People who hunt often speak about their own ethical standards--ensuring, for example, that animals have a sporting chance and a fair opportunity to escape their pursuer. It's not the killing that matters, many say, but the tracking of wildlife in the outdoors, the thrill of the chase, and the matching of wits between predator and prey.
Sadly, there are some outliers in the hunting fraternity who lack either the skill or the inclination to follow these self-professed standards. So they take shortcuts--using money, technology, a rigged setting, and whatever means necessary to skew the advantage so that the hunter has guaranteed success and the hunted has the same chance as the proverbial fish in the barrel.
That's why public policy reforms are necessary to curb the worst abuses. And it doesn't get much worse than logging onto a web site, paying an Internet fee with your credit card, and shooting a confined animal thousands of miles away. Just click your mouse or hit a few strokes on your keyboard to fire the remote-controlled weapon, all while sitting in your bedroom wearing camouflage pajamas.
What if you want to leave the bedroom and gun down the creature yourself, but you just don't have much time to spare between three-martini lunches? Find a drive-thru safari near your house, choose a giraffe or zebra from the menu, and have the animal stocked in a pen for your shooting pleasure. The animals are hand-fed and wouldn't run from people, even if they could get beyond the fence line. Proprietors of these so-called canned hunts are so sure of your success that you won't even have to pay a dime unless you head home with the trophy and bragging rights in tow.
A new bipartisan bill in Congress seeks to crack down on these extreme practices: H.R. 2308, the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, introduced by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), would ban the remote shooting of live animals over the Internet and the trophy shooting of exotic mammals held captive inside fenced enclosures. It's hard to imagine anyone opposing such a common-sense reform, since rank-and-file hunters agree that these practices are abusive and unacceptable, and have nothing to do with hunting.
But we can expect to hear the same old tired arguments from some hunting industry lobbying groups on Capitol Hill, like the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, who've never met a type of animal mistreatment they won't defend. These are the same groups that have defended puppy mills, poaching, and the killing of endangered species--and even tried to shoot down HSUS programs to protect pets from the foreclosure crisis. They will try to obfuscate the issue of captive killing, and trot out bromides about the need to leave wildlife management decisions to the states, or this bill being the first step to end all hunting and gun ownership.
About half the states have banned or restricted canned hunts, and more than two-thirds of states have banned Internet hunting since a Texas entrepreneur launched the first pay-per-view snuff site in 2005. Far from being a slippery slope, hunting is still alive and well without canned hunts in Montana and Wyoming, and without Internet hunting in Idaho and Nebraska. But while the states are doing their part, a federal response is critically needed to address the interstate trafficking in exotic animals for canned hunts, and hunting over the Internet which is not confined to any state's borders. The goal is to dry up the supply of blackbuck antelope and aoudad sheep being trucked to shooting galleries around the country, and to make sure no state becomes a refuge for the next Internet hunting web site.
So the real question is whether shooting an African animal trapped in the corner of a Texas fence is really hunting at all, or is it something else entirely--something quite different that is masquerading as hunting? Outdoor writer and hunter Ted Kerasote answers this way: "Wildlife is not livestock. The problem comes when people are supposedly hunting these animals. That's the problem right there." Kerasote says captive hunts are turning hunting "into this caged, paid affair and it bears no resemblance to what hunting is, was, and could be. Like so many things in our world, people want to buy the product (the trophy) rather than experience the process (meeting the animal on its own terrain)."
David Petersen, another lifelong hunter and author, puts it a bit more bluntly: "To be scrupulously fair, not all canned killers are 'perverts'; some are merely profanely vainglorious and staggeringly stupid."
Ask your members of Congress to support the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, which should be a consensus position for hunting advocates and animal advocates alike.