Is High Fence “Offensive”?
Most fans of the game of football believe that the best offense is a good defense. Do most hunters believe that the best game fence is no fence? And if so, why?
Before, I answer those questions, let me share with you my background. I would like to do so for two reasons. First, to hopefully add credibility to the opinions expressed herein and secondarily, to disclose to you up front my agenda and/or prejudices.
I have been hunting for over 45 years. While electing to hunt with bow only for the last several decades, in past years I have used every weapon possible from crossbows to shotguns, from pistols to pirate swords, and for that matter, I even tried to throw rocks at a few! I started hunting in Florida in the early 1960’s, but since then I have hunted many States across the USA, including Alaska, as well as several provinces of Canada, including many trips to New Foundland. I also have ventured over the big pond to go on safari in South Africa. I love bow hunting big game and have taken a wide variety of species such as whitetail deer, various exotic deer, turkey, mountain lion, moose, caribou, wild boar, and several African species. Personally, less than 5% of my hunting has been on high fenced properties.
I have also been a professional hunting guide and owner of a Florida hunting preserve (Ross Hammock Ranch, Inc.) since year 2000. I have guided or helped guide what I would estimate to be several hundred, if not over a thousand, hunters with all kinds of weapons, and taken everything from wild boar to water buffalo to native American and African game as well. It would be accurate to conclude that I have been to a few rodeos, having learned a lot, including that there is still a lot to be learned.
Ok, with that being said, I would like to address the issue of hunting behind high fence and why some hunters are so for it while other hunters are so against it. What has prompted me to address this issue is my observation that many hunters with opinions on this topic, regardless of whether they are pro or con high fence, are basing their opinions on second hand or incomplete information vs. their own first hand experiences. The goal of this article is not to sway your opinion either for or against high fence hunting. The goal of this article is to motivate you to explore this issue further, and then base your “high fence” opinion on facts, your first hand observations, and your experiences.
Virtually all hunters, whether for or against high fence, realize that the long term public acceptance and survival of the sport of hunting is tied to the concept of “fair chase”. Some hunters, including various TV “Celebrities” conclude that “fair chase” and “high fence” are mutually exclusive terms.. Once they hear a property is high fenced (regardless of any other facts or circumstances) they conclude it is not fair chase. They shut down their ears, and refuse to even discuss or explore the issue further. Is this immediate “Holier than Though” stance truly prudent?
If you asked ten different hunters to define “fair chase” you would probably get eleven different answers! Tell me, which of the following scenarios do you personally find consistent with the philosophy and goal of “fair chase” hunting?
1. A hunter, before sun up, armed with a spotting scope and very high-powered rifle snuggles into a rock crevice on the side of a Colorado mountain overlooking thousands of non fenced acres. He shoots at an elk bull at a distance of just over 400 yards. The bullet travels the quarter mile distance at almost three times the speed of sound and hits home well before the animal hears the shot. He then radios a recovery team to pick up the booty.
2. A hunter, armed with a very nasty looking 44 Magnum caliber pistol, hunting a 40 thousand acre south Florida wild life management area, is right behind his five pit bull dogs as the canines lock down on the ear and hind quarter of a 75 pound piney woods rooter. He places the eight inch barrel behind the sows other ear, squeezes, and the chase is quickly over.
3. A hunter, armed with a brand new high tech muzzle loader is on his first Canadian black bear hunt. He has been perched for just 30 minutes on the first night of his hunt, in a primitive elevated plywood shooting box, 40 yards down wind of the biggest pile of doughnuts he has ever seen. Here comes Yogi. You know what happens next.
4. A hunter, just sixteen years old is hunting 30 feet in the air in his brand new API climber on a 1,500 acre high fenced hunting preserve. It’s his third bow hunt. He has killed two hogs on previous trips but never a deer. Here come a group of six Indian Axis does. Five stop to graze but one ventures too close and he shoots her in the heart.
5. A hunter, in fact a lady hunter, using a really nice 270 with a Swarovski scope, has been fortunate to draw a buck tag to hunt a State owned island off the coast of Georgia. Her seven year old daughter is with her. The island is 200 acres, completely surrounded by miles of water, and is loaded with whitetail deer. Within five minutes of being dropped off by water ferry, a nice six point buck lay dead at their feet.
Ok, which one or one’s are fair chase? Did you answer? In my opinion, they all could be fair chase. The most distinguishing element between humans and all of the other species that inhabit this planet, is that humanly unique element, that we call a CONSCIENCE. That internal God-given mechanism that tells us individually, right from wrong. Therein you will find the answer to the “fair chase“ question.
I do not believe that “fair chase” can be so easily defined as purely “high fence”, “low fence”, or “no fence”. Most hunters would correlate “fair chase” with the “ease of the kill“ or the animals opportunity to elude, right? Let me share this personal story with you. One of my very good hunting preserve customers invites me every year to bow hunt Illinois whitetail with him on his non high fenced land that borders an Illinois State Park. Every year I limit out, sometimes the first day, or even the first hunt of the first day! I consider myself to be a good bow hunter, but not a great bow hunter. Rarely do I take shots over 30 yards, so I must get close to my game. In Illinois, it’s never a case of will I get a buck, it’s a case of which buck will I get. On the other hand, every fall, I see and/or guide some truly excellent bow hunters as they get skunked trying to stick a Whitetail (or various exotic deer species, such as Axis deer) on my 1500 acre high fenced hunting preserve. Based on my observations/experiences, if we as hunters solely define “fair chase” in the context of “ease of kill”, then we will have to shut down Whitetail hunting in most of Illinois!
I can only laugh when I see TV celebrities state on the air “We will never hunt high fence” and then they hunt certain private ranches or properties (albeit not high fenced) that have game populations so high that Ray Charles would tag out! Give me a break dude! I was born at night, but not last night! Do you want me to think you are the next great white hunter because you do not hunt high fenced land?
Now to the main point of this article. Sadly I see many young hunters (or for that matter, even adult hunters) that make that same statement as the TV celebrity, based purely on the fact that they heard someone that they think is a TV hero, or a more experienced hunting friend, make that statement. They take it as pure hunting ethic or fact without even thinking it through for themselves, and without basing it on the benefit of their own experiences, or their own “conscience”.
Are all high fence operations “fair chase”? No, I think not. Are all kills on non fenced properties fair chase? Well no, probably not. Many factors on both high fenced and non fenced land, can play a role in the “fair chase” equation if it is viewed thru the “ease of the kill” rule/context. Many factors including number of acres, amount of cover, other physical land characteristics (like bodies of water), deer population, deer temperament (i.e. fear of humans or not), weapon of choice, etc….all play a role.
If we as hunters, fall into the trap of judging and therefore condemning each other, without the benefit of considering all of the facts and circumstances, and without the prudent use of that internal human tool, called a conscience, then I fear that we will not fall as victims of the anti-hunters, but rather of our own swords.
About the Author: Harold R. Ross is founder and owner of Ross Hammock Ranch, Inc. which is located on Florida’s Gulf coast and offers guided year-round hunting for both native and exotic game. He is an avid bow hunter, having hunted many species throughout the continental US and Alaska, as well as bow hunted the countries of South Africa and Canada. You may contact him via email at: email@example.com or give him a call at (352) 303-7909.