My professional and personal lives are spent living in two large glass houses so I try to take care before tossing stones from my front steps. But sometimes there are issues that I just can’t let slide.
Glass House Number One is a zoo that I run for a living. Yes, I feed my family by supporting the care of animals outside the wild. Zoos have their critics, but I sleep at night knowing that our animals receive the best care possible from a caring and dedicated staff. I also know that a zoo is a window to the natural world. Last year, 293,971 Naples Zoo guests looked through that window to learn about wild animals and wild places through close up experiences with our living animals. For some visitors, the zoo is the first and only meaningful contact they have with nature. Standing nose to nose with a tiger with only two inches of glass between is a powerful connection. Without that bond, wildlife and our environment cannot be protected.
Glass House Number Two is my outdoor pursuits. When I am off the clock, if I am not with my family I am probably in the woods with a bow in my hand. I hunt and I don’t need to apologize for it. Hunting is a legal activity and I follow the rules when afield. I will not associate with those who do not respect the animals or the land. I know my actions reflect upon the sport and all who participate in it. However, twice this week there were stories in the news that cast hunters in a bad light and as an ethical hunter, I take offense. One incident was the unconscionable act of shooting what was for all practical purposes, a pet bear. The other issue questions the legality of canned hunts, which is the act of shooting animals inside a fenced enclosure.
An animal rights group obtained footage of country music star, Troy Gentry, who killed a bear named “Cubby.” Apparently Cubby required expensive dental work so his owner’s alternative was to make money from Cubby’s death rather than pay for his health. After watching the video it’s pretty obvious why Cubby required dental work. He was one of the most obese animals I have ever seen, the victim of an unhealthy, sugar laden diet I am certain.
Mr. Gentry carried on the ruse as if in a remote location and had spent days in wait for a trophy bear to come within range of his bow. In reality, he was hunting what amounted to a trained bear in someone’s backyard. An electric fence ensured the bear remained in the area near the musician’s treestand. This whole episode is reprehensible. All the parties involved have serious moral, ethical, and character flaws.
What puzzles me is that this is a guy who can afford to hunt free ranging bears anywhere he pleases and he lazily resorted to this pathetic stunt that doesn’t come close to being called a hunt. Conversely, I just saw on TV another country entertainer, Craig Morgan, who did it right. He traveled all the way to Alaska and hunted black bears in a remote area. I offer my respect to Mr. Morgan for showing how responsible, ethical hunters behave afield.
Now let’s discuss hunting animals inside a fenced enclosure. First, let me define “fence.” If a private land owner has, for example, a cattle ranch that allows deer hunting, those deer can easily hop a cattle fence and move back and forth at will. Those deer are considered to be free ranging animals. However, when a fence is ten feet high and the deer or other animals are trapped behind said fence, you now have a canned hunt. There is no chance of escape.
Next week the fate of fenced hunts in North Dakota will be in the hands of the voters. Measure No. 2 on their general election ballot will close down these operations. Some of these game farms claim to be over 2,000 acres. It’s not the size of operation, it’s the concept; captive bred animals raised and released for the purpose of these canned hunts. I would feel guilty looking at a shoulder mount on my wall knowing I didn’t kill a truly free ranging animal. These game farms are for those who can afford ten grand for a guaranteed shot at a fenced elk and are too lazy to put in the effort of a real hunt that offers no guarantee of success.
I just don’t grasp why any legitimate hunter would be proud to shoot an animal raised for its antlered genetics at a breeding farm and then released to a game farm. This concept spits in the face of the real effort of understanding the habits and habitat of free ranging wildlife in order to be successful.
I also fail to understand why some sportsmen’s groups accept record book horn and antler entries from animals taken on game farms. This insults every hunter who went out and did it the right way.
Hunter numbers have been on the decline, a fact that some would applaud. But if hunting were to fade away, both people and wildlife would suffer. Hunters’ dollars are a primary funding source for game agencies and the preservation of wildlife habitat. If you enjoy access to public lands you can thank hunters’ license fees and taxes on the equipment they purchase. Legal hunting has been a viable wildlife management tool for decades. Deer populations in some areas of the country have been exploding. We need more hunters afield, not less. And we need those hunters in free ranging areas. Hunting behind fences accomplishes nothing.
With hunting in the public’s sights like never before, some say all hunters need to circle the wagons under what is called the “Big Tent” to defend our way of life. I can and will support all legal means of pursuing game animals under free ranging conditions and whatever legal weapon one chooses to hunt with. But I will not crawl inside the Big Tent to support lawbreakers or shooters of fenced animals.