Thursday, November 11, 2010

High Fence Hunting: Is the Public the Problem?

© 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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High Fence Hunting or...
I Wish I Owned that Property!

I was reading NorCalCazadora in between FOB hops and keeping up with the High Fence Hunting initiative on the North Dakota ballot. As usual, the responses from our blogging compatriots are indicative of the quality of people that blog and communicate in these types of forums.

That of course got me thinking about a few things. Among them is the suspicion that most, if not all the bloggers are from a "better" or at least "different" cut of the cloth, so to speak. There is certainly an intellectual current through all of our serious conversations, and it takes dedication and perseverance to blog regularly. So how indicative are we of the hunting population as a whole?

Of course, this has nothing to do with High Fence hunting other than it's where this line of thought started!

Anyway, I keep on coming back to the idea that the real objection to High Fence operations has nothing to do with hunting, but rather with access or the lack thereof. There are the potential ethical considerations, objections to how "sporting" it may or may not be, questions about their moral turpitude of a hunter that avails himself to said opportunities; But I wonder just how pertinent those concerns are.

Think about the places you frequent, whether they be camp grounds, fishing holes, or hunting areas. I've read enough of your wonderful blog posts to know that the vast majority of you have commented at least once, if not many times, about the surprising condition you find your favorite destination in. I fish far more than I hunt, and the amount of filth and trash I pick up regularly is shameful. The results of outright vandalism I see make me furious. And before we jump and say something like, "It's not us! It's them over there!" It's obvious that it was done by someone using the resource.

This brings me in a roundabout fashion to High Fence properties.

I made the comment on Holly's post that, "There are 2450 acres available near my home in Florida. If I was ever to win a gigantic lottery, (Doubtful as I never buy lottery tickets...) I would buy that place and high fence it so fast, that birds wouldn't have time to adjust their flight paths." I'm not kidding there either, and it wouldn't be to keep the animals in -even though that would be a result of my actions- among the many things I've learned in Afghanistan is how to keep people out of a place I don't want them in.

While I agree with the premise that American wildlife is a public resource, I object to the idea that because I own the real estate they inhabit, I should be prohibited from profiting from their presence or for granting someone access to them, whatever the reason. Never mind that I have a very real interest in wildlife management, once that fence goes up I am publicly stating that I choose to use the land I own in any way I wish, from plowing it up and flattening it out for mono-culture corn growing, to highly ethical permaculture based land use. Regardless, from the perspective of anyone but the landowner, access is now prohibited in very real terms, to not only the real estate, but from everything animate and inanimate upon the dirt.

Again, in principal I do not disagree with Tovar and the others with respect to the unpalatability of some enclosed or put and take operations. My objection to banning the use of high fence hunting is simply one of liberty, private property, and the libertarian ideals. Bad apples will be weeded out, of that there is no doubt - the internet makes darn sure that everything gets way out in the open - and the market soon adjusts to the realities on the ground. But seriously, how many operations are there out there with an elk in a cage and a corral for some knuckle head to shoot it in? How many of you know of someone with a twenty acre high fence enclosure, billing itself as a trophy hunting mecca? Business excesses of that sort, should they exist, can be dealt with through the legislative process if the market forces don't resolve it.

There are all kinds of people out there. We in the hunting society know that there are thieves and hooligans in our ranks, just as there are in every other group. Remember, we do not consider poaching to be hunting; the public though  has a hard time differentiating between the two. So perception is the reality, and that is a problem. But failed perception of a subject shouldn't necessarily be a reason to attack that subject. Regardless of how you feel about it, it really is only your perception, not my reality when there is no legal basis for your objection Shooting a deer while you hold a license to do so, in an area where it is legal to shoot, should not be an issue. When we start to dictate what someone may or may not do, solely based on your opinion, prejudices, objections, or taste, we have a problem.

The probability of someone hand feeding an elk, supplementing his diet with high protein pellets and vitamin tablets, in an attempt to raise a 400 class bull, is pretty high. If that person then releases it into an enclosure regardless of size, shoots it, and then hangs it on the wall for all to see, that's his choice. It wouldn't be my choice of course. It might not be yours either. Now if he sold you the right to shoot that bull, that would be your choice to buy it... or not. It's up to you. I just don't see the moral dilemma.

My argumentative buddy Dukkiller (The Daily Limit, see his post The “Facts” About High Fence Shooting?!?. He is a lawyer after all...) often reminds me that the problem starts when you call that hunting. I don't disagree with him entirely; I wouldn't call that hunting either. In some cases its plain old shooting. But that's none of my business. That's the chump who paid big money for a semi-tame elk so he could hang it on the wall, that's his business. I would prefer that he keeps his business to himself too.

