Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
If hunting is largely about the thrill of the chase, “canned hunts” don’t offer much opportunity for thrill: In these increasingly popular pay-to-shoot events, hunters kill tame or semi-tame animals that have been put in enclosures. Audubon columnist Ted Williams describes the phenomenon in “Real Hunters Don’t Shoot Pets” in the magazine’s November-December issue:
Canned hunts are great for folks on tight schedules or who lack energy or outdoor skills. Microchip transponder implants for game not immediately visible are available for the [game farm] proprietor whose clients are on really tight schedules. And because trophies are plied with drugs, minerals, vitamins, specially processed feeds, and sometimes growth hormones, they are way bigger than anything available in the wild. Often the animals have names, and you pay in advance for the one you’d like to kill, selecting your trophy from a photo or directly from its cage.
Canned hunts are hardly new. Williams first wrote about them for Audubon in 1992, but he notes that they have grown more popular, and their critics increasingly include not just animal-rights advocates but also ethical hunters who consider fair chase essential to the sport and its reputation.
Because the general public has scant understanding of canned hunting, it frequently doesn’t differentiate it from real hunting. “If we don’t protect our image, we may not have a heritage,” says the Colorado Wildlife Federation’s treasurer and board member, Kent Ingram, a leader in the recent well-fought but failed battle to ban canned hunts in the state.
Other states have banned them, namely Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. In 2009, Vermont and Tennessee banned new canned mammal hunts but allowed existing ones to keep operating. In November, North Dakotans voted down a proposed law to ban canned mammal hunts.
Of course, bans without firm enforcement and prosecution don’t mean much, as one Minnesota incident demonstrates. Troy Gentry of the country duo Montgomery Gentry shot a docile captive bear named Cubby at the Minnesota Wildlife Connection game farm in 2004, and as the online activist platform Change.org reports:
Gentry was charged with a felony but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of falsely registering the tag from the hunt. He was fined $15,000 and not allowed to hunt in Minnesota for five years. The taxidermied body of Cubby and the bow used to kill Cubby were taken from Gentry.
This isn’t the first time Minnesota Wildlife Connection’s owner Lee Greenly has been in trouble with the law. He has several previous felony charges for wildlife-related crimes under his belt, but avoided convictions. For his role in Cubby’s death, Greenly pleaded guilty to two felony charges—yet somehow walked away with only probation.
To see what canned hunting looks like, check out the following two-part video of Gentry’s bear kill. It was posted on YouTube last month after being obtained by the animal-rights group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness in a three-year lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The narrator’s snide tone is understandable but unnecessary, since the images pretty clearly speak for themselves: