Defining Fair Chase Behind A High Fence

AFRICAN INDABA

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Editor’s Note: I recently discovered Dougherty’s 2011 article when searching the internet. Although written in a North American context, it strikes me as being applicable to Southern Africa, if one exchanges deer with buffalo, antelopes, etc. and readjusts the property sizes. We have written often about Fair Chase and related topics in previous issues African Indaba, and how the color- and trophy mania together with canned lion shooting damages not only the reputation of all hunters, but also undermines the genuine connection between hunting and conservation.

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I recently published a piece criticizing deer farmers for creating “freak show” bucks through genetic manipulation. Apart from a few deer breeders who were critical of the post, it seemed like most readers shared my concern. It was my most widely read post so far on OutdoorLife.com and it really got some folks fired up.

Interestingly, the post spurred a conversation on high fence hunting (apart from genetic manipulation) which fanned the flames even higher. It seems like hunters have very strong opinions on high fences and are not shy about sharing them. Their opinions range from believing that high fences are the future of the sport to believing that high fences are destroying the sport.

But before we get any further, a few facts:
  • Both native and non-native game species are hunted behind high fences
  • High fence hunts are widely practiced in this country
  • High fence hunts are growing in popularity, are a very big business, and have many supporters
  • Not all hunting behind high fences is fee hunting on shooting preserves or game farms. Much of it is on private ranches with thousands of acres under fence
Defining Fair Chase

Much of the opposition to high fence hunting seems to center around the concept of “fair chase.” Fair chase is defined by most as a situation where the hunted is not put in a disadvantaged position and has a real chance to escape.

In the wild, this means you don’t shoot a moose when he is swimming across a lake, you don’t walk up to a caribou mired in the mud and shoot him and if you find two helpless locked-up bucks you do everything you can to get them apart and let them escape unharmed.

Some extend the definition “fair chase” to not hunting over bait, food plots, watering holes or any other artificial means of concentrating wild animals. Others believe hunting islands, blind canyons or using natural terrain blockades isn’t fair chase either. Short of obeying state and federal fair chase game laws, the concept can get pretty gray pretty fast. Basically it is up to the individual hunter or club or organization to draw the fair chase line in the sand. When it comes to fair chase and high fences, there are three different scenarios. Here’s my take on each …

Fair Chase Behind the Fence

A gray area in the hunting community is hunting behind a high fence that encloses hundreds if not thousands of acres. The whitetails living on this ground have never seen a baby bottle or Snickers bar and are every bit as wild and wary as deer on open land. The deer live under natural wild conditions and are plenty challenging to hunt. Aside from the fence, they are not artificially constrained or for that matter, even concentrated in a given area. In my book, this is black and white, this is fair chase hunting.

The fences are up to keep undesirable animals (and trespassers) out and desirable animals in. I have on occasion hunted these places and have noticed no difference in hunting these properties from unfenced ground. In fact, some of them can be considerably tougher to hunt than some free range properties I’ve been on. On hunts like this there’s no guarantee that you’re going to kill a buck, or even get a chance to kill a buck. As far as I’m concerned, the only real difference is you can’t register your high fence kill in some of the record books.

But cut the acreage to say 50 or 75 acres, stock it regularly with new recruits from a game farm and feed your deer in troughs, and it’s a different story for me. The hunt is now a “shoot” and I want no part of it (more on this later). I shoot doves, I hunt whitetails. But that’s just me.

Almost Fair Chase Behind the Fence

Then there are shooting preserves with stocked game, guides who put you on animals and highly-managed property. These places basically guarantee a kill. Many argue that these pay-to-hunt shooting preserves and game farm hunts are not only legal but plenty fair as far as the “fair chase” doctrine goes. They point out that it is not shooting fish in a barrel and their hunting experience is every bit as rewarding as a hunt taken in the wild. In fact, they argue since most shooting preserves are well stocked with wild game, the experience for many is more rewarding than a non-fenced hunt where you often come home empty handed.

They cite high fence operations, which excel at providing a “hunting experience” that feels like a real hunt with plenty of drama and “almost got him” opportunities. The high fences are seldom if ever noticed, the guides are authentic and the animals are good at making themselves scarce. Many of the animals were born behind the high fence or at least have lived there long enough to learn the ropes. The “stockers” came out of natural whitetail stock not inbreeding freak show antler genetics. The hunt often lasts for a couple of days or more but in almost every case, by the end of the hunt the hunter is put on a shooter, shots are fired and an animal gets killed. Backs get slapped, chests get pounded and somebody gets paid. Money must change hands in order for this kind of thing to work.

Proponents of these hunts claim they are a great way to introduce newcomers to the sport, or that it’s the only way they can hunt with their busy schedule. Or maybe it’s the only hunting within 500 miles. For some, it’s what hunting is all about. Some simply state: “It’s legal and I’m having a good time, so mind your own damn business and quit putting ideas in the anti’s heads!”

OK, I get it, and I don’t begrudge folks who enjoy this kind of thing. I’ve been there once or twice and it didn’t do a thing for me. It might be a sign of the times, but count me out!

Unfair Chase Behind the Fence

The worst canned hunts (or more accurately shoots) are nothing short of obscene. You select your “trophy range” in inches and by what your checkbook can handle. The only rule being “the bigger the better.” Your deer may have been delivered to your hunting location a few days earlier or may have been stocked a few weeks or months earlier. If he carries uncommonly massive antlers he is probably the product of genetic manipulation where the only thing that matters is rack size. He was sold as a “shooter” because he didn’t make the grade as a breeder. He may be semi-tame or even semi-stupid with all that “only antlers matter” inbreeding in his line.

You may shoot him out of a golf cart or you may choose to break in those new boots, but one way or another you will get your buck. You may hunt over bait or wait for the boys to walk him through a narrow shooting slot but get him you will. You will head for the bar, pay the bill ($10,000 to $15,000 for a really good whitetail), drive through the gate and will be home for dinner.

The problem is, you’ve just been ripped off. This buck is no trophy. He is not the same as a naturally bred whitetail. His spectacular antlers are the product of genetic manipulation and artificial insemination. He’s been raised on supplements and steroids and all sorts of high performance foodstuffs.

Most agree these hunts have little semblance to the real thing. Not only are they not “fair chase” but an abomination as well. Becoming a hunter isn’t all that complicated. You can do better than this.

Author: Craig Dougherty October 7, 2011 OutdoorLife
 

The Big Game Hunter

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Very interesting article. Depending on your personal views and preferences, there's a lot of room for grey area in there. It all just depends where you draw the line I guess.
 

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For me, if the habitat fenced is so large that the animal's normal instinctive behavior is unrestrained by the fence then I believe it is fair chase. For a cottontail, that can be a fairly small paddock, for an aoudad, not so much. His latter example is regrettably very common here in Texas and South Africa. There is an operation 45 minutes from my front door which offers genetically engineered bucks shot to order within 500 acre, high fence pastures. Pick the size slot, look over three or four which fit the profile, shoot the one you like, pay your bill and be home for dinner. Whatever it is, it isn't hunting. There are put in take operations in South Africa which will put the specific animals up on the web for your browsing, ordering, and shooting pleasure. It isn't illegal. Hell, I'm not sure it is even unethical - but for me, I have difficulty equating it to either hunting or fair chase.
 

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The problem starts when we start comparing (in the OP) high fence hunts here in the states and game farm hunting in SA or other areas. I too have been on a high fence hunt in Texas about 4000 acres. if you spooked them in one corner, you just drove to the other corner and they would be there in about 5 minutes. Wasn't hunting. Spook a Kudu on 30,000 acres in SA and you probably won't ever see him again. I agree, my personal criteria is if the animals can live / breed / die without being affected by the fence, it's OK with me. that leaves a lot of grey area depending on the animal, terrain, etc.
 

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For me it is not as cut or dry and so many things factor in. For one not every acre of lands is the same so that can be a big factor. I am ok with a nicely covered 1000 acre area with animals that live and breed. So no dropping off a kudu and hunting it a week later would not work but give that kudu a year and it is a hunt. If the place is not over stocked with game and you hunt the mature animals a 1000 plus acres can be a hunt. Most animals I have seen in Africa behind fence just don't run fence to fence. Does the fence stop them well it does if they just run.Not many animals just run but rather use escape routes they learn and there natural sense of sight and smell to stay away from hunters

What I find funny about this topic is all the guys who make a big deal out of the size of the land then they go hunt 300,000 acres with half of that being desert and the other half having man made waterholes added to it. Most of the game will never step foot on half of the land and the waterhole acts like a fence by keeping them around certain areas. Yes am I glad they dug the waterholes but lets not act like there is no reason for it to be done.

Yeah it would be great if hunting was what it was 50 years ago but lets face it times have changed. Some areas are smaller then most would like but each guy can decide what there limits are. Lets face it when we hunt Africa with the rules and laws they have are we hunting or shooting. We follow a ph and then when we get to the animal we get on the sticks and take the shot. By the way some guys like to talk we are nothing more then shooters. I myself like to think I am still hunting but I don't put all the crazy rules on what make it fair or right because of what others think.
 

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There's a significant difference between 30,000 acres fenced in SA and 400 acres, or even 4,000 acres fenced in Texas. There's a rationale for fencing, keeping people out of your area and maintaining animal populations, that being said when you can actually drive from one area to another following the game movement because of constrictions due to fencing then I want no part of it.
 

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With regard to whitetails, Texas Park & Wildlife says Does will range on average a 1 mile radius from where they are born, bucks more. That's 640 acres; 4000 acres high fenced will be more then fair for a born on property deer. That said, on the road that I drive in on, the rancher has a couple of high fenced fields that I drive by. They are high fenced to keep the deer out of his crop. Every time I leave my place in the evening to go home. I watch the deer jump that 8 foot fence likes its nothing.

When I was in Africa I hunted behind a high fence, 24,000 continuous acres. A property that size is more then fair chase. I think a property larger (but not sure now much larger) then the natural range of the animal is fair.
 

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This is a heavily debated topic in my home state of Texas. There is no simple answer when a high fenced hunt becomes a canned hunt. I personally didn't like hunting inside high fences as rule, but have hunted here in Texas and South Africa inside them. it seems to me that it is for each hunter to decide for themselves.
 

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For me, if the habitat fenced is so large that the animal's normal instinctive behavior is unrestrained by the fence then I believe it is fair chase. For a cottontail, that can be a fairly small paddock, for an aoudad, not so much.

Totally agree. Ultimately, all land is "fenced" in one way or the other (mountains, ocean, populous area, etc), so this is as good a definition as any.

I am ok with a nicely covered 1000 acre area with animals that live and breed. So no dropping off a kudu and hunting it a week later would not work but give that kudu a year and it is a hunt.

I'd put this into the "Almost Fair Chase Behind the Fence" category. On 1000 acres with stocked kudu (even a year after stocking) their are still limits to where they can go, where they can drink, and food is likely heavily supplemented. Off take will also be pretty limited, or animals will be added regularly.

What I find funny about this topic is all the guys who make a big deal out of the size of the land then they go hunt 300,000 acres with half of that being desert and the other half having man made waterholes added to it. Most of the game will never step foot on half of the land and the waterhole acts like a fence by keeping them around certain areas. Yes am I glad they dug the waterholes but lets not act like there is no reason for it to be done.

All depends on the number of bore holes in the area. If a kudu can go from hole to hole then you have an area of 150,000 acres, without the desert half. If he is "fenced" by only being able to have access to one water hole then I don't disagree, especially if you're going to sit at the only waterhole. He has to come sometime.... I'd bet that most areas with significant hunting have enough bore holes that they can cross and have drinking options.

There are put in take operations in South Africa which will put the specific animals up on the web for your browsing, ordering, and shooting pleasure. It isn't illegal. Hell, I'm not sure it is even unethical - but for me, I have difficulty equating it to either hunting or fair chase.

This is key to me. I don't have a problem if people want to shoot fish in a barrel. It's up to them. Where I get annoyed is when they want to do it and then pretend it's something it isn't. Call it like it is... An animal was shot, for whatever reason, but fair chase? Nope!
 

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I have hunted behind a high fence in North America and I can tell you the animals act 100% in they are borned and raised in that high fence. It is unbelievable to be how quickly they can disappear. This was experienced in a 1000 acre high fence area and another in a 5000 acre high fence. I did a smaller put and take shoot with my friends, I wanted some pork and it was fun to "hunt" with them but obviously not a challenge more of a guys weekend. Not really different then put and take pheasants.

I think to each his own, every man needs to decide what works for him, and I am not going to criticize anyone for what they want to do.
 

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royal now your talking about management of the 1000 acres. Yes you maybe only able to take 2 or 3 kudu a year off that place or you would need to add animals. Put if done right you can hunt animals born there if the land is run right and not over hunted. That's why the whole what is fair chase is not a simple as how big the area is or if it has fence or not.

My main problem is how some love to judge or tell others they need to go to moz or zim to have a real hunt. That is bs if a fenced hunt is done right on land that is controlled and run right. It is just like the guy who will hunt a ele or buff in zim and say it was a wild buff. The same ele or buff was in SA in kruger park but it is looked at differently by a few on here. That magic water when they cross the river makes them more wild I guess. Each there own just not much of a fan of guy who like to judge what other call hunting to them.

As far as shooting compared to hunting. Well like I said if following a ph and putting the gun on the sticks is hunting and not shooting some people just look at things in different ways. The animal was shot as the client followed a ph and he did the hunting and the client did the shooting. For me I am hunting because I don't put the silly rules on myself like some guys do.
 

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Yup, I was talking about management of the 1000 acres. And agree it isn't as simple as acreage, which is why I made the point. I bet the odds of proper management on 1000 acres is less likely though and odds of it being stocked is higher, but what to do I know.

Who in this thread has judged fenced hunting or small area hunting as bad or said they looked down on it? I've been on high fence before and very likely will again. It IS different in wild areas vs. fenced areas though. Why? Because I say it is. :)

Hear me out - it's about more than the actual act of the hunt itself. It's being away from the blacktop, the fast food restaurants, and perhaps even some of the creature comforts. It's being away from civilization. I can't get that feeling on a small fenced area, ever. It's ruined opening the gate and going in, and knowing in my mind that there is a paved road right there all the time. So it does make a difference to ME.

That's why when someone says they are just as wild I think to myself "no, they arent." That river truky is magical and makes tne animal wilder, to me I'm not judging you for what you do, I'm judging me for what I do.

Different strokes for different folks, no doubt. Neither open range, low fence, or high fence hunting is the only way or the "right" way. But don't kid yourself, they are different, at least to me.
 

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@billc you make a good point. What is the difference of sitting over a feeder where an outfitter has been tracking and feeding the deer for years and high fence area. You show up and shoot, lol.
 

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Like so many of the TV shows about deer hunting, particularly it seems in the south. Everybody gets all camoed up and "stalks" their way into the BLIND! After some time has passed, the grain fed deer start wandering within range of the rifle or bow, and blam! Got em deer. Then the excited heavy breathing, high fives all around, thanking the good lord, and proclaiming, "man what a great HUNT!" It is a harvest which is fine, but its not hunting.
 

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this is another different strokes for different folks,a beating of the dead horse to the point that their is nothing left but dust,it aint never going to get up and win the race for you.all it does is make the antis smile as we argue our personal opinions on this subject.dont like fences,dont hunt,like fences, hunt.i have my own opinion and will keep it to myself.fact,if a whitetail is in 600 acres and dosent want to be seen,you aint going to see it,j.m.o.
 

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Very interesting topic and discussion so far. I enjoy hearing other people's point of view on this subject. Probably because there are many variables and a few gray areas :)
For me one of the main considerations is the species being hunted. Warthog, caracal, porcupine, civet, genet, jackal, baboon etc kinda go in one category. I don't know that I care near as much about high fence/size of property when hunting these critters.
Bushbuck, impala, steenbok, duiker, maybe a few others, I believe it can be a true fair chase hunt on a smaller property. Depending on the terrain and cover, maybe a couple thousand acres? Smaller than that and even if it's a tough, challenging hunt with no guarantee of success, I just don't think I'm going to get the experience I'm looking for.
Most other plains game species I think I'm going to be much happier on a larger area. I want to hunt and see what we find and have the possibility exist that we may not find what we're looking for. I really don't want to hunt that 55" kudu we've been watching for the last two years, could have shot a hundred times just waiting for him to get big enough and he usually hangs out over here. Not my cup of tea.
Buff for me is a different story altogether. I hope I get to hunt Cape Buffalo one of these days soon and I really want it to be in Mozambique, Zimbabwe or Tanzania. I want it to be walk and stalk, free range, ideally hundreds of thousands of acres, look over a bunch of bulls, pass on many and finally find that special one. And for that first one at least, it probably won't be in the swamps :D Maybe the second ;)
That's just what's right for me. YMMV
On a slightly different note, it frustrates me at times when hunters are overly critical of someone else's hunting style. Canned, illegal or generally unethical practices, hell yeah we should police our own. A difference of opinion about whether a thousand acres is large enough for an ethical, fair chase squirrel hunt... not so much.
Once again, just my opinion.
 

