High Fences
YouTube: Keith Warren Hunting

Explaining Why Hunters Have a Beef with High Fences

Here's why most hunters have a beef with high fences. 

High fence hunting is one of the most controversial topics in the hunting community today. This is one of those subjects that can divide outdoorsmen and women like no other as they duke it out over the ethics of hunting animals in an enclosure.

Many of the disagreements can get downright ugly at times. Which does us no favors dividing an already shrinking number of sportsmen and women.

In an attempt to get beyond that basic complaint, here are some reasons that will hopefully better explain why most hunters have a beef with high fences.

1. High fence operations spread diseases


These days we hear a lot about deer diseases like chronic wasting disease or CWD. The cases of this deadly neurological disease popping up in high fence operations are well documented. Many of the new cases of CWD being found recently come from high fence hunt operations or deer farms that sell animals to high fence operations.

In at least one case in Wisconsin, two bucks that escaped one such deer farm spent five months mingling with the wild deer herd before they were finally shot. Both were CWD positive. It's not known if the disease might spread to the wild herd as a result.

But one can't deny, every time one of these operations has a new case of the disease, the local hunters are subjected to things beyond their control. Mandatory checks and testing, tighter regulations, reduced bag limits, lower deer populations, the list goes on. In some cases, if one is living close enough to a state border, an unknowing hunter might be subjected to huge fines after unknowingly moving a deer in an illegal manner.

And none of that is the fault of the hunter going after wild animals. It's the fault of the owners of these operations, but everyone feels the backlash if things go wrong.

2. Deception by hunting celebrities

This is a big reason why hunters have a beef with high fences. How can you not feel betrayed when it turns out your favorite hunting TV show is lying about their "fair chase" hunt? Perhaps you remember the massive backlash years ago when video surfaced of fishing legend Jimmy Houston trying to shoot a deer in a small enclosure. Parts of it can be seen above.

Without going into the other unethical things done by the ranch in the video, many found what Houston did as inexcusable. What it shows is an animal that has nowhere to go. Even the idea that this may have been passed off on a TV show as a real hunt is enough to give hunters trust issues with the pros.

There's a certain irony when Ted Nugent waxes nostalgia about the "Spirit of the Wild" on his TV shows while shooting an exotic animal over a waterhole on his Texas ranch. I suppose he can call it what he wants, it's a free country, but he's fooling himself. If the animals can't leave the ranch, there's nothing "wild" about them, especially if you're going after a species native to Africa behind Texas fences.

But even worse, these types of hunts don't represent the kind of hunting the regular hunter does. Most of us can't afford to fork over the $8,000 or more Ted charges to hunt his ranch in Texas. It gets even more expensive if you go after a 200" or more buck in high fence operations that artificially inflate the size of a buck's antlers through selective breeding and growth hormones. This brings me to my next point.

3. High fences are all about trophies and money

Speaking of Ted Nugent, this quote comes to mind. "A hunt based only on the trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be." This was said by Ted's friend and legendary bowhunter Fred Bear. And I think it nails down a big issue many hunters have with high fences. You'll probably find a lot of hunters with a similar philosophy.

But no one pays $5,000, $7,000 or even $10,000 or more to go and shoot a doe because they're hungry. They are there for only one reason and that's a trophy.

I don't have a problem with targeting bigger bucks, I do it myself, but I'm not just in the woods to kill a deer. That's because I'm out there primarily to enjoy some quality time away from work in the woods and wildlife. Taking an animal is simply a bonus. As long as I'm enjoying my time in nature, I think I'm hitting the goal Fred Bear was talking about.

But if you're hunting a high fence, you're there is only one reason you are there and that's to make sure you shoot a trophy animal. A lot of these places even guarantee the hunter a kill of a buck of a certain size.

There's simply no other way to classify a high fence operation as anything but a trophy factory designed to bring in big money. And that, puts these operations in conflict with a lot of the reasons many hunters profess to enjoy the pastime.

4. Public perception


Image via Travis Smola.

Hunting is under more fire than at any other time in history. Hunter numbers are dropping. Public perception is changing towards hunting and not for the better. The outrage over the Cecil the lion incident proved that.

More and more often hunters are becoming victims of vicious online attacks and shaming from non-hunters. And most of that outrage is focused at 100% wild and fair chase hunts. A high fence hunting operation does nothing to help hunting's already well-stained reputation. All conversations about hunter conservation and ethics go right out the window when talking about high fences.

There's really no other way the public is going to perceive a high fence hunt as anything other than hunting caged animals. Most hunters will probably agree that the anti-hunters don't need any more ammo for their cause.


Image via Travis Smola

Years ago, when I was still a journalism student at Western Michigan University, I interviewed a lawyer who also happened to be the owner of a high fence hunting operation while working on a story about feral pigs. At the time Michigan was discussing banning exotic swine like the Russian boars and other large hogs in his facility and he was gearing up for a possible legal battle.

I'll never forget what he told me about the hogs behind the double fences of his ranch. "The pigs in my ranch are no different than a pink pig on a farm."

I'm not holding anything personally against him, he was a nice guy and I thank him for giving his time to student for a school project when he didn't have to. I gave him fair coverage in my article. (He read it and agreed it was unbiased.)

But his statement about the hogs did solidify my own personal opinion of high fence operations. He basically admitted to me the animals within amounted to nothing more than livestock. If the animals cannot leave an area willingly, they are not free range and that is not hunting in any way.

5. They devalue the legitimate monsters.

One of the biggest reasons to have a beef with high fences is simply because of the damage they have done to the legitimate, 100 percent wild, world-class bucks over the years. No one believes the true monsters anymore and it is all because of high fences and genetic engineering. Whenever someone shoots a 200-inch or larger deer these days, they are immediately accused of having paid to shoot it behind a fence somewhere. We saw it with the Stephen Tucker non-typical, and the Luke Brewster non-typical world record.

We even saw it most recently with the Paslie Werth buck, which is now the largest non-typical whitetail ever taken by a female hunter. I cannot even tell you how many disgusting attacks and accusations of hunting behind a fence I saw on social media in the wake of this harvest. I should remind everyone this young woman was only 14 when she shot the deer, which makes the attacks all the more disturbing. It was a high-profile harvest, and she was already getting hate from anti-hunters, she does not need her fellow sportsmen and women piling it on and accusing her of cheating.

The record books would not be certifying these animals if they were not legitimate. Unfortunately, this is what high fences have done to so many hunters. It has turned them into a bitter, ugly, and untrusting bunch. Frankly, I'm tired of it. I do not know about everyone else. For me, this is the biggest reason I have a beef with high fences, because of how they have divided us as hunters and turned harvests that should be celebrated with joy into a case of the hunter trying to prove their innocence to an angry mob with virtual pitchforks and torches in hand.

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For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels