The following is meant to be informative and to help you weigh the facts about high-fence ranching. However, please do you your own research and read the regulations for your state and for the location of ranches. This article should not be used as the ultimate authority on this issue and is meant for discussion purposes only.
High Fence Deer...Fair Chase or Cheating?
This question has been debated a lot. Most wildlife managers argue that it is not fair chase because the deer have a hard time escaping areas that are fenced in and where there are usually feeding areas. Others argue that if the ranch is big enough, it’s not that different from wild game hunting. The Boone and Crockett Club is the organization that sets the scoring for big bucks; click here for their definition of fair chase which includes this line:
“Fair chase is an approach that elevates the quality of the chase, the challenge, and experience above all else.”
Most hunters who hear "high fence deer" picture a small 1-acre deer pen, but "high fence" can actually mean a 10,000-acre (or larger) ranch with a fence on it's border.
Why would someone go to a high-fence ranch instead of hunting for free range game?
Two main reasons: time and rack size. There are a lot of people who can’t (or maybe won’t) take the time to sit in the woods looking for deer/elk. Usually, hunting wild deer/elk requires a fair bit of scouting that takes time. Also, some people don’t have easy access to the woods or the woods nearby are very crowded. For those with limited time and a big budget, high-fence ranches provide a shortcut.
A base price for deer is around $2,500 per trip. And costs of these trips can reach costs of $20,000 or more. The price depends heavily on what rack size someone wants and how many days they will be at the ranch/farm. 140” are considered smaller while 200”+ are highly prized and paid for handsomely.
Does this hurt or help wild game?
For many states, the benefits do NOT outweigh the risks (see next question). But some people argue that high fence ranches can help protect an area from intruders and pests such as wild hogs, which are incredibly damaging. It may also be argued that high-fence ranches provide landowners with a reliable income that helps to keep pieces of land from being used for agriculture or development.
Can high-fence ranches cause harm to wild game/public land Cervidae populations?
Many states have outlawed high fence ranches after disease outbreaks and farmed herds escaped into the wild. For example, Minnesota is currently fighting the outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease (similar to mad cow disease) in deer populations as a result of herds that have been contaminated by high-fence ranches which have been irresponsible in game management. As Hal Herring mentions in his article for Field & Stream (click here to read), the issues are related to raising deer/elk like livestock and then try to hunt them like wild game.
Are high-fence hunts popular?
It’s difficult to get an overall number on how many people go to high-fence ranches each year to harvest game. It’s certainly something that thousands of people do each year. Also, the prominence of these ranches may surprise you as many TV shows feature high-fence ranches without the audience knowing. When a producer has to weigh the pros and cons of a hunt, going to a high-fence ranch may be the cheapest and quickest way for them to guarantee a kill on camera.
Are High Fence Deer Still Recorded?
Some clubs will not accept High Fence Deer into their record books, for example The Pope and Young Club, here is their official statement on the matter:
“The Pope and Young Club and its membership strongly condemn the killing of big game animals in artificial situations. An “artificial situation” is defined as a situation where animals are held in captivity, game-proof fenced enclosures or released from captivity. These unethical practices are often referred to as “canned hunts.” This shall be considered an unethical practice devoid of fair chase hunting ethics as the animals are not free-ranging.
These canned shoot situations present further concerns that impact the future of bow hunting. They weaken the public acceptance of legitimate fair chase bow hunting, provide possibilities for transmitting diseases, and corrupt the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Animals held, or bred and raised for the purpose of trophy harvest, in these facilities are not considered wildlife. The killing of these animals is not managed by the authority of a wildlife management agency and the killing, itself, is devoid of any values embodied by legitimate hunting.
The Pope and Young Club does not accept into its Records Program any animal taken under any captive scenarios and considers these practices extreme examples of unethical hunting. The Pope and Young Club also considers this practice unethical treatment of North American big game animals.”
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