“Canned” Hunting Challenged

  • Some Great Lakes states are considering a ban on hunting fenced-in animals. Many of these hunting reserves stock their land with popular game such as elk. (Photo courtesy of the USFWS)

An animal rights group wants to ban so-called “canned hunts” in which animals are hunted in fenced-in areas. In one state… a proposed law might accomplish that… but critics say it goes too far. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Johnson reports:


An animal rights group wants to ban so-called “canned hunts” in which animals are
hunted in fenced-in areas. In one state, a proposed law might accomplish that but
critics say it goes too far. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Johnson

(sound of truck driving over gravel roads)

At the bottom of steep hills covered by a tall canopy of trees, herds of elk gather
around feed troughs on the Pea Ridge Elk Ranch. In the distance, others forage over
dry winter grass in a clearing. Most glance up when the truck driven by ranch
manager Doug Pennock idles by. Pennock’s voice, along with the crackling of his tires
over chunks of gravel, stand out in an area that’s otherwise serene.

Pennock manages about 300 elk on this ranch 80 miles north of St. Louis. Some are
sent out west to rejuvenate elk populations. Others are slaughtered for meat. And each
year, about 10 to 15 are moved from this pasture to an adjacent deer and elk
preserve where they’re killed by hunters. An eight-foot tall fence surrounds that
300-acre preserve. Pennock says that although the animals are confined, their
environment is about as close to wilderness as you can get.

“We’ve had a lot of customers through who have hunted in different settings…
and certainly feel like ours is as challenging as any other.”

But under legislation being proposed in Illinois… preserves like Pennock’s
would be off limits to hunters. That’s because critics say there’s no sport in a
confined hunt… and that in some cases it’s essentially like shooting fish in a barrel.

The measure’s sponsor… Chicago Democratic Senator John Cullerton… says the
hunts also go after animals that are tame.

“What you see is that this is really not hunting. I mean this is these small relatively
confined areas for animals that have been raised by human beings.”

Cullerton’s proposal applies not only to elk but also to animals such as lions or
bears. Don Rolla is the Executive Director for the Illinois Humane Political
Action Committee. He says confined, or canned, hunts of exotic animals are a growing
problem in other Midwest states… including Indiana and Michigan.

But Rollah says eleven states, including Wisconsin and Minnesota, have already
banned confined hunts. He says that could mean the people who used to hunt there
will now come to Illinois for canned hunts. Rolla says that makes it all the more
important for Illinois to pass its own ban. He says everyone, even hunters, should
support this measure.

“It’s not an anti-hunting bill. It’s a bill that promotes ethics and takes a step
toward solving a problem that Illinois is going to have to deal with very shortly
if they’re going to continue to have a viable hunting activity in the

It’s difficult to determine which animals ought to be protected under a ban on canned
hunting. Rolla says he’d like it to cover all wildlife. But deer hunting is allowed on
about 500 confined hunting operations in Illinois alone. It’s unlikely that a ban on that
many game farms will pass in the state.

As it’s proposed right now, the measure would protect exotic species. but that means
as it’s written, you couldn’t slaughter livestock raised in a confined area. Tim
Schweizer is with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“Livestock certainly of some kinds… swine and cattle… are not animals that were
indigenous to Illinois. They were imported here many, many years ago. so they might fall
inappropriately under the definition as it was originally outlined in this bill.”

Other species further complicate the proposal. The elk on Doug Pennock’s ranch,
for example, are no longer found in the wild in Illinois… although they were at one
time indigenous. Also, because elk are considered livestock in Illinois, Pennock can
technically let paying hunters shoot them whenever… and wherever they want.

Pennock says his business never uses that freedom… voluntarily enforcing hunting
rules similar to Illinois deer hunting laws. And he says the fences around his property
serve only to help him manage an effective herd.

“I think that most folks like myself that come from a hunting background obviously want
everything to be as close to what we would term fair chase as possible.”

The question for lawmakers will be whether *close* to a fair chase is good enough.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Shawn Johnson.