Canned Killing: Don't Call It Hunting!

Among ethical hunters, the term "fair chase" implies a universal bottom-line of self-imposed fairness and morality. Fair chase hunting specifies the pursuit of wild, free-ranging game animals, and, together with limits on technology, assures wildlife a better-than-even chance of escape. Thus, the term hunting.

Meanwhile, another and wholly opposite term and mindset, "Canned hunting," was coined by fair chase hunters to condemn the sickly "sport" of paying thousands of dollars for the great soulful adventure and challenge of executing captive-raised, half-tamed wildlife on "game farms," several of which stain my longtime home of LaPlata County and surrounds.

Yet, while "canned hunting" is an overtly derogatory term, it's hardly dirty enough to properly describe the horrific activity, since the contract execution of captive animals involves no real hunting at all. Zero. Rather, practitioners of this abomination buy their so-called "success" and "trophies" in advance with "No kill, no pay" contracts.

Why in the world should ethical hunters allow ourselves to inadvertently support, by our timid silence, such an overtly anti-hunting activity as canned killing? The too-commonly heard "If it's legal, it's moral" excuse is an increasingly transparent and amoral cop-out, which -- if ethical hunting is to survive, much less be morally indemnified in the non-hunting public eye -- we can no longer afford. Legality is nothing more than a reflection of the maximum limits to what a given culture will tolerate; it is not an ethical yardstick or dictum.

While some 85 percent of Americans approve of meat hunting, according to research conducted by Yale sociologist Stephen Kellert, only about 15 percent endorse trophy hunting, even when practiced according to the rules of fair chase. Meanwhile, essentially no one, save the tiny minority who practice or profit from it, endorses canned killing.

Along with "If it's legal, it's moral," another counterproductive moral dodge we still hear some hunters bantering about would have us believe that "If we don't stick together, we will fall apart." In translation, this is a call to the least common intellectual and ethical denominator; a race to the moral bottom line.

As an ethical hunter, the canned-killing perversion leaves me sick and embarrassed. As an American, it makes me hang my head in shame. As it does also Jim Posewitz, hunter, retired Montana wildlife biologist, and founder of Orion: The Hunter's Institute. Canned hunting, says Posewitz, "is killing and nothing more. The worst thing it does is to trivialize the value of wild animals. A fenced shoot is just the sale of a fabricated image to people who have neither the skill nor the inclination to obtain the real thing. It's a threat not only to real hunting, but to our whole concept of wildlife conservation."

Similarly, "What stories would they tell?" asks lifelong hunter Scott Stouder of Idaho, in reference to today's pay-to-slay game-farm heroes. "From the campfires of the ancients to our living rooms, stories have been the glue that binds generations of hunters... It was through the power of story that I first heard men express their love of mountains and animals. And it was by that power that I eventually came to love them myself. What love would come from the stories told of shooting animals within fences?" [Quoted in Heartsblood: Hunting, Spirituality, and Wildness in America, by David Petersen, p. 51; Island Press, 2000.]

As biologist/philosopher C.H.D. Clarke, "the Canadian Aldo Leopold," noted long ago: "It is self-evident that there must be pervert hunters, and even fishermen, just as there are pervert clergymen, or boilermakers. No group is exempt, and we have to watch out for the pervert who deliberately takes up hunting." ["Autumn Thoughts of a Hunter," Journal of Wildlife Management, 22:4, 1958.]

To be fair, not all canned killers are perverts; many are merely pathetic, self-deluded losers and pretenders.

There is honorable hunting, and there is cowardly captive killing. The motivations and characters defining each are as distinct as day and night. A game farm so-called hunt, with so-called success guaranteed is no hunt at all and should never be spoken of as such. Nor -- antihunters please take note -- neither are the killers by any measure hunters. We detest these lazy incompetent slobs easily as much as you do.

Canned killing is a suppurating sore on the face of honorable hunting, an impotent's end game, an insult to the unfettered wildness that shaped humans and wildlife alike, an orgy of objectification and utter disregard for the prey, and one more ugly omen that something is horribly wrong with our unconscionably commercial, insanely competitive, egregiously egoistic, nature-raping, soul-slaughtering, profit-driven mother culture.

Game farms: In a sane world, game farming and canned killing would be unthinkable.

Forgive me if I've been too kind.

P.S. And next time you visit a restaurant that serves "wild game," keep in mind where that blood-rare came from and how it lived and died. Just another cruelty-laced game-farm product. I have long boycotted and bad-mouthed all such and urge you to do the same.