There are numerous differences between being a hunter and a killer. A distinct line drawn deep in the earth separating those who honorably harvest animals to gather meat for themselves and their family, and those who simply wish to satisfy some innate bloodlust or stroke their ego. Hunters respect and love wildlife. They understand and recognize the natural cycles of the world by reinserting themselves into them as predators. Hunters contribute to conservation. They care about tradition and the future of the sport. Killers, on the other hand, care only that their quarry have big antlers or impressive pelts they can mount on their wall and show off to visitors, bragging about their conquests on social media. These individuals have become a major problem for the sport of hunting because their braggadocio and perceived skill has led to them being mistakenly viewed as actual hunters, and the backlash from their flagrant disrespect of wildlife affects us all. Furthermore, their success at taking “trophy” animals has clouded the standards of just what a trophy is, leaving many true hunters believing the comparatively modest four-point buck they took last fall is nothing to be proud of. So where do these killers come from, exactly? The answer: from behind some very high fences.
High-fence hunting is the act of pursuing and ultimately slaughtering an animal that has been placed or stocked in an area—surrounded by towering eight- or 10-foot-tall fences to prevent their escape—for that very purpose. Most of these ranches have luxurious stands positioned to strategically overlook bait piles, water sources, and corn feeders where the “hunter” (read: the triggerman) can comfortably sit and wait for the trophy animal they’ve already paid for to come along. Many of these patrons pay extraordinarily large sums for specific trophy animals they’ve already picked out on the internet, or they pay to shoot the biggest of a plethora of raised-for-slaughter trophies that have been shipped in from other states or countries. The game is bred for size and an impressive mount, pumped full of hormones to make them bigger than anything a hunter would find in the wild.
Now there are arguments supporting the merits of high-fence hunting, some of which hold water. Most high-fence hunting ranches are gigantic, some as large as five to 10 thousand acres or more. Many wild deer spend their entire lives in a two- or three-mile range from where they were born, and hunters still find their pursuit a challenge. Deer on a large ranch can still be challenging to hunt. However, the counter-argument to that is, if a hunter jumps a deer in the wild, that deer will leave its home territory and will require tracking down. On these ranches? That same deer would suddenly be stopped by an impassable fence.
A lot of high-fence hunters may argue that they would never have a chance at exotic foreign species if it wasn’t for being able to hunt animals cultivated on a high-fence ranch. But are they really having a chance at an actual exotic species if it’s living outside its native range? Or are they just hunting a fish out of water—a creature that has been forced to acclimate to a foreign environment and doesn’t behave naturally?
The final argument is that high-fence ranches provide handicapped and elderly hunters a chance to take a trophy they otherwise wouldn’t have harvested. I take no issue with that and believe that to be the only valid reason for high-fence ranches. However, when an otherwise capable hunter enters a high-fence ranch they are abandoning several vital aspects of the hunt. The skill, understanding, and woodsmanship required on a fair-chase hunt are effectively meaningless behind a high fence. Essentially, high-fence hunting enables people to simply kill an animal instead of earning it, which arguably defeats the purpose of going hunting in the first place.
In a world where technology and modern convenience have created a society that expects instant gratification, high-fence hunting has become an easy way to go out and kill something without having to put any work into the hunt. Hunting remains one of the few activities left in this world that requires dedication, practice, and a certain amount of love and respect in order to be successful. Hunting in the wild, for animals unimpeded by barriers, makes every successful day in the field its own unique experience—and every animal taken a true trophy.
Featured image courtesy of Stephen Downes.