September 18, 2020

The Debate About Game Farms

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Game farms, hunting preserves, deer farms, shoot-your-own farms, whatever you choose to call them, they are not all the same, yet people, the media included, lump them all together. This is unfortunate. If anyone is going to present information about an industry like this, they should at least compare apples and apples and oranges with oranges.

The debate about hunting preserves (I’ll use this term to describe all types) has gone on for quite some time and often these debates become heated as some people are quite passionate in their views about the industry. Personally, I believe we need to examine the practice case by case. Not all businesses are the same.

Often hunting preserves are presented as was done yesterday in the Boston Globe as a place where you can pack up a picnic lunch, grab your kiddies and head on out to a local red deer farm and let the big animals kiss the kids in hopes to get a reward of some food.

These kinds of farms do exist. There are, in many cases, up to a hundred critters crammed into a few acres. In short, the animals are farmed in the same way that dairy farmers raise cows and cattle. This practice is generally regulated by a state’s agriculture department, including the deer or elk farming.

On the other end of the hunting preserve spectrum, you’ll find businesses that have several thousands of acres of heavily wooded land, providing a very natural habitat for the animals and you couldn’t even think about giving one of them deer a kiss or hand-feeding them.

If a farmer is raising elk or deer in this manner, they are more than likely regulated by the agriculture department. The farmer sells his animals for meat or perhaps sells his animals to other farmers. He has to find ways of generating income to keep his business going.

In most states there are strict guidelines on importing and exporting these animals because of the spread of diseases, mainly chronic wasting disease. In some cases it is prohibited completely so deer farmers can only raise and sell their meat to local buyers, etc.

This all sounds simple and innocent enough until one or more of these farmers decides he can make more money by opening his business up to hunting. Some farmers have resorted to doing this in order to generate revenue. Not only are they able to find hunters who will come and shoot an animal and pay for the meat, they have found in some cases, that trophy hunters are willing to pay big dollars for a bull with a big rack of horns. Whatever the reasons, we have now opened the proverbial can of worms.

In some states, when a farmer chooses to add a hunting option to his business, if in fact he is allowed to at all in his state, what was a business run by the agriculture department, now is run by the wildlife department or both.

There are several issues that deal with hunting preserves from an individuals private rights, to hunting ethics, to the treatment of the animals. I believe that a business owner’s rights need to be protected as well as hunting ethics and the fair treatment of the animals. I think most people would agree with me on that. The problem comes from deciding to what degree are the protections needed and how they will be enforced.

It is not an easy topic to discuss and there is no simple solution to the problem, although some would argue there is a simple solution – ban the practice or don’t regulate it. I don’t think either of those options is viable.

To the majority of us, there are obvious cases of poorly run hunting preserves that should not be allowed. For example, there are accounts of poorly treated and neglected animals crammed into tiny fenced in areas, where people show up with a gun and shoot an animal. Something that took perhaps ten minutes to accomplish. These practices clearly violate the good treatment of the animals and stomps all over the fair chase hunting ethic. In determing the rights of the business owner, I personally think that the two wrongs trump the rights of the owner.

As discussion grows over hunting preserves, so will the regulations. Whether done by agriculture experts or fish and game professionals, rules that govern these businesses will evolve. Those governing agencies should not be influenced by a biased and uneducated citizenry or the press that spews out half truths. They need to make their decisions based on science and sound ethical practices. This can’t happen when we assume that all these businesses are the same, no more than any two cattle farms are the same. There have to be minimum standards.

Hunting preserves have their place and more so as time goes on and land access continues to diminish. Personally, I wouldn’t have any desire to take advantage of one but I see nothing seriously wrong with hunting preserves that are designed and regulated that will satisfy the test of business rights protection, hunting ethics and animal rights.

This industry needs good guidelines and instead of knee jerk reactions that result from the “Bambi effect”, where legislators just shut down all businesses, it is their job and obligation to act quickly to formulate good sound regulation practices.

A businessman has rights to operate his business as he sees fit but like most all other businesses, he must abide by guidelines created to protect and enhance trade practices. These regulations should also protect the reputation of responsible hunters who value fair chase ethics and at the same time ensure the healthy treatment of the animals.

Tom Remington

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