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60 Minutes ran a piece about exotic game ranches in Texas last night and it’s sure to ruffle a few feathers on both sides of the argument over so-called canned hunts. These are hunting expeditions that take place on private land and cater to the more affluent hunter in search of trophy game and exotic animals. Who knew that 125 non-native game species are currently at home on the range in Texas? In fact Texas is home to about 250,000 game animals, according to fourth generation Texas rancher Charley Seale, executive director of the Exotic Wildlife Association . . .

I have mixed feelings about controlled hunts when they involve domestic North American species, primarily from a laziness point of view. A guy who shoots a whitetail deer in captivity is simply too bone lazy to qualify as a legitimate hunter and doesn’t want to put in the hours tramping through the bush required to get a shot at a wild animal. These guys mail it in so much that they may as well stick to the meat department at Safeway.

So I watched the 60 Minutes story with a pre-conceived negative notion about the practice until I listened to a pretty convincing argument from Seale. [Click here for their code of ethics.]

Texas exotic game ranchers have actually substantially increased the population of endangered African antelope species like the scimitar horned oryx, the addax and the dama gazelle. Personally I have never heard of these animals (although gazelle definitely rings a big bell), but there are very few of them left in Africa.

The fact is that African poachers have claimed most of the native populations of these game animals. But now they are a new Texas agricultural growth industry that caters to exotic game hunters. The Texas ranchers allow hunters to shoot animals for a fee applied to each kill that is appropriate to the rarity of the beast. An oryx will run about $4500 and a Cape buffalo will set you back about $50k.

It’s a billion dollar industry that supplies more than 14,000 jobs in Texas. Thousands of hunters engage in the hunts every year and cull the massive herds to the tune of about 10% annually. The ranches are typically Texas-sized big (one example was 30,000 acres), so the game have a lot of elbow room to avoid the hunter. It is not exactly shooting-fish-in-a-barrel style hunting on most of these large ranch hunts.

However, the entire business has drawn the wrath of Priscilla Feral, an animal activist who is the current president of Friends of Animals. Feral condemns the practice because she does not want to see the animals raised simply for game hunting in Texas. But she failed to give a suitable alternative to extinction in Africa for the animals outside of game ranches in Texas. Instead she presumably would rather see them dead than bred – Texas at any rate.

Feral’s argument made very little sense to me, but she’s managed to raise enough unholy hell to get legislation proposed that would seriously curtail the ability to hunt exotic game in the United States. In other words, she may be able to kill the exotic game industry with new government red tape. Her efforts may also kill off the species because the ranchers are upfront about their business motives for propagating the exotic game.

Take away the profit incentive for the ranchers and you may just take away the survival of the species, a little fact that does not seem to bother Priscilla Feral. To me this woman is just another left-leaning activist who has perched herself on her own emotionally charged and completely illogical moral high ground. And to think I was the guy who expected to condemn the ranchers in that 60 Minutes piece.

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  1. I think the pictured buck agrees with you about canned whitetail hunts. It looks like he’s got one eyebrow raised, as if he’s saying, “Do you believe this?”

  2. If these ranches only exist to allow people to hunt the animals and there is no disire by the ranchers to release any of their stock back into the wilds of africa then I dont really see how they are truly preserving a species any better than zoo’s already do.

    To me there is no moral benefit to preserving animals in a non native habitat if the goal is only to let people shoot them regardless of how well taken care of they are.

    • I dont really see how they are truly preserving a species any better than zoo’s already do.

      Whatever your phrase “preserve the species better” means, I could argue that ranges beat zoos. The animals are not caged and live in the (relative) open.
      When they die in zoos, they are replaced. When they die on the ranch, they are replaced.

      To me there is no moral benefit to preserving animals in a non native habitat if the goal is only to let people shoot them regardless of how well taken care of they are.

      You’d have a logical case if the ONLY goal was to shoot ALL of the animals. But that’s hardly the case, or their business would fail. These ranges keep a species at a certain number – that is the primary goal.

  3. I have mixed feelings about this as a “free range” Texas hunter. These ranches are a HUGE source of revenue for local businesses and they do employ a significant amount of people. Revenue aside, they are also an amazing laboratory for wildlife management programs at state and private universities.

    The flip side is that when you start guaranteeing kills, you stop guaranteeing hunting. Part of the thrill is the uncertainty. When you know that Buck #62A-156 comes to the same feeder between the hours of 7:00 AM and 7:06 AM, you aren’t really hunting so much as making an appointment to squeeze the trigger.

  4. Huh. I don’t think I’d ever participate in a canned hunt myself, but these animals seem to live better than the ones the meat industry raises.

  5. You’ll note that Priscilla did change her last name to ‘feral’, perhaps to match her personality. She can’t even stay on top of her local hunters in Darien, let alone understand the nature of a game ranch. Deer in our forest habitually roam a small area per deer. On 2100 unfenced acres, half forest, their paths are well worn, and going out to bring home a young buck or doe at twilight isn’t difficult and doesn’t take long, a few hours typically. Wild boar are usually hunted within fenced range in Europe. Why, pray tell, is killing free-range ‘wild’ species worse than ranching? Is she against killing free-range chicken? I find hunting in Europe safe, because a given piece of land is only hunted by the owner or lessee. Going deer hunting in the US is often otherwise. This fact may yet draw me to a Texas game ranch. “Wild animals” is a figure of speech, as in “we can see wild animals at the zoo.” Hunting is about food or eliminating predators that want to reduce our food supply…or eliminate us. If you want to be one with wild nature….take a hike, Priscilla. Maybe you’ll get eaten alive, as happens to so many of those darling wild animals, deer, antelope, zebra, in the wild. Feral, indeed. “Nature is red in tooth and claw.”

  6. The only canned hunts that I can tolerate is Hunts tomato sauce. Everything else is an abomination.

    I’m pro-hunter. Hunting is great. Canned hunts, however, are high-rent, low class caricatures of hunting. I would moderate my thinking somewhat if the ranches were carefully breeding their stock and returning some to the wild. That would be an expedient that I could tolerate while holding my nose at the same time. It will never happen because it’s just too costly. So, what’s left is a bunch of guys trying to get rich by serving up slaughter on a platter to guys who are already there.

    And yes, I eat meat. Raising animals for the table and killing them in the most humane was possible is important to me, and I consider it ethical. If my food came from those “canned” hunts, I’d become a vegetarian.

      • How “canned” are the hunts?

        Seale mentions that they are “fair chase,” and that the game animal has an opportunity to escape via cover and terrain.

        After reading the article, and watching the videos, I have these observations:

        #1. Many of these animals are rare, and being threatened with extinction by poachers (pretty much the ultimate illegal / immoral hunting activity).

        #2. This is a billion – dollar industry, which supports approximately 14,000 jobs in Texas, as well as guns, ammo, and manufacturing.

        #3. Seale assures us of “fair – chase” hunts where the game animal has an opportunity to escape. Although I am sure violations do exist, I would also bet my paycheck that they occur on other private ranches as well.

        So my question is this: If you have reasonable assurance of fair chase, what benefit is there to shutting these operations down?

        • If you have reasonable assurance of fair chase, what benefit is there to shutting these operations down?

          If you are a member of the Control Freak Personality Disorder demographic, you can scratch your itch and preen your moral superiority.

      • The only thing I love more than agreeing with Joe M. is agreeing with you, Ralph.

        Please don’t agree with me.I’m much more certain of my moral correctness when we disagree. And go to sleep. It’s late in Rome.

    • “And yes, I eat meat. Raising animals for the table and killing them in the most humane was possible is important to me, and I consider it ethical. If my food came from those “canned” hunts, I’d become a vegetarian.”

      LOL! A canned hunt is still more ethical treatment of animals than most commercial farming and butchering operations. Have you seen how chickens are raised and slaughtered; its the animal equivalent of a concentration camp set up to produce as many chickens as possible and kill them as efficiently as possible. The same can be said of most other animals farmed for human consumption.

      I eat meat, and I eat meat from restaurant chains and grocery stores. Your statement above is just intellectually dishonest if you think an animal that gets raised on an open farm and eventually shot is somehow worse off than a cow raised to be slaughtered being killed with a pneumatic gun or having its throat cut (sometimes both). The canned hunts are just retail killing of animals, commercial farming is wholesale.

      • I knew that somewhere out there, there would be a Russell Phagen. I would have been disappointed otherwise. Thanks for stopping by, Russ.

    • Meh.

      I could care less if they call it ‘hunting’ or ‘harvesting free-range meat’, but I don’t think it should be illegal. Make no mistake, the PETAns who want to ban canned hunts aren’t okay with regular hunts, they are pursuing an incremental strategy. Once canned hunts are illegal, they’ll start working to ban another form of hunting.

