott.

A few years ago, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation had the courage to call for an end to hunting penned animals. I've been told that under the current leadership, wherein the new CEO came from the Safari Club, the policy has changed. If so, that's shameful.

I believe it is time for real hunters to step forward and call a halt to "canned hunts," and end this game farm nonsense that is being conducted under the guise of helping farmers survive in difficult times.

Tony Dean is the host and executive producer of "Tony Dean Outdoors," a television series that airs across the Upper Midwest. His daily radio show, "Dakota Backroads," airs 42 times daily on 39 North Dakota and South Dakota radio stations, plus two in Minnesota. He can be reached at tonydeanoutdoors@pie.midco.net

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