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May 1999
Can “Canned Hunts” Survive?

By Peter Muller


Canned hunting is different from regular hunting in a number of ways. First, the “preserve” is fenced in so that the “target animals” have little chance of avoiding or fleeing from hunters. Second, specific animals are released to accommodate the hunter’s taste. Third, hunting methods and weapon regulations do not apply on these privately owned lands. Therefore, victims can be stabbed, speared, strangled, stomped, or shot with bullets or arrows. One report came to our organization [Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting (CASH)], of a pig that was stabbed hundreds of times by a hunting party.

Most hunting preserves lure hunters with animals who are released on schedule just for the booked hunt. Canned hunt preserves advertise widely in hunting magazines and over the Internet. The following is a typical list of the species available and the “trophy fee”: Axis Deer, $1,350; Aoudad Sheep, $1,500; Fallow Deer, $1,350; Elk, $3,500 up; Red Sheep, $4,500. If a hunter is on a tight budget, he or she can always kill a boar for $50. If hunters don’t see what they want, they’re invited to call for prices of animals they’d like to kill. Should canned hunters be concerned that they won’t get their money’s worth, canned hunt operators offer a warranty, so to speak, called “No kill, no pay.” This warranty was adjusted when it was discovered that too many hunters were apparently merely wounding animals and then not paying. Now some canned hunting operators have changed their policy to “No kill/no wound, no pay.”

No doubt based on experience with hunters who were lousy shots, canned hunt operators now include warnings that there will be a full charge for wounded and lost game. Operators now ask that killers take away any animals they cripple (see <> for more details). While it seems hard to miss an animal at ranges extending from three feet to 35 yards—the range advertised by these businesses—it obviously happens far too often. Once the animal dies—often after multiple wounds—the canned hunt club will either field-dress or stuff the “trophy” for the hunter’s mantle piece. Sometimes the club will exchange the killed animal for a pre-dressed animal that’s “ready to go.”

The Clientele

While some traditional hunters disapprove of canned hunts, not all do. According to “Canned Hunts: The Other Side of the Fence,” a brochure published by the Fund for Animals, the Izaak Walton League has a policy against canned hunting, whereas the Safari Club [see sidebar] and the National Rifle Association defend the practice.

In an article entitled “Canned Hunts” that appeared in Audubon magazine in January 1992, the author, Ted Williams, lists many luminaries among the clients of canned hunting. George Bush and Bill Clinton were on his list. I myself heard Rush Limbaugh brag about his visit to a canned duck shoot. In the piece, Williams, himself a hunter, offers vivid descriptions of what went on during a canned hunt. One hunter, Sonny Milstead, an orthopedic surgeon from Shreveport, Louisiana, killed a lion with three shots. He followed that by killing a tiger with another three or four shots. The animals shot were not at all wary or alert to any danger, and were relaxing and resting before being killed. “In fact,” writes Williams, “before being ‘harvested,’ African lions raised as pets would amble over and lick your hands.” Williams tells of one hunter who had paid $10,500 to kill a leopard, a cougar and a Bengal Tiger. Unfortunately, Williams continues, “before the tiger left its cage, [the hunter] fainted and had to be taken back to the ranch to be revived.” Williams says that tigers, leopards, cougars and jaguars are often fed chicken to make them less aggressive just before they are to be shot. Some of them become reluctant to leave their cages, so are shot while still in them.

Boo the Zoo

According to News and Views, an electronic publication of the American Federation of Aviculture (<www.softbills. com/news.htm>), many of the animals used in canned hunts come, directly or indirectly, from zoos and other animal exhibitors. The larger zoos try to hide their involvement by citing their membership in the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA), which has certification requirements regarding the disposition of surplus animals and proscribes their sale to canned hunt preserves. However, even a cursory look at the facts exposes the AAZPA standards as ineffectual. Not only are there over 15,000 animal exhibitors in the country, only 160 of whom belong to the AAZPA, but even the largest zoos are not exempt from contributing to the canned hunt pool. Nine board members of the San Antonio Zoo are themselves owners of canned hunt preserves. Sixteen of the largest zoos have admitted to either inadvertently or deliberately selling surplus animals to canned hunt operators. Zoos have organized a Species Survival Plan (SSP), in which they coordinate breeding efforts for endangered species. However, zoos often breed beyond the requirement of the SSP because the public loves to see baby snow leopards and gorillas. Many of these SSP babies are too inbred to be genetically useful for further breeding. These individuals are then sold to dealers as surplus. News and Views reports that these animals frequently wind up on ranches that breed exotics for canned hunts.

According to an August 1994 article in Animal People, there are approximately 4,000 canned hunt preserves in the United States and about 500,000 hunters patronize them every year. Three-quarters of the preserves specialize in providing birds to shoot. Breeders sell about 40 million birds (pheasants, quail, partridges, and ducks) every year to canned hunt preserves. Although there is no register of canned hunt areas, most are believed to be in Texas. In New York State there are shooting preserves located in Taghkanic, Catskill, Coxsackie, two sites in Pine Plains, Homer and DeLancey, as well as others further north.

Laws outlawing or restricting canned hunts already exist in New Jersey, California, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island. Currently Oregon has legislation pending. Recently, New York State Assemblyman Scott Stringer sponsored a bill (A1738) which bans canned hunts being performed on fewer than ten acres in New York State. The bill passed the Assembly in March 1999. A companion bill (S3939) with 12 sponsors is currently before the State Senate. While this bill may be beneficial for the larger canned hunt operators because it reduces competition, it should be considered a first step toward a total ban. Please ask your representatives to vote for canned hunting bans, and mobilize your community. Communities have to ask themselves if they want to be subjected to people coming to town for the express purpose of callously and wantonly torturing and killing animals. If the answer is no, then it’s imperative that local bans be passed to prevent this slaughter from continuing.

Peter Muller is Chair of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting (CASH), a Division of Wildlife Watch, Inc. CASH can be reached at P.O.Box 562, New Paltz, NY 12561. Tel.: 914-255-4227; Fax: 914-256-9113; Website: http://all-creatures. org/cash, Email: Wildwatch @worldnet.


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