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this is another different strokes for different folks,a beating of the dead horse to the point that their is nothing left but dust,it aint never going to get up and win the race for you.all it does is make the antis smile as we argue our personal opinions on this subject.dont like fences,dont hunt,like fences, hunt.i have my own opinion and will keep it to myself.fact,if a whitetail is in 600 acres and dosent want to be seen,you aint going to see it,j.m.o.
I don't think there is much in this civil conversation to make any anti smile....
 

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A difference of opinion about whether a thousand acres is large enough for an ethical, fair chase squirrel hunt... not so much.

So you don't care that @edward shot his squirrel in a high fenced area, long range, and from a vehicle??? ;)


:A Outta:

Now back to the serious conversation

Very interesting topic and discussion so far. I enjoy hearing other people's point of view on this subject. Probably because there are many variables and a few gray areas :)
For me one of the main considerations is the species being hunted. Warthog, caracal, porcupine, civet, genet, jackal, baboon etc kinda go in one category. I don't know that I care near as much about high fence/size of property when hunting these critters.

Agree species hunted is another great variable to discuss.

When I was in Africa I hunted behind a high fence, 24,000 continuous acres. A property that size is more then fair chase. I think a property larger (but not sure now much larger) then the natural range of the animal is fair.

What about elephant? Would ele on totally enclosed 24k acres and most likely going after one specific bull be fair chase? Perhaps. Would I do it personally? Doubt it.... At least not for first bull. Later, looking at it as a cull? Different story.... So all about perspective for me. I'm just making the point about species here and not trying to turn this into "the ethics of ele hunting" conversation.


On a slightly different note, it frustrates me at times when hunters are overly critical of someone else's hunting style

Agree again. what annoys me equally though is when hunters don't want to have polite conversations (like this one) just because someone may say they wouldn't hunt in the same manner as they would. We do tend to get a little overly sensitive at times, IMO.
 

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Like others say it's a matter of an individuals choice. I often comment about having to walk five miles after an animal over the course of an afternoon. For me it doesn't matter if it's behind a fence or next to a 4.5 million acre park that walk is work and difficult enough for me to honestly say I worked for the chance to take a shot. I have actually never considered any hunt I participated in as anything other than fair chase.
Last year I spent the better part of three days hunting a smaller property, 3000 acres, for waterbuck never seeing the first one. At one point I was discouraged and told the owner I didn't think he had any at all. Of course he assured me that there were some on the property and that they were simply hiding very well in the thick cover. I got back to the states and the following week pictures were posted of waterbuck from trail cams on that property. Water bucks 1 Charlie 0 on that hunt.
I was lucky enough to encounter a group of water Buck on another property that was some 20,000 acres and take a fine trophy that didn't require miles of walking. Go figure I say!
 

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Greetings all! I've been a hunter for 50 years, but only now planning a trip to Africa. I was fortunate and successfully bid on a couple hunts for plains game in SA later this year and next. Also a rare Native Texas (5th generation) and USMC Vet. Hunt safe y'all!
uujm wrote on trg's profile.
I am looking for a Safari Express. Was yours made in New Haven or South Carolina? Any other details you can give me? I am very motivated to buy.
pimes wrote on flatwater bill's profile.
Hello Bill - can you tell me that landowner/ranch/outfitter - Thank you!
Pete0905 wrote on damundsen87's profile.
Hello
Is the Khales 1-6 still for sale?
Thanks
Josh
 
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