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Keeping the "Hunt" in Hunting

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As expected and frankly hoped for, not everyone was delighted with my "accusatory, inflammatory and inaccurate" rant against the canned (enclosure) killing of captive-raised "wild" game animals, specifically elk, on commercial game farms. So I'll have at it again, summarizing and responding to a couple of the most common criticisms of my ongoing and purposely rude criticisms of canned shooting operations and their participants. (After all, who would take umbrage at wanting to see an end to this blight, except for the blighters themselves?)

Criticism: According to defenders of the practice, because I condemn canned killing on the grounds of both its immorality and its hurtful impacts to the image of true hunting in the nonhunting public mind, I am an "elitist snob."

Response: Happily, that puts me in good company with the North American Model for Wildlife Management and almost all legitimate hunters' organizations (specifically excluding Safari Club International, whose members give one another awards for killing captive game), as well as an obviously overwhelming majority of true hunters and hunters' organizations today.

Criticism: Live and let live; to each his own poison. One man's trash is another man's treasure. If it's legal, it's ethical. In this busy world, we don't all have time to enjoy a traditional backcountry fair-chase hunt.

Response: When writing about hunting ethics I've heard the counter-argument "If it's legal, it's ethical" countless times. Yet it's no argument at all, but an intellectual euphemism and moral cop-out. Market hunting once was legal in America, and so was slavery. Did that temporary legality make them moral? To proclaim that manmade laws are the standard of morality is to say that no higher common values exist -- no Golden Rule, no karma, no innate desire to better ourselves. Anything goes, so long as you won't get arrested for it. Such elevated thinking!

So far as the assertion that a person's being too busy to hunt fair-chase morally permits him to buy his "trophy"... well, in other realms of life we call it prostitution. I say let these busy folks warm a bar stool or go bowling.

And so on. Overall, I'm disappointed that no one has yet put up a stimulating and informed argument against the substantive assertions of my rants, such as: "Any way we choose to interpret the term 'fair chase,' in order to have any logical or moral meaningfulness whatsoever the definition must include 'the pursuit of wild, free-ranging game animals.'"

While my initial blog on this topic concentrated on the moral aspects of commercial killing of wildlife, amorality is hardly the only dark side to game ranching. Consider these outtakes from a conversation I had recently with Canada's Dr. Valerius Geist, an ethical hunter and world authority on elk and other deer species:

Petersen: Dr. Geist, what are your feelings regarding game farming and CWD [chronic wasting disease] as threats to wild elk and democratic hunting in North America?

Geist: We still don't have the ability to identify the presence of CWD [chronic wasting disease, aka mad cow disease] in carrier animals. Given this weakness, the only logical way to assure that CWD will not be further spread to wild populations is to get rid of all artificial routes. And the primary artificial route for spreading CWD is game farming, which involves the constant shipment of animals hither and yon.

Petersen: Aside from its role in the spread of diseases, what are your views on the game farming industry?

Geist: Game farming is utterly incompatible with the maintenance of free-roaming wildlife on this continent, standing in direct opposition to all four basic tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and democratic hunting: (1) Wildlife "ownership" must be held exclusively in the public domain. The corollary is that wildlife must never become private property. (2) In order to save North American wildlife from extinction, we long ago outlawed market hunting and commercial trafficking in dead wildlife. But game farming depends utterly on developing a huge and growing legal market in dead wildlife, throwing the doors open to illegal marketing of wild animals as well. (3) The allocation of the public wildlife resource among private citizens must be regulated by due process of law. It's the American way. It's a way that works for all. And what does game farming give us? Wildlife allocation by financial privilege. Canned hunts make a mockery of ethical democratic hunting. (4) Fair chase! Neither the U.S. nor Canada allows the frivolous killing of wildlife. But what restraints against frivolous killing exist in the private sector? None. A canned shooter may buy as many animals as he or she wants and kill them for whatever reason, in whatever fashion, no matter how frivolous, immoral and disgusting.

You said it, Dr. Geist. Let's keep the hunt in hunting!