By Mike Bodenchuk, Editor-at-Large
The debate over shooting captive bred lions has opened numerous discussions regarding the principles of fair chase. The Boone and Crockett Club has a long list of fair chase principles that must be met in order to list an animal in its book. That list excludes high-fence wildlife no matter how large the area. The prestigious Roland Ward Record Book has recently revised the list of exotic species it will accept for record keeping in order to eliminate those raised and hunted behind fences. We have detailed the split between South African operators and PHs over the issue, and there’s no doubt that more introspection will follow.
Let’s be clear: there are high-fence operations on every hunting continent. In some cases, the fenced area may be in place to protect genetic “improvements” (i.e., New Zealand red stag or Texas whitetails), and in other cases the fence is there to prevent the release of nonindigenous species. The first high fences in Texas actually were put in place to support whitetail deer management by reducing deer densities, preventing the neighbors’ deer from entering and abusing carefully managed habitat. In some cases, the area is much larger than any animal’s home range and the effect of the fence on the sporting qualities of the hunt is negligible. In other cases, the fenced area is far too small to be considered fair, and in the worst cases animals are herded into corral-style shooting areas.
At this point, it’s instructive to review the SCI Record Book criteria for estate animals. As a leader in hunting and conservation and the largest record book in the world, the SCI Record Book sets a standard for fair hunting. To qualify for record book inclusion:
- The animal must have freely resided on the hunted property for six months or longer.
- The animal must be part of a breeding herd that is resident on the hunted property.
- The operators of the hunted property must provide freely available and ample amounts of cover, food and water at all times.
- The hunted property must provide escape cover that allows the animals to elude hunters for extended periods of time and multiple occurrences.
- Escape cover, in the form of rugged terrain or topography and/or dense thickets of woods shall collectively comprise at least 50% of the hunted property.
- The animal must exhibit its natural flight/survival instincts.
- No zoo animal, exhibited animal or tame animal may be considered for entry into the record book.
- Hunting methods employed cannot include driving, herding or chasing the animal to the hunter.
There are numerous hunts that do not meet these standards, including put-and-take whitetail hunts, some exotic hunts (in which the animal is purchased only after a deposit is received) and most fenced “wild boar” estate hunts. On the other hand, I once spent three days chasing an axis stag inside a 1,000-acre high fence and only twice got a fleeting glimpse of it. Whether or not you intend to register your animal in the record book, these minimum standards are a beginning point for discussions with potential outfitters.