That brings something else to mind. Why do we score animals anyway? Folks find trophy sized horns all the time. If all that matters is the size, why aren't sheds more emotionally valuable than "hunted" horns? That's because in our minds, hunting and killing an animal has a higher value. The number of points on the antlers, skull's width, or length of the cutters are the criteria for measuring our accomplishments. I know that I am pleased when I harvest a fat sow. I also know I am more pleased when I take a big ol' boar hog with cutters long enough to go through my calf with length to spare! So, even to my enlightened mind, size does matter...

I was considering why High Fence ranches exist in the first place.

In the end, it is human nature that propels us to do what we do. We compete and create markets for things that we think we want or believe we need. The magazines are full of articles that tell us how to get your buck. The ads remind us of what can't be done unless you have X, Y, or Z. High Fence operations are there to fulfill opportunities that someone might not otherwise have. Time constraints, family commitments, job responsibilities all conspire to keep us from doing the things we would like to do. A weekend hunt with a better than 50% shot at bringing something home, beats wishing you were out in the field by a long shot! There is also the possibility that some folks are just plain lazy, and those are the ones that might be induced to find a place where they actually have an animal penned up.

There are some legitimate concerns I think. Take CWD  for instance. That issue should be easy to deal with. If the animals on your high fence operation are infected, then the state eradicates them and sends the bill to you. As a landowner making money from a public good, you have to take the good with the bad. Of course I can already see the lawsuits clogging up the courts.

There is something else afoot also, and Sporting Days alluded to it. As a society, we have lost much of the ethics and morality that permeated our actions both at home and in the field. Take any of the examples of greed, poaching, trespassing, vandalism, or plain disrespectful and irresponsible behaviors, that are exhibited now-a-days makes those that have, not want to risk what they have in order to give to those that don't.

Back to my 2400 acre dream. I probably wouldn't have to worry about trespassers, the alligator infested moat and swamp breeding area will put in would likely take care of them. Those that survived my saurian surprise would probably be hunted down and likely eaten by my Mastiffs and Dogos Argentinos.

(Did someone just call me Count Zaroff??? The question made no sense to the trespassing miscreant as he stood there, his knees shaking,  facing his captor. The huge dogs that had brought him to bay whined softly. For a moment Albert did not reply; he was smiling his curious smile. Then he said slowly, "No. You are wrong, sir. The African lion is not the most dangerous big game." He sipped his port wine. "Here on my preserve" he said in the same slow tone, "I hunt more dangerous game." With apologies to Richard Connell!)

Ummm, where was I...  I think the point I was ultimately getting at was that restricting access guarantees me that those that are permitted entry will act according to my wishes, be of similar mind, respect the land as I do. Something that public access cannot guarantee.

But this is about High Fence and hunting. Someone remind me, what exactly is the difference between a fenced in property that is in the agricultural industry, one that raises cattle, and one that offers hunting opportunities? Regardless of industry, you are effectively locked out aren't you?

But as access to hunting areas diminish, many justifiably are concerned that hunting will become a "pay to play" arena where only the well connected and wealthy will be able to afford to hunt, as it is in Europe. As populations increase and people migrate, land is taken off the hunting "market." Hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness are being purchased, by those that can and by industries, fenced in or otherwise made unavailable to the citizens, and made available only to those who can afford the "fee." Usually, in my opinion, for far more than the average hunter can pay.

Again, I think the solution is more public land and more public access. Let us recall that Theodore Roosevelt himself, wanted all Americans to have access to the natural resources of the Nation. We have allowed the system to fail us. Not because property owners are exercising their rights, but because all the citizens of the Nation aren't exercising theirs. There is more than enough room in this Great Land of Ours for all to do as their conscience dictates. We do not need the constant internecine combat that is currently plaguing our sport. What is needed is for us to shun those that break the law. Shun those that are vile and despicable. But leave unto others the right to practice our sport as they see fit.

Hey I just had an idea! How about licensed access? If you can pass a structured course on shooting, game management, environmental care, conservation, then you can use the publics' land.

Oh... Wait... I see a problem. Someone will complain that it's not fair to have to study and be held accountable...

Related Posts

The Ethical Question, Hunting or Shooting
The High Fence Discussion Continues
The Hog Blog: Hunting Ethics Vs. Logical Debate
Rasch on High Fence Hunting

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Member: Kandahar Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Albert Rasch,HunterThough he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.

Keywords: High Fence Hunting, Canned Hunts, High Fence, Hi Fence, Hunting in High Fence Propertires, Hunting Enclosures, caged animals, hunting caged animals, shooting animals, property rights, hunter safety, hunter education 


Doug said...

As usual, a smart and well thought out post. I don't know that I agree with everything you have said. I guess my biggest issue is calling it hunting.

It is not for me to outlaw it.

I would probably want to keep others out of my property as well, but can't I do that with posted signs. Then the animals will still have the ability run away.

Wild Ed said...

High fences are a reality here in Texas. They started so that landowners could manage the deer herd for trophy bucks and later also for the exotic game ranches. I wish I had the money to high fence our small place here in Texas. Last Saturday was a prime reason rammed home. I try and practice management and we take only mature deer or does without young each year. My wife and I passed on several eight point 2.5 year old bucks last Saturday. Two of them jumped the fence into an adjacent tract that is leased for hunting and world war III started. I watched as the bucks ran out on an open prairie and both were shot. They were legal kills for the lease hunters and I am sure they are proud of their deer. They did nothing wrong in their hunt. It did drive home the point that with a low fence it does no good for me or my family to practice game management as what we pass up will most likely be shot by someone else. I would love to have a high fence so we could grow some mature bucks that the girls could really be proud of taking in a fair chase hunt.
Wild Ed's Texas Outdoors

Albert A Rasch said...

Doug: Thanks for the comments! I try to think these things through, give everyone a structured, logical approach to discuss.

Wild Ed: I don't suppose you could create a really dense stand of something that would present a real area of cover for the deer in your property could you? That might induce the neighbor's smarter deer to come to your place for respite. I don't know, what do you think?


Josh said...

Albert, this is a great, thoughtful post, with (too) much for comments.

I'll make one comment, then, on a tangent. I don't have the same fatalism about public access to hunting diminishing over time, but maybe that's because I'm a Californian, where roughly half of our state is publicly owned, and where our Fish & Game Department is seriously considering allowing access to previously off-limits properties. Perhaps, Back East and Down South, with so little public lands to begin with, the fatalism is justified.

Albert A Rasch said...


If people didn't trespass, I suppose signs would be adequate. But in this day and age, nothing short of a real fence topped with concertina, would keep miscreants out.

Both your post and Ed's has given me an idea! How could horticultural techniques be applied to create natural barriers to humans, but still allow some movement of large animals. Something to think about!


Ian Nance said...

I'm with Wild Ed. If I lived out there and had land in Texas, i would erect a fence so fast and so high it would offend people three counties over. one to keep people off, two to reap my management rewards. I wouldn't here in the South, though. Management realities are different here.

Next, my wife and I look at axis deer hunts all the time here in FL. If we had the means at this point you'd long since read about it. I'd like to have the mount and the meat - I hear it is delicious. But I would certainly do it with a reputable outfit. The put and take nonsense is not for me. And if it turns out it wasn't that sporting, I won't do it again. Great post!

Jim Tantillo said...

I really like this posting. Hope it's okay with you, but I posted some excerpts on the Fair Chase blog. Maybe we can generate some discussion there as well.

thanks for a thought-provoking piece.

Albert A Rasch said...


Thanks for the comment, and absolutely, please post anything you like. It is so important for all of us to continue with this dialogue and enhance our understanding.

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles: Game Reserves, Preserve Hunting, High Fence Hunting, What are the Facts?

Wild Ed said...

Albert the problem is not cover. Over 15 % of our family 300 acres is dense cedar thickets and oak motts. We have bucks that we only see on trail cameras each year. In other words,on only 300 acres, bucks are able to avoid being seen by a human in the daylight or legal shooting hours, but have their pictures taken at food supplement feeders at night. That being said bucks, not unlike human males, get stupid when chasing or trailing females and go on to adjactent ranches, leaving the thick cover, where any legal buck will be killed. Here in Texas 95% of all huntable properties are privately owned and the State does next to nothing to manage the wildlife. Wildlife feeding and management is really funded by the landowners and thus the mindset that the game on any property belongs to the landowner. The fees paid to hunt private land is the only income on many ranches in Texas as the land will grow nothing else and run precious few head of livestock. Yet this same land will grow trophy deer if managed properly. It really does bother me to pass up a nice buck that would be a super trophy in a year or two and have some greenhorn next door shoot it. It bothers me more when they shoot it and throw the horns away. If you are going to shoot a buck and not mount or utilize the antlers why not take a doe for the meat or shoot a spike or inferior buck to get out of the gene pool instead of killing next years breeder bucks? The bragging rights of "I killed an 8 point buck (Texas Count)means too much to many people to put the resourse first. The problem is we will never get the general public, that does not put all the effort into the management of a piece of land, to understand. If someone can afford to high fence their place and manage it go for it, I would in a heartbeat. ET
Wild Ed's Texas Outdoors