      • Excellent point, sir.

        They new argument will be that it can’t be fair chase with a high – powered rifle with a scope, then a rifle, then a single shot…

      • Just because I find certain canned hunts offensive doesn’t mean I want them outlawed. Liberals and conservatives can think about outlawing what they don’t like just because they don’t like them. Libertarians ought not think that way.

        • +2.
          These ranches could provide a backstop just in case one of these species does go extinct in Africa.

          The ranches could then make a pile in preserving the species for zoos.

        • Ralph, I hate to tell you, but once again we are in agreement. I feel the same way about gun ownership as I do about hunting. Just because I find it offensive and foolish, I don’t believe it should be outlawed.

    • Calling them ‘canned hunts’ is ridiculous propaganda. The only difference between hunting an Ibex in Texas versus hunting a deer in a farm’s woods is that the Ibex was imported and bred. No breeding? No ongoing business. I think, perhaps, that hunting is romanticized by those who do very little of it. For decades we’ve had to hunt 26 deer a year under wildlife guidelines (a foreign country’s rules). It’s work. The comraderie is fun, but the actual shooting, gutting, skinning, and butchering is just work. Typically a few hunts have to be organized inviting neighboring farmer owners when still-hunting harvests too few deer for the year. Dachshunds are used to drive the deer toward the shooters. STILL the deer herd grows and overruns the crops and the local roads. Roe deer are very prolific. The once-a-year hunter or US-rules hunter doesn’t experience these conditions. In my suburban township (Lower Merion, PA) no hunting or shooting is allowed. Result? Once a year they bring in a USDA crew with night vision and silenced rifles and hunt off 120 deer at 2 am amid the larger mansions in the township. You should see that hunt through a night vision monocle. Hideous. But this keeps the Bambi-is-so-cute crowd from having to see Bambi shot. The powers that be just think Bambi destroys their flower gardens every year. (The meat goes to a local charity.) It’s no easier to hunt a gazelle on a large Texas game ranch than to hunt a deer on a PA farm. If you don’t like the breeding of wild animals, I guess it’s time to ban Siamese Cats. Clearly the game ranch animals have a better life than most zoo inmates.

  7. I hope you mean what would Ted think about the coverage and not what would Ted think about “canned” hunts as he has ranches in both Texas and Michigan that provide them.

    Also, you guys are being pretty harsh. There are many reasons to do these. I live in Illinois and we can’t use anything but a shotgun to hunt almost everything. I don’t know about you but I love shooting my rifle and shooting anything but paper makes for a nice change.

    The benefit of not having to worry about getting your own out of state licenses and having all that crap taken care of for you (if it is even necessary) is awesome.

    Not everyone lives in a place where they can hunt what they want with their weapon of choice…

    • Not everyone lives in a place where they can hunt what they want with their weapon of choice…

      Ryan, shotgun-only states are insane. The policy makers are only trying to break hunters’ collective coglioni.

      • It’s happening everywhere in hunting zones close to urban areas or popular tourism areas. Colorado has many shotgun-only zones. So does PA. I think the main attraction of game ranch hunting is safety. In Sweden, for example, the deer season is approximately from late August through early January. Only owners or lessees can hunt on the land. The long season and property rights insure relative safety for hunters, as for others in the woods. In PA, rifle season is very short. That forces a density of hunters into the forests that is unmanageable. If I could not hunt in another country, I’d hunt on a private preserve, or buy more forest here.

  8. Oh, Feral, savage and untamed, unwilling to listen to truth or reason, until her state no longer exsists.All animals exist, roam and range, in a relatively small area; wether it be a mountain/valley range in Montana, the plains of Africa, or a ranch in Texas. Humans have always hunted to live; as an active hunter/predator or engaging the services of someone to do it for them.As to the activity of Game Hunting, all game range in human controlled ranges sizes, in the modern era. Humans hunt “self hunt” (fee/tag or poached) or “guided”. The only degree of difference between either style of hunt within any range type is knowledge/skill of the hunter/guide and game/animal/hunted.While we humans continue to range over the planet, all creatures will be pushed to extinction or will be “assisted” to exist by humans, and continue to be 1/2 the food source(note: plant life has the same fate, despite those who think otherwise). And, this will continue, to varying degree, until humans mess up or the planet decides humans are no longer viable.So, i will continue to pursue my “life”-given right to own guns/ammo and life giving….

  9. Big game hunters have already contributed to the resurgance of endangered animals in Africa using this model.

    What incentive does the local tribesman in Kenya have to not shoot the elephant that is trampling his crops?

    What if his brother/uncle/father was a guide for rich European/American hunters paying $50,000 to go on a hunt? And guess who gets all the meat after the animal is shot? It certainly isn’t coming back with the hunter. It goes to the local tribe.

    • Big game hunters have already contributed to the resurgance of endangered animals in Africa using this model.

      Which is fine and dandy and makes such practices reasonable. Nobody does more for conservation than ethical hunters. But an oryx hunt in Texas isn’t helping any African villagers.

      • True, but what do we care if they hunt them on a 30,000 acre ranch in Texas? I would think there would be a lot of people who would rather go to Texas than Zimbabwe country to go hunting for safety reasons.

        • Ralph, do you honestly care whether something helps African villagers? The animals are managed in both places. In Africa the fees go, in half the countries, to gangster politicians, and you get bit by tsetse flies. Prices are sky high. The flights are often unpleasant and occasionally your rifles get lost by the airline. They find them after you’ve gone home. It’s good that people hunt Africa, but it’s purely a business. About the money: All over the world, for everything, they ask you for money. If you don’t have any they don’t give you anything but a sandwich, a bottle of water, and a cot until 6 a.m. Lotteries are nice, but you’ll wait ten years or more to hunt larger game. Ted doesn’t wait ten years.

          • Ralph, do you honestly care whether something helps African villagers?

            Yes,I do.

            I know a lot of hunters. They eat what they kill. I respect that. Hell, I honor that. However, I personally believe that hunting exclusively for a trophy, or to satisfy the urge to kill something, is an illness.

            When trophy hunting benefits something other than the hunter’s need for personal validation, I accept it as a necessary evil. When it has no other benefit, I don’t.

  10. @ Ralph

    “And yes, I eat meat. Raising animals for the table and killing them in the most humane was possible is important to me, and I consider it ethical.”

    How do these canned hunts not meet that criteria? Certainly no more or no less than hunting deer here in Ohio and as an alternative to industrialized farming, CAFO’s etc., think it is ethically a far superior alternative. They live a much more natural life, natural diet etc, and then taken for the table. See, The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Eating Animals by J. Foer, The movie Food inc. to name a few…. You will become a vegan or a hunter.

    • I said that raising animals for the table and killing them in the most humane way possible is ethical. I do not believe that raising oryx and other African animals for pleasure shooting by a bunch of slobs who are willing to pay big bucks for the pleasure of killing something is ethical. And nowhere in my post did I declare that such form of “sport” should be outlawed, although I do find it repulsive.

      You can believe whatever you want, and I’m fine with it. You are entitled to your own morals, and I mine. I don’t have any problems with people who have a different moral code, only people who have no code at all.

          • Ralp,
            For the most part I agree with most everything you say- I also don’t agree with trophy hunting etc. I guess my confusion lies in the statement

            “I said that raising animals for the table and killing them in the most humane way possible is ethical”

            Which implies (to me)that shooting an oryx (or other african animal) that is then taken for the table is somehow less humane (to you) than shooting a deer in Ohio (?).

            You are assuming motives unfairly. I.e that it is all ‘fatslobs killing for the sake of pleasure etc” that you really have no way of knowing.


  11. “Priscilla Feral, an animal activist” (paragraph 7)

    OK, now I’m confused. Is she an animal *rights* activist? Or is she an animal who happens also to be an activist? You see how her name contributes to my confusion.

    If the latter, I can certainly understand her dissatisfaction. I mean, look at it from her point of view. How would you feel about your fellow humans being ripped to shreds by Feral cats in canned hunts?

  12. As an avid bowhunter who has hunted low-fenced in the US and high fence in South Africa (SURPRISE! It is almost impossible to find a non-fenced ranch in RSA as the fences protect the ranchers’ investments from poachers.) I’ll say I’m surprised to see some of the replies I’ve seen here considering this is a pro-gun site.

    High fence doesn’t always equal “canned”. Hunters do go home empty handed. I’ve known guys to go to South Africa numerous times and still not harvest a zebra. They’re there in the fence (from 1,000 – 250,000 acres or more), but not so dumb after all. Same with gemsbok and more….

    Is whitetail hunting in a HF my style? No, but just like the very mis-informed CCW debaters I encountered on a bowhunting site this morning – to each their own. I have to turn my head.

    Economics on the top end and bottom end play a factor in this also. There is a “low” woven wire fence operation in OK that is very popular with bowhunters that charges $350 per 2 day hunt for feral hogs. The hogs are nuisance trapped and relocated to the 350 acre area where they are pursued by bowhunters. Sometimes the hogs win. Sometimes the hunters win.

    I just returned from SW Texas, so far SW the 15,000 acre ranch is on the Rio Grande. The cost is $375 per day to hunt on a low/no/cattle fence operation. The hogs, javis, whitetails and actually free-ranging exotics (they escape from places) can come and go as they wish. One javi lost and all the hogs won. I have hunted the place in OK. Now that I can afford it I’d much rather hunt the TX ranch without captive fences, but again I can afford it.

    RSA has indeed and continues to save its wildlife by breeding and HF hunting them. Sable is an excellent example. Would I pursue a lion in a HF enclosure? Heck no, but the guys who do and the outfitters who host contribute a lot of money to the perpetuation of free-ranging wildlife.

    In then end – try it. Try it before you turn your head on it. Try it before you condemn someone else.

    happy hunting and shooting, dv

    • Interesting. And I think non-hunters are just not aware of African realities. For example, lion hunts are often enough the hunts of captive-bred and cage-raised lions. Leopards are more-or-less always hunted with bait. In many hunts (at least in Zambia) poachers with AK’s are actually a risk. The point is just that the comparative conditions on a large US game ranch are not somehow those of shooting fish in a barrel, when compared to African hunts. I’d rather people spent their money here, actually. We have our own ‘villagers’ to provide for.

    • dustyvarmint, I don’t have issue with true “fair chase” ranches. But doesn’t the fact that there are ranches that call themselves “fair chase” tell you that there are a lot of ranches that aren’t?

  13. I personally wouldn’t go on a “canned” hunt but I won’t condemn others for doing so as long as they don’t try to call it real hunting.

  14. I actually support these type of exotic animal hunting ranches as it is good for animal conservation. Saying that, the hunts should not be very canned. The animals should be kept rather wild and have a lot of room to roam and cover to hide in. It should be a real hunting experience, versus an animal tethered to a post or domesticated to have no instinctive fear.

  15. “canned” is a term subject to misuse, as this thread demonstrates. Shooting an African animal on a 30000 acre ranch is no different than shooting an elk on a 30000 acre ranch in New Mexico or Montana. The herds are managed for health and population density, are well fed, and are a heck of a lot harder to hunt than your typical beef cow, even if the cow is on a huge ranch. Itis entirely different to tether an animal or confine it where it cannot run or hide; that to me is a “canned” hunt. How is it any different going to Africa, where the guides know where the game is, generally speaking, where the migration routes are well-known? It isn’t any different, and as human population pressure grows, it will become much more common.

  16. Why is it okay to buy canned meat but not a canned hunt? The animals on these ranches live a hell of a lot better than cattle. Doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

    Even If it was just a thing where you show up and shoot an animal that they have retrieved and tied to a post for you, I would think it was stupid and lazy on the person’s part, but I wouldn’t consider it any worse than leading a cow into the processing line and whacking it on the head.

    • And MUCH less lazy than rolling into wall mart, listening to canned music, seeing the pretty celophane wrappers and picking out you choice cuts ( agood portion of which end up in the garbage at your picnic).

      There is a complete disconnect for most people that something had to die every time they eat a piece of meat. there is a karmic or moral price that must be payed by the eater that is no longer paid. That is a huge part of hunting for me. I would much rather be involved in ANY way -not for “the joy of the slaughter” – but for the respect and appreciation it engenders on (me ) the recipient.

  17. I’m not a big fan of shooting fish in a barrel, but controlled hunts on large properties are not always like that. There are some places I have been where people who have never held a gun leave with a trophy killed at a feeder from 100 yards. These are not hunters.

    Reason I felt the urge to comment was this: Kind of funny that the president of Friends of Animals, Priscilla Feral, shares a name with the biggest threat to Texas agriculture. That would be the feral omnivore, or feral pig. The rest is up to your imagination.

  18. Canned hunting surely is a pickle of a dilemma. There is nothing I would love to happen than to see the animals that have gone extinct or are on their way to extinction on another continent preserved. However, we can’t simply scream against the killing machine without providing a lucrative alternative for the farmers. THAT, it seems to me, to be the real challenge here for both the farmers and the lovers of live animals for the sake of their remaining alive.

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