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December 02, 2009

Fenced-In Elk Killing Off Target in Colorado

Shooting tame wildlife held captive behind a high fence is hardly what most Americans would call hunting—it’s a corruption of the term, and a stripping down of the practice of hunting to the mere act of killing. In captive hunt facilities, chance is eliminated because animals are stocked in enclosures where trophy hunters pay thousands for a guaranteed kill. They choose from a menu of animals and sometimes have the proprietor of the operation, or his designee, lead them to the area where the killing can be consummated. With a “no kill, no pay” fee arrangement, the participants dress up like hunters and discharge live ammo from real guns, but it’s not the real thing. They’re hunting fakers. It’s little more than an open-air abattoir. Rank-and-file hunters think they’re a joke.

Bull at Elk Research Institute in Colorado
A bull at the Elk Research Institute.

About half of all U.S. states have restricted captive hunting for mammals, including Montana, where sportsmen led the effort to pass a ballot initiative in a state that is a cultural redoubt of hunting. North Dakota hunters are looking to do the same next year, after falling just shy of submitting enough signatures to qualify such a measure last election. In Colorado, however, not only are captive hunts legal, in one case it’s even state funded. The Denver Post recently reported on the Elk Research Institute, an elk breeding facility on state-owned property in Hesperus, Colo. where customers pay big bucks to kill captive elk.

The original purpose of the Institute was reportedly to create a strain of elk resistant to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a brain-wasting disease similar to Mad Cow Disease that afflicts deer and elk. Most wildlife scientists agree that CWD proliferated in captive herds (it was first identified in captive mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960s), and then put wild populations of ungulates at risk.

In response to this problem, Colorado lawmakers authorized the use of the people’s tax dollars to fund the genetic engineering of captive “super elk” to try to combat a disease that spread in the first place by holding wild animals captive. Predictably, the Colorado experiment failed to produce a solution to CWD, but it did produce elk with exceptionally large antlers, allowing the Institute to attract trophy hunters and profit off of the animals being chased to the fence line and killed. It was a mad science project, with the foolishness of the experiment now compounded by the morphing of the site into a canned hunting ranch. Maybe the state can add in a bordello, rack up some additional revenue, and then really let loose when it comes to ethics in government.

State supported or not, lawmakers should pull the lid off canned hunts, wherever they exist. Colorado and other outlier states on this issue should ban these no-kill, no-pay killing spectacles.

We’re also asking Congress to pass federal legislation to stop this cruelty. The Sportsmanship in Hunting Act (H.R. 2308) would crack down on captive hunts and also ban the practice of killing animals remotely via the Internet. You can help by asking your U.S. Representative to co-sponsor that bill.

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