Manataka® American Indian Council


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The Thrill of the Kill: Captive Hunts



This dama gazelle was slaughtered

at a captive hunt. ©The HSUS

What are captive hunts?

Captive hunting operations—also referred to as "shooting preserves," "canned hunts" or "game ranches"—are private trophy hunting facilities that offer their customers the opportunity to kill exotic and native animals trapped within enclosures. Some facilities have even allowed their clients to kill animals remotely via the Internet.


Who are the victims?

The animals killed in captive hunts may come from private breeders, animal dealers, circuses or even zoos. These animals are frequently hand raised and bottle fed, so they have lost their natural fear of people. In many facilities, the animals expect to be fed at regular times by familiar people—and the shooters will be there waiting for them.


Semi-tame animals make easy targets, so captive hunt operators can offer their customers a guarantee of "no kill, no pay." The animals are guaranteed something as well—that there will be no escape.


How many captive hunts are there?

The HSUS estimates that there are more than 1,000 captive hunting operations in about two dozen states. Five hundred of these operations are in Texas.


What's the risk of spreading disease?

Because animals on captive hunts are confined in highly concentrated numbers, the risk of disease transmission increases, posing a threat to animals on the inside and outside of the fences. And it is doubtful that those involved in the captive hunting business provide acceptable veterinary care for their animals.


Diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis and chronic wasting disease have been diagnosed in wild and captive wildlife. Although there must legally be fencing around captive hunts, animals often can and sometimes do escape from these facilities. The interstate transport of animals for breeding purposes increases the possibility of spreading the disease.


Montana game ranchers dealt with an outbreak of tuberculosis in elk herds in 1991. Some feared that these elk would infect Yellowstone's free-roaming elk. Michigan has been battling an outbreak of tuberculosis among deer for the past few years due to baiting, which encourages animals to congregate in small areas.


In 2006, as many as 160 elk escaped from a hunting preserve near Rexburg, Idaho. Tests on one of the animals later confirmed that they were not elk, but elk/red deer hybrids. By law they had to be killed, neutered or shipped out of state. Dozens of the animals were shot.


CWD outbreaks have been reported in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Montana, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Kansas.


Are captive hunts big business?

Captive hunting is a lucrative and expanding industry. It is estimated that more than 1,000 captive mammal hunting operations are operating in at least two dozen states. Several factors feed into that expansion: The over-breeding of captive exotic animals, the desire by some hunters with plenty of cash for a quick and easy kill, and the incentive to bag exotic mammals provided by Safari Club International's "Introduced Trophy Game Animals of North America" trophy hunting achievement award.


Do all hunters support captive hunting?

No. As hunter and noted author Ted Kerasote puts it, "'Canned hunting' is a misnomer. More accurately defined as 'shooting animals in small enclosures,' the activity has nothing to do with the motives that inform authentic hunting: procuring healthy, organic food; participating in the timeless cycles of birth, death, and nurturing; honoring the lives that support us; and reconnecting with wildness. No matter where one stands on hunting—vehemently opposed to it or seeing it as yet another way to live sustainably on Earth—one ought to decry shooting animals behind fences."


"Fair chase"—a concept central to the philosophy of many in the hunting community— does not exist in captive hunts. The self-described ethical hunting community (including groups like Boone & Crockett, Pope & Young, and the Izaak Walton League) is becoming increasingly vocal in its opposition to canned hunting.


Are captive hunts legal?

As reviled as captive hunting is by non-hunters and hunters alike, no federal law bans the practice, and the majority of states allow it. The regulations implementing the federal Animal Welfare Act do not apply to game preserves, hunting preserves, and captive hunts. Although the Endangered Species Act protects animals listed as endangered or threatened, the Fish and Wildlife Service does not prohibit private ownership of these animals and even allows captive hunting of endangered species.


What You Can Do

Captive hunts are held at private trophy hunting facilities where shooters pay to kill exotic and native animals—even endangered species —trapped within fenced enclosures. Animals on captive hunts often come from private breeders, animal dealers, and even zoos and circuses. Frequently, the animals have been hand-raised and bottle-fed, so they have lost their fear of people.


Even in large enclosures on these so-called game farms, animals are lured with bait to a location where a shooter waits, thus removing any element of sportsmanship.


State laws and regulations vary widely on captive hunts, which is why federal legislation is needed to help these captive animals.


See where the states stand on captive hunts.