US big game hunting, easy style under the microscope
FEATURE - US big game hunting, easy style under the microscope
USA: February 4, 2003
DENVER - Which is more ethical: To track a big game animal in the
knowing if you will be lucky enough to bag it, or to pay thousands of
dollars to hunt one at an enclosed game ranch where you're almost
of ending up with a beautiful set of antlers to show off?
The question is a big one in the multibillion-dollar U.S. hunting
these days, and a lawmaker in Colorado even tried to get the practice
hunting deer and elk on enclosed game ranches banned, characterizing
so-called canned shoots as unethical.
Game ranch operators counter that letting somebody hunt an animal on
land gives them much needed revenue and is no different from a farmer
letting someone kill a cow on his farm.
The Colorado bill was easily defeated, but the controversy over game
continues. Supporters of the bill said they planned to take the
before Colorado voters in 2004.
Most of the big game ranches focus on elk in Colorado, which has the
elk population in North America, although exotic animals like zebra
found at ranches in Texas, a popular state for hunting big game on
Hunters who do not want to hunt in the wild can pay $20,000 or more
bull elk, the kind with large antlers. Some may be tired of
hunting, or are top business executives who do not have the time
bag an elk or may not be in good enough physical shape for the rigors
While it is much easier to shoot an elk on a game ranch, nobody is
up to a tame animal and shooting it either.
Hunters on an elk ranch with the help of a guide can get as close as
feet (45 metres) to the animal. The shooter still has to aim
getting that close and having a guide help find the animal make all
difference between being successful or going home empty-handed.
BREEDING FOR ANTLERS
The typical game ranch can be as big as 30,000 acres (12,140
although some ranches are smaller. But the catch is that the area is
meaning the animal cannot truly escape.
Hunters on game ranches are also more likely to find a bull elk with
antlers. "We breed for antlers. We feed them when they're babies," Ron
Walker, president of the Colorado Elk Breeders Association, said.
who operates two game ranches, said the 119 elk ranchers in Colorado
earned about $4 million last year in total.
"We're not hurting anybody. We own the animals. We're not stealing
said. Walker said in the wild a hunter who is not an excellent
injure an animal, but on the ranch if that happens an experienced
then shoot the animal. "We don't want wounded animals out there," he
Colorado state Rep. Lois Tochtrop who introduced the bill to ban
game ranches said she was disappointed it failed and was hoping anti-
groups do not try to mount a more stringent voter initiative.
The Colorado bill called for allowing "fair chase," meaning that the
has a chance of escaping, a concept credited to President Theodore
Roosevelt, known for his love of hunting.
There are economic issues too.
Hunters who visit game ranches do so without obtaining a hunting
denying a source of income to the Colorado Division of Wildlife which
manages big game in the state. Colorado has about 300,000 elk. A
license for a bull elk with big antlers will cost $483.25 this year,
Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Tyler Baskfield said.
People who bag an elk on game ranches spend a short amount of time in
state and less money in the small towns that depend on the
dollar hunting industry, Tochtrop said. "This is something that
important industry in our state," she said.
Not true, countered elk breeder Walker. "We have a different
These people won't hunt in the wild," he told Reuters.
But Tochtrop, who favors hunting, maintained that "true hunters"
her bill. The Colorado lawmaker said she learned about fenced-in
during the recent rise in chronic wasting disease cases among wild
which crossed the Continental Divide for the first time last year.
But she said her bill was not tied to concern about chronic wasting at
ranches because not enough information is known about the cause yet.
Susan Reneau, author of "Colorado's Biggest Bucks and Bulls" said the
and Crockett Club, founded by Roosevelt and his hunting friends in
does not recognize antlers from big game animals shot on game ranches.
She said she expected a voter initiative to be on next year's
going to come from pro-hunters, not anti-hunters," she said.
Story by Judith Crosson